21st Century Preparation for Early Childhood Leaders

New Approaches to Leadership Preparation

The early care and education system in the United States is fragmented, inequitable, and, despite increasing public investment, severely under-resourced. Transforming the system requires that we better prepare our emerging and established leaders as intentional change agents — leaders who are experts in supporting the development and learning of young children and effective at the tables where decisions that shape the quality and availability of services are made.

Early care and education desperately needs leaders who understand the limitations of the status quo and who embrace the charge of changing it.  But we shortchange our leadership, and the field itself, because we fail to adequately prepare our leaders for the complex policy and political arenas that they must navigate to effect change.

Addressing the Leadership Learning Gap

To be effective, early care and education leaders now need to be subject-matter specialists about the system itself — in addition to the expertise they possess in specific areas such as child development, parent relationships, teaching strategies and curriculum, and dual language acquisition — because policy and political realities are shaping their capacity to perform their jobs, whether they teach in a classroom, direct a center, educate teachers, provide resource and referrals to parents, or lead advocacy efforts. Yet, to date, there are far too few opportunities for in-depth learning about such topics.

Addressing this “leadership learning gap” requires intentional and ongoing learning focused on building knowledge and skills related to the policy, politics and power dynamics that undergird and influence the early care and education system, including the dynamics that stem from the roots of today’s system and outside social issues that shape our current reality.

The Three P’s: Policy, Politics, and Power

Policy, politics, and power — the three dimensions of the leadership learning gap — are commonly used words that people seldom feel the need to define for others. But there can be surprising variability in how people define these terms. We define them as follows:

A course of action, selected from among alternatives which guides and determines decisions and practices. Policy may refer to actions of governments and of public and/or private organizations.

Competition among interest groups or individuals for power or leadership in government or other groups.

: The capacity to affect the outcomes for oneself, others, and the environment.

Two forthcoming resources, a book and companion workbook, are intended to bridge the three areas of the leadership learning gap–policy, politics, and power–for emerging and established leaders serving in an array of roles across the early childhood field.

Test Your Knowledge of the 3Ps

How did the early childhood system of today come to be? What was the first early childhood program sponsored by the federal government?  Why does the federal government invest in early care and education? To learn the answers to these questions, check out our interactive ECE Policy Quiz. Click here to take the quiz and see what else you can learn about events and decisions in the 20th century that have influenced and shaped the early care and education system.

Lost & Found

Check out Lost & Found for video, photos and documents that chronicle the evolution of the ECE field.