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Early Childhood Leaders on Leadership

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The Great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By Kathleen Varela
 
 

Martin Luther King Jr. and Developed Traits

Just as Martin Luther King Jr was born with natural leadership traits, his growing up and his environment helped shaped him in being the strong leader he was. King grew up in Ebenzer Baptist Church in which his father was an impassioned preacher who had the ability to move the congregation with sermons delivered with a thunderous emotional edge and intensity of purpose that made him the envy of his contemporaries (King, 1999, p 88). As King grew older, he saw his father help people cope with the degradations of being African American living in a callous white society as he negotiated with the white community on the behalf of the church members, got people out of jail and attempted to get them into Atlanta’s segregated hospitals (King, 1999, p 89). His father was a strong and self confident person who was courageous and never feared the autocratic and brutal person in the white community. King’s role model was a man who possessed respect, power and influence. During his college days, he was renowned for his oratorical skills in which he was elected president of Crozer College student body, composing mainly of white people. He became valedictorian of his class in 1951, bravely speaking before the predominantly white graduates and their families (Smith and Meacham, 1998, p 1). It was also during his college days that he studied the life and teachings of Mohandas Gandhi. King continually mentioned that Gandhi was a guiding force in his thinking and approaches.

 

It is seen that King’s leadership was developed over his early childhood years in which he looked up to and followed in the footsteps of his father, he developed respect and great oratorical skills in college and studied the teachings of Gandhi also during his college days.

 

 

Interviews on Leadership

A very interesting article by Denise M. Scott, senior director for leadership development at the National Association for the Education of Young Children, raised the importance of developing emerging leaders for our future. We will present some interviews she had conducted with leaders of today in an attempt to get their views and opinions of the subject matter. The following interviews asked several childhood leaders to briefly state their views on leadership by responding to several questions about the path to leadership. Their responses may inspire others to start on that path and develop their leadership qualities. Scott conducted the following interviews.

 

 

Mark Carter is the Executive Director of the National After School Association in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

 

DMS: How well are we doing in creating an environment in which leaders can thrive?

 

MC: In our organisation we go out of our way to ensure staff have opportunities to engage with experts in the field. For example, we recently held a two-day training on accreditation. It was mainly for accreditation staff but open to the entire staff to help everyone see the big picture. Areas such as Annual Conference and accreditation serve as incubators for leadership development on a variety of levels. I have had many opportunities to come together with colleagues, advance my own professional development, explore new ideas, and open the door for others. I think this field has an environment where leaders can thrive, although it is not an organized structure. For example, three or four of us try to identify the potential young leaders, and then create opportunities for them to shadow us, be on committees, and share our expertise. I can do this in a small way within my organisation, but I don’t see it happening with intentionality and purpose.

 

DMS: As a leader in the field of early care and education, how did you go about getting others to follow?

 

MC: Demonstrate that you are not interested in consolidating power, rather you want to open up opportunities for others so that different voices can be at the table. It’s challenging because if your voice is outside the comfort zone of the majority of the people, then you either have to adjust to accommodate others or just stay the course assuming they will eventually understand. I think there is a balance.

 

The challenge then is to know where your strengths are, know your differences, and know where you can bridge commonalities that other people might have with you. Also, believe in the capacity of your own ideas. They may be different, so if they are not immediately embraced it does not make you a bad guy, it just means your ideas are different.

 

DMS: When did you first realize you were a leader? Were you born a leader, or did you grow into the role?

 

MC: If different people were sitting at this table, they might not use the word leader. They might say, “He’s been a habitual troublemaker.” I think you can be a leader and a troublemaker. My parents are unique people who have always been involved in education. I have felt a certain kinship with young people—children and adolescents—and I think I have radar about certain issues. There have been some interesting experiences in my life where I have drawn a line in the sand or assertively articulated a position that was contrary to conventional wisdom or majority opinion.

 

DMS: What is your perspective on upside-down leadership?

 

MC: I have been on different rungs of the ladder, but I‘ve never felt constrained or forced to be submissive no matter where I stood on that ladder. I’ve always felt compelled to assert myself and articulate my opinion. So existentially and intellectually, I think the concept of upside-down leadership is great and makes good sense. I like upside-down leadership and agree with it, but I have never worked in an organisation where it was appreciated and valued. Conceptually it makes perfect sense, but are people really down for it? I try to create an organisation in which I work to make that happen.

 

DMS: What about the leadership pipeline? What types of changes are needed to clear the way for emerging leaders?

 

MC: I think we (the collective we) have to decide if the changes we talk about are really the changes we want and value. It’s one thing to say that we are looking for a certain type of leadership to emerge; it’s another to say we are ready for it.

 

DMS: What words of wisdom would you like to share with emerging leaders in the field?

 

MC: Find your moral compass and know that it may be contrary to how an organisation works. Understand that there are great rewards for leadership and incredible risks. Things have changed in the last five to ten years. There is the desire for new leadership and at the same time there may be a hostile reception if it falls outside the group’s comfort zone.

 

Linda Likins is the National Director of Devereux Early Childhood Initiative in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

 

DMS: How well are we doing in creating an environment in which leaders can thrive?

 

LL: There are great attempts being made, but we still fall short. Sometimes in the early childhood field, we have a tendency to talk to ourselves rather then go outside our sphere of influence. In the last 10 years we’ve seen a lot happen in the area of professional development, including legislation (such as Head Start) that promotes professional development. Mentoring is important. Leaders in early childhood education select individuals they see as potential leaders for their program, region, and state. Each of us needs to take responsibility in promoting leadership.

 

DMS: As a leader in the field of early care and education, how did you go about getting others to follow?

