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Redefining Leadership

In the early childhood world, we used to think about leadership in terms of qualities such as the ability to develop and implement a vision for pedagogical excellence, cultivate strong parent engagement and partnership or support teachers’ growth in their teaching practice.  For nearly two years, the focus for our ECE leadership work has shifted significantly as a result of the ongoing pandemic.  No longer are directors finding time to refine their vision or spend hours in classrooms observing and coaching educators.  Their support and coaching needs have primarily focused on how to provide transparent and clear communication about ever-changing Covid protocols, advocate for greater financial resources, maintain sanity in the face of constant teacher shortages and staffing issues and support an increase in the mental health needs of children and educators.  They spend nights and weekends on their phones responding to messages from faculty and parents about positivity rates, Covid exposures or quarantine guidelines.  They start their days earlier than ever to learn how many teachers will have to cover that day. They are balancing financial demands of their host institutions with the class sizes and child-to-teacher ratios they know are ideal.

The list of ongoing responsibilities for our school leaders is endless.  We find ourselves re-defining ECE leadership standards in this pandemic and the Efshar Project continues to respond to our community’s needs in this area.  While we don’t know what to expect from future virus variants, we do know it is fair to assume that we are still not past these challenging times.  We’d like to offer a few considerations to school leaders as you continue navigating through the pandemic:

  1. Utilize your mental health consultants as much as possible.  They can provide support ranging from observing challenging classroom behaviors, to identifying critical resources for parents to sitting with educators who are struggling with their daily responsibilities.  Identify when a mental health consultant can meet with the faculty and teach new skills for self-care or supporting the emotional needs of young children.  Don’t forget to also take care of your own mental health needs!
  2. Communicate authentically and transparently with your parent community.  This remains a time of heightened stress for everyone; parents especially.  Maintaining trust with parents is absolutely essential and this can be developed and strengthened when you proactively and clearly communicate what is happening, what might change or important information of which they might be unaware.  This communication could also include transparency about workforce challenges.  Parents may not love the news they hear but they will appreciate and respect school leaders who are not afraid of being genuine in their communication.
  3. Pay constant attention to and nurture your staff culture.  Identify ways to hold your faculty together through professional development, acknowledging how hard everyone is working, providing respite for them when you can.  Emotional resiliency skills are more critical now than ever and our educators need their leadership to provide this, despite how depleted we may feel.
  4. Ask for help when you need it!  Many schools have been able to rely on their host institution professional colleagues to help with anything from helping to staff drop-off/pick-up times, responding to parent concerns or bringing in goodies for the faculty.  Other schools have tapped into their family communities for substitute teachers.  Most importantly, never assume that there isn’t someone outside of the preschool who would love an opportunity to be helpful! Remember to reach out to your Efshar Project Intensive Support Partner when necessary.

It is one of the most challenging times in the history of early childhood leadership. The need for continued leadership capacity building cannot be ignored. The Efshar Project professionals, coaches and board remain ready to respond to your needs.  We are so appreciative of the endless hours of hard work you contribute day in and day out keeping our schools open and safe and providing incredible educational experiences for our youngest learners.