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The Search for Emerging Leaders

by Bonnie Neugebauer and Roger Neugebauer and the Exchange Emerging Leader Review Team
May/June 2015
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Article Link: https://www.childcareexchange.com/article/the-search-for-emerging-leaders/5022352/

NOTE: In November 2014, Exchange announced a search for emerging leadership in the field of Early Care and Education. We undertook the search as treasure hunters, seeking what we knew to be there but which we could not see. Applications required:

  • contact information
  • personal mission statement
  • résumé
  • 2 letters of recommendation
  • a photo

All applications were reviewed by the distinguished members of the Emerging Leaders Review Team. We are grateful to each of the applicants and reviewers and honored to share the search results with you.

Emerging Leaders are everywhere, doing amazing work locally, in states and provinces, and nationally. Leadership can take many forms, from the leader in a classroom in an early care and education or school-age program to people working globally.

Some have become leaders on their own through tenacity. Others have been nurtured along, and some have been pushed into the forefront. What they share are these constants:

  • Passion and a belief that they must and CAN make a difference on behalf of young children and their families or in the field of Early Care and Education.
  • Vision for what needs to happen based on analysis of why things are the way they are and what needs to change to achieve the vision.
  • Determination and persistence.
  • Knowledge and understanding of what they don't know and a willingness, an eagerness, and curiosity to continue to learn and grow.
  • Belief that together we are stronger and a drive to share the accomplishments and recognition — the power and the glory, and the work.
  • Humility based on recognition that leaders before us have built the mission, passion, and knowledge-base of our field.
  • Pride and the willingness to self-¬identify as a leader.

Motivation for the Exchange Leadership Initiative grew from Exchange's 37 year commitment to professional development and so many comments such as this one from Sue Bredekamp, Early Childhood Education Consultant:

"The need to nurture and identify a new generation of early education leaders has been a concern of mine for some time. In my 43 years as an early childhood professional, I have seen the field grow exponentially without simultaneously producing a cadre of qualified leaders who are truly knowledgeable and experienced early childhood professionals themselves."

We were excited about the number of really skilled people who applied. They give us confidence to know that our field will be in good hands, a personal concern for many of us. We were pleased to see the different roles among the applicants and the strong numbers of men. It was difficult to rate the applications — and that's a good thing.

We recognize that this is not the first and/or only effort to support leadership in our field. Reviewer Alice Honig, Professor Emerita of Child Development at Syracuse University, tells us that she participated in a Federal grant in the late 1960s to identify early childhood leaders of the future. Along with others chosen from that search, she visited programs through the United States for two years (Preschool Education: A handbook for the training of early childhood educators, edited by R. W. Colvin and E. M. Zaffiro). What an experience!

The search for Emerging Leaders is just the beginning of the Exchange Leadership Initiative. The next search moving forward is for Master Leaders (over age 45), and in 2016 we will search for Teacher Leaders and again for Emerging Leaders. As the searches are completed, the vetted applicants will be hosted on our website and distinctions will disappear as we explore ways of highlighting leaders, and grow in our understanding of the qualities, training, support, and skill sets that underlie leadership. It is our intention that Exchange, in collaboration with other professional organizations, continues the search and support for leadership in ECE. Once identified, these leaders will be invaluable in plotting our ideas and initiatives into the future — they will lead us.

All of us who were involved in this Initiative learned through this search. We learned about the applicants and our process, of course, and we learned about ourselves:

  • The early childhood profession has a strong group of emerging leaders to continue the important work of educating young children, as well as supporting and advocating for them, their families, and their communities.
  • Many of the leaders you will meet in this issue, whether identified as exceptional or promising, are not emerging. They are full-fledged contributors to the field and ready, willing, and quite able to continue their professional leadership. They are influential, connected, and effective.

The act of applying for this designation is profound. That impressed us deeply. All of the 191 applicants want to be leaders and define themselves as leaders. About 50% are leaders in their classrooms or programs. The 49 Exceptional Leaders and the 55 Promising Leaders demonstrate leadership within their own organizations, but they have also demonstrated leadership in advocating for ¬children in their greater communities. We made this distinction between doing your job well and leading outward.

Many qualified Emerging Leaders were unaware of this opportunity, so we hope they will apply in 2016.

About ourselves, we learned that we can recognize leadership when we see it, that even though it's not always comfortable to evaluate others it's incredibly exciting to see the present and the future more clearly in the hands of others. And this process reinforced our desire and intention to be used as mentors and cheerleaders and resources as we encourage others to move forward.

When we began working with and for young children over 35 years ago, it wasn't a profession. The field was small and leaders were highly visible because there were so few. Often the same people were developing national policy, operating programs, writing books, and being with ¬children. It was easy to connect with and recognize leadership. We committed for life and we needed each other. Over long careers we have been involved in building a profession that impacts the lives of children across the country and around the world. Now, many more early childhood people play huge roles in their own communities and across communities, and it is no longer so easy for leaders to find each other. Conference experiences tend to be overwhelming, and often, we rally to hear the same voices rather than seeking out those we haven't heard before.

If you see yourself as a leader, that will change how you think and how you act. Each of us has the capacity to contribute to our field.

Emerging Leaders were reviewed on the following criteria:

Professionals who are well-grounded in their own work and program or organization and who are using their strengths and advocacy skills to make a difference for children, families, and their communities.

Emerging Leaders include classroom teachers, as well as program managers, organization leaders, teacher trainers — anyone connected to issues around young children, families, care, and education.

Professionals under the age of 45 who are demonstrating leadership potential and actions.

Professionals who understand strong Early Care and Education principles and practices, including addressing diversity and equity, and who are engaged in life-long learning.

Professionals demonstrating the ability to work collaboratively and with personal initiative.

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