 

LL: I’ve always been told by others that they can see my passion for my work. But I realized the need to get out of my immediate professional circle. Running for a local school board was a turning point for me. It allowed me to incorporate the knowledge and interpersonal skills gained from the early childhood arena. I believe that leading is about being passionate, believing in what you’re doing, talking to those you are responsible for leading as well as others within the community.

 

DMS: When did you first realize you were a leader? Were you born a leader, or did you grow into the role?

 

LL: I grew into it. I always felt very strongly about my work. I remember my reaction to receiving my first paycheck. As the principal handed it to me, I thought, “Oh, I forgot I get paid for this.” That’s how much I loved my work.

 

DMS: What is your perspective on upside-down leadership?

 

LL: While I worked at the state Department of Education, the governor made it his business to find out who had the best fried chicken in Kentucky. Upon entering a restaurant, there was a sign that said “Best fried chicken in Kentucky—One piece per customer.” When the governor asked for two pieces, he was directed to read the sign. He said, “Don’t you know who I am? I am the governor of Kentucky!” to which the lady replied, “And don’t you know who I am? I’m the lady in charge of the chicken.” This lady was the expert. She knew how to cook the best fried chicken in Kentucky. Many times teachers don’t recognize that they are the experts. They need to feel good about themselves in their role as leader to children and families.

 

DMS: What about the leadership pipeline? What types of changes are needed to clear the way for emerging leaders?

 

LL: It seems like the field is “graying.” Those of us who have been around for a long time need to make sure we are sharing our experiences and letting others know where we’ve come from and where are we now. We have to work to ensure that young leaders have the same kind of devotion and passion we do.

 

DMS: What words of wisdom would you like to share with emerging leaders in the field?

 

LL: The most encouraging thing I would say, though not very profound, is don’t give up. Every day young teachers need to think of the impact they have made on a young child or family and how that can extend to hundreds or even thousands over the course of five to ten years. Their work with families and children is so important. Everyone they talk to—on the subway, in the grocery store—is a potential advocate for early childhood education. So don’t hide your candle.

 

Deborah Eaton is Chief Operating Officer for Accreditation National Association of Family Child Care in Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

DMS: How well are we doing in creating an environment in which leaders can thrive?

 

DE: I believe we have made great strides. NAEYC has taken the lead in modeling a governance style of leadership that embraces diversity and inclusion, which in turn creates an environment where leaders can thrive. However, we still have a lot of work to do in this area. We need to get out in the trenches and identify emerging leaders who are representative of the early childhood teachers in the communities where they live. We need to encourage these emerging leaders to join professional organizations, invite them to serve on committees, and let them know that they can make a difference in the lives of children.

 

DMS: As a leader in the field of early care and education, how did you go about getting others to follow?

 

DE: I lead by example and by not being afraid to express my passion. In other words, I speak out for what I believe in. I have never allowed myself to think of myself or my profession as second class in any sense of the word. Likewise, I always spoke up if anyone wanted to pigeonhole me in a belief system that was outdated or incorrect.

 

DMS: When did you first realize you were a leader? Were you born a leader, or did you grow into the role?

 

DE: I was one of those children who are always assuming a leadership role. As an adult, I first realized I was a leader when I was voted president of my local family child care association. Following that, I was voted president of my AEYC section in California. Both organizations had over a thousand members at the time. After that, I began assuming national leadership roles. It’s funny now to reflect that I knew I was a leader before I realized that I was an advocate for young children. I think a lot of people in our profession are reluctant to think of themselves as advocates.

 

DMS: What is your perspective on upside-down leadership?

 

DE: I believe that we need to give individuals at every level an equal opportunity to become leaders. I immediately think of Japan. I lived there for four years in the 1970s and took a college classes while there. One class taught me that the Japanese style of leadership is like an inverted pyramid. Individuals begin their growth as part of the leadership team. The time spent in developing needed skills moves them up the pyramid of success with others. This process continues until a person is at the top of the inverted pyramid with many others of like mind. There is the most room at the top for leaders to truly be a part of a leadership model. It is a perfect model for upside-down leadership.

 

DMS: What about emerging leaders? Do you find them aggressive when it comes to pursuing their own professional development?

 

DE: In my experience new leaders who tend to be aggressive about every issue frequently come across as militant. I’ve seen that that attitude does not serve them well in the end. It tends to stifle, not facilitate, their professional growth. On the other hand, I believe there are times when emerging leaders should be aggressive in order to open doors of opportunity for professional development. For example, I’ve had to question leaders in our field about why family child care providers were left out of the loop or were not at the table when issues were discussed that would impact them. At times I’ve asked leaders to reconsider their boards or panels. So I guess my message is for emerging leaders to consider when it is or is not in their best interest to be aggressive.

 

DMS: What about the leadership pipeline? What types of changes are needed to clear the way for emerging leaders?

 

DE: Again we need to make sure that every person in our leadership pipeline has an equal opportunity to pursue her or his professional growth, regardless of race, color, creed, or area of expertise—that is, Head Start, family child care, school-age, church related, not-for-profit preschools, for-profit preschools, military environments, kindergarten classrooms, or any other early childhood setting. In family child care, there seem to be a lot of association leaders who think that once they assume a leadership role, it is for life. We need to change that mentality because it holds us back. We must allow new leaders to have opportunities to express their views and ideas.

 

DMS: What words of wisdom would you like to share with emerging leaders in the field?

 

DE: I would tell them to believe in themselves and not to be afraid—to be bold when they find it necessary.

By Laura Phillips, Kathleen Varela and Zoe Cooper