Early Childhood Education and leadership in schools

July 28, 2015

By Eleanor J. Shirley, MA, CSW, Nebraska Department of Education, Office of Early Childhood. In October of 2013, Eleanor was appointed Director of the Nebraska Early Childhood Quality Rating and Improvement System, Step Up to Quality, legislated by the Nebraska Unicameral in June 2013. Prior to October 1, 2013, she served as Director of the Nebraska Head Start-State Collaboration Office for nearly 16 years building and bridging systems in early care and education across federal, state, and local early childhood programs and services. She administered the federal Even Start Family Literacy program across the state and serves as Ombudsman for Nebraska Department of Education. In previous years, her scope of social work practice included various programs and initiatives that address the needs of children and their families, particularly children birth to age 8, and their families who may be challenged due to economic disadvantage.

Recently, many educational leaders from across the country attended the Early Childhood Roundtable, an annual convergence of CEELO, ECE SCASS, and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (aka, the “Specialists”) meetings. Dr. Steve Tozer, UIC, Center for Urban Education Leadership, expounded upon school leadership. He said, “School leadership is second only to classroom instruction in making a difference in wall-to-wall school learning and outcomes.” Steve hit home that socio-economic issues may be predominant, but should not become an excuse for poor learning outcomes. He cited Bryk, Sebring, et al (2010) and Bryk, Gomez, et al (2015) to help us expand our understanding regarding the essentials to organize schools for improvement, and the leadership that it takes to do so.

Another recent event that I attended was the BUILD, National QRIS Conference in Baltimore. It was a mix of early childhood leaders all engaged in implementing state quality rating and improvement systems. Lea Austin, Ed.D., UC Berkeley, closing plenary speaker, and co-author of Leadership in Early Childhood: A Curriculum for Emerging and Established Agents of Change, focused on re-conceptualizing leadership in the field of early care and education. She urged us to ask ourselves tough questions. Do we have the right leaders in place? Do they represent the diverse perspectives of the populations we serve? Do we have data related to current and potential leadership? What does this imply about our workforce? She said, “We need more voices to get us out of our echo chamber.”

14312472040_697117b434_oIn my professional journey, I studied leadership theory and various models of leadership development, and have facilitated professional leadership development activities. In recent years, it was my privilege to be included in leadership development in our state education agency. At the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE), we adapted McREL‘s model of “balanced leadership,” initially designed to develop principal leadership in public schools. Our SEA adaptation was intended to help the Department further support school administrators in continued leadership thinking and doing. It has been an honor to serve in various roles at NDE, and bring to bear upon my practice my own discipline in social work, adult and vocational education, and social policy and planning. I’m the first to admit my perspectives are a bit different from the typical educator or administrator. My knowledge and experience helps me reflect on interests of the adult humans doing early childhood work and remembering it’s ultimately about positive outcomes for children.

Thinking back on the national events, I would nudge us to hone in on the human agenda when we consider leadership development. My observations are that we, intentionally, or not, use words that are militaristic, competitive, and industrial in tone. We talk about getting people in the pipeline, levers of change, drilling into the data, strategizing and strategic planning, and calibrating, and recalibrating as if it is the only way to facilitate change in adults, children, and families!

My personal belief is that we cannot make people change. We can be with them, model, and influence their intrinsic desire to change. With that belief, I grapple with the ongoing search for, and vision regarding, the human element in leadership development, especially in early childhood. We are so inundated and daunted by standards and assessments that we may forget about the needs and persuasions of the grown-up humans who are helping little humans in their knowing and growing.

Why not consider leadership development as an opportunity to facilitate values clarification? Why not challenge individuals’ beliefs by inviting them into authentic dialogue? Why not focus on relationship-building by influencing and modeling rather than directing and dogmatic strategies? Why not consider cross-discipline leadership to expand our thinking and doing?

By understanding the science and art of human systems and interactions and valuing the diverse talents of others, we can develop leadership with the parallel respect that we have for young children. Maybe the essentials of leadership in schools to support early care and education are those of relationship-building, reflective practice, and demonstrated respect for the diverse needs of children and families in our communities. Together we can get our voices out of the echo chamber and back into strong and sustainable early childhood leadership, literally ‘leading’ to better programs and best possible outcomes for children.

 

 


Birth-3rd and Leadership: Steve Tozer’s message to the Birth-3rd Community

July 22, 2015

This is a post from July 1 on The Birth Through Third Grade Learning Hub, by David Jacobson. It is the first post in our next forum on Leadership in Early Education. Follow us for the next few weeks, and please weigh in with your comments and opinions, as we explore this issue from a range of perspectives.

