Building Leadership in the Community

By Maxine M. Maloney, MPA, Program Manager, Arlington County Department of Human Services, Virginia, Child and Family Services. Since 2013, Maxine has been the Program Manager for Child Care Services; where she is responsible for Child Care Licensing and Project Family. Maxine has over 20 years of experience in early care and education from teaching, program management, and training, systems building, and administering federal programs. Maxine is very passionate about building systems fortified by comprehensive policies, grounded by research and best practices, to ensure all children have quality early learning experiences. She is especially passionate about enhancing and empowering the early learning workforce.

Legendary businessman, Jack Welch of General Electric pushed GE to new heights through his idea of a “boundary-less organization.” This means that everyone is free to brainstorm and think of ideas–instead of waiting for someone “higher up” in the bureaucracy to think of them first. He wanted his team turned loose, and he promised to listen to ideas from anyone in the company. And he did. Everyone from the lowest line workers to senior managers got his attention–if they had something to say or a new idea that might make the company better. It wasn’t just talk, and it didn’t take his team long to figure that out.

Welch stayed true to his passions and what he knew was right. As a result, GE became an incredibly successful company under his management. His team was always willing to follow his lead, because the people within it knew that he always kept his word. (Leading by Example by James Manktelow).

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch

Similarly to Welch, I discovered one of the most important pillars of a competent leader is a healthy respect for others. Early childhood is a dynamic profession steeped with doses of conflicts and misunderstanding. Typically we focus on integrity, communication, attitude, confidence, and commitment, but to address these dynamic issues and elicit progress you have to genuinely respect yourself first, then others. Once you have this you can move mountains.

Yes, I have moved a mountain or two but never as successfully as in my journey with a divergent group of 148 family child care providers who had had negative experiences and were not open to a new leader. I had been hired as the new program manager for a system that had been disbanded the previous year. Until my arrival there was no direct communication with the Family Child Care community. Due to budget constraints DHS cut the child care office. Not only was I new to the position; so was the entire child care licensing staff. Our Child Care licensing system was plagued with mistrust and inconsistency. We were, additionally, challenged by a community with multiple languages, cultures, and mores, as well as a varied understanding of early childhood. This required thoughtful and intentional strategies to build capacity, commitment, and most importantly a community. We built this by spending time with each Family Child Care professional learning about their background, families, experiences, and goals, along with an analysis of trends, data, and being open to each critic and idea shared.

In order to encourage compliance with our child care regulations we spent hours unpacking agency and community “myths,” best practices, and research in child development, as well as brainstorming what quality is, from both an agency and practitioner perspective. Many leaders would consider this time-consuming and an impediment. I discovered this was worthwhile, as I not only learned about each provider, but I also learned more about myself and expanded my knowledge. In the end I witnessed monumental changes in quality, in programming, and in confidence in our agency.

We witnessed the beginnings of a strong community of shared resources and common goals. Delivering a series of workshops based on the current child care regulations, a 4-week Quality Environment in Family Child Care Cohort (we are now on our fifth one since they are so popular), and workshops based on child development, lesson planning, and business development, we went from 5 to 10 participants to as many as 55 providers in a session.

In time, we were able to build a community of trust and understanding; the most important outcome was our Family Child Care Symposium on May 9, 2015, where 108 out of 148 Family Child Care providers participated in a day of training and professional development. We now have an Arlington County Family Child Care Network and every provider has attended the training and professional development opportunities offered. We built a website to provide information and support as well as partnered with the Child Care Education Institute to provide on-line learning.

Family Child Care providers have work groups who discuss policies and legislation, providers have launched their own network for networking and sharing resources, and born out of this group is a new cadre of family child care trainers.

In Arlington Family Child Care we have built a community of respect, understanding, and shared commitment to professionalism and children. The commitment began with the personal, then was transmitted through the agency, which then transferred to the Family Child Care Providers. As Elle Fitzgerald so eloquently put it: “ Don’t give up on trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I do not think you can go wrong”

One Response to Building Leadership in the Community

  1. Clint Covert, Ed.D. says:

    Ms. Maloney’s article raises provocative insights on how to move an organization to successful outcomes even when faced with conflict and adversity. Maxine is correct in pointing out how the building and maintenance of trust is paramount for any workgroup to achieve excellence. This article provides an opportunity for all of us to reflect on how we as leaders impact personal and team outcomes. By respecting and valuing diversity, we create a environment of trust whereby all members of the team can excel.

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