Research shows that leadership is the second most important influence on student learning in schools. Further, as Steve Tozer points out, leadership is critical to improving the most important factor—teaching. It is hard to imagine improving teaching and learning throughout an entire school or early childhood center without good leadership.

Tozer has an important message for the Birth-3rd Community. He directs the Center for Urban Education Leadership at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he runs an award-winning principal preparation program. Tozer has recently made compelling presentations at two early learning and care events, most recently at a meeting of state early childhood specialists in New Orleans and before that in Chicago at the Ounce of Prevention’s District Leadership Summit. Tozer suggests that Birth-3rdinitiatives and leadership development form an important “nexus” between two worlds that until recently have operated separately, but that could and should be joined together in mutually reinforcing ways to achieve greater impact.

“The System is Designed to Obtain the Results It is Obtaining”

Tozer uses this popular saying to make the point that if we want significantly better results in Birth—3rd education and care, we need to make big improvements to the systems that produce these results.

Tozer’s understanding of leadership is thus less about a “leader as hero” model than about improving the way organizations and systems work through the basics—“good shooting, dribbling and passing.” A central priority for leaders of centers and elementary schools should be developing their organizations as “good places for adult learning,” in effect building the capacity for continuous improvement so that centers, schools, and the systems that connect them and other partner organizations “get better at getting better.”

Theory of Impact

Five essential supports provide direction to the challenging work of getting better at getting better. These supports are described in what in Tozer’s view is the most important education book published in the past 25 years, Organizing for School Improvement: Lessons from Chicago (Bryk et. al., 2010). See this article for a summary. The five supports, listed below, emerged from a multi-year study of elementary schools as the distinguishing factors that accounted for the success of high-achieving schools.

  • Coherent instructional guidance system (e.g, clear curricular expectations, common assessments, and related coaching and professional development)
  • Professional capacity
  • Strong parent-community-school ties
  • Student-centered learning climate
  • Leadership drives change

In Tozer’s view, leadership teams build capacity in elementary schools and preschool centers through these five essential supports and P-3 (Birth-3rd) alignment.Since most principals are not trained in early childhood education, the foundational new PreK-3rd Leadership competencies issued by the National Association for Elementary School Principals serve as a pivotal step in bringing Birth—3rd and leadership efforts together. One of the school success stories profiled in the NAESP report is of Carson Elementary School, a school led for 16 years by Kathleen Mayer, now a coach in UIC’s leadership program. Mayer led her staff in designing the prekindergarten program and in integrating Reggio Emilia practices. According to Mayer, she could not have achieved the success she did in her school without incorporating prekindergarten.

The five supports and P-3 alignment lead to good teaching and care in classrooms, which in turn leads to student engagement and learning, as shown in the following theory of impact:

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This theory of impact is embedded in the UIC principal preparation program that Tozer directs, the result of a 10-year partnership between the Chicago Public Schools and UIC. Over time Tozer and his colleagues have increased the priority placed on early childhood development and best practices in the program. Additional essential (and uncommon) features of the program include:

  • High selectivity
  • Clinical intensity
  • K-12 results orientation
  • Residency and post-residency coaching
  • Assessment rigor—> counseling out

UIC has tracked student gains in schools led by UIC-prepared principals and compared them to Chicago’s average. UIC-led principals have significantly outperformed Chicago averages on a number of measures, including one-year gains in student achievement, performance at mostly low-income/mostly African-American schools, and performance in high-performing schools as well.

Leading Organizational Change Efforts

Tozer’s views on the organizational nature of improving Birth-3rd improvement naturally leads him to the research on organizational change. Specifically, Tozer points to an important list compiled by change expert John Kotter of errors that leaders often make in change efforts, a list that in effect serves as a thought-provoking set of suggestions to keep in mind for Birth-3rd change efforts.

  1. Allowing too much complacency
  2. Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition
  3. Understanding the power of vision
  4. Under-communicating the vision by a factor of 10, 100
  5. Permitting obstacles to block the new vision
  6. Failing to create short-term wins
  7. Declaring victory too soon
  8. Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in organizational culture

According to Tozer, “social justice resides primarily in institutions.” He appeals to the Birth-3rd community to become agents of institutional change in programs, centers, schools, and communities. Tozer shows that it is possible to dramatically improve how we select and develop good leaders while highlighting adult learning, the five essential supports, and “getting better at getting better” as key priorities for Birth-3rd efforts.

Tozer’s Early Childhood State Specialists presentations can be found under the presentations tab here at the CEELO website and his Ounce of Prevention presentation can be found here.


1. Tozer uses the term “P-3” but makes it clear that he is referring to the prenatal-through-3rd-grade continuum.


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