Creating Intentional Teacher Leadership Paths
Supporting the professional development of early childhood educators
By: Jamal Berry, Deputy Director of Educare DC
Data shows that a large portion of teachers in the ECE field are experiencing stress, whether it’s at work or in their personal lives, and a study in Arkansas showed that 60 percent reported depression. As an education administrator, I have counseled teachers who are experiencing anxiety and even suicidal thoughts. Higher wages most certainly could alleviate some of the stresses teachers are under. But beyond investing financially in early childhood educators, what can leaders do to better support our workforce?
For starters, the Head Start community would benefit from thinking of more innovative and intentional pathways for teacher leaders. As administrators, we can do more to inspire teachers to achieve goals, and we can encourage them by supporting their growth, which in turn can help them recognize their value to children, families, and the greater community.
Three Teachers, One Strategy
Erie Bronfenbrenner once stated, “someone has to be crazy about the child.” As an early childhood educator for the last 13 years, a manager, and a leader in the field, one of my major epiphanies was that children grow up to become adults. No, that isn’t as profound as Piaget or Freud’s findings, however, it has directly influenced my passion for ensuring that teachers are supported professionally and in their everyday lives. I have seen that precept also spur the growth of numerous colleagues. Here are three in particular.
Teacher 1: Supporting Steady, Intentional Professional Growth
The day we interviewed her, I knew she would be great. She said with so much humility, “Although I qualify for a Lead Teacher position, I don’t want to mess any kids up, I want to learn about curriculum.” So she started as a Teacher Aide. After a year of hard work and dedication, she was promoted to an Assistant Teacher. The following year, she became a Lead Teacher, and now serves as a Supervising Lead Teacher. Along the way, she had the support from her supervisor and myself and was guided by an Individual Professional Development Plan with goals and objectives to meet. As she met the goals, her knowledge grew and her teaching became more effective.
Teacher 2: Finding New Ways for Passionate Staff to Grow
The great thing about this teacher was that despite all of our focus on teacher recruitment, we didn’t find her, she had found us. She applied because she wanted to work with the population that needed her the most. Later that year, she decided to further her education by enrolling a master’s program for early childhood education. She already brought a wealth of knowledge to Head Start and was willing to drive an hour each way to serve the children and families who needed her.
When a coaching position soon became available, this teacher informed me that she wanted to apply. Although I knew she would be an amazing coach, I also knew that going from the classroom to coaching her peers so quickly would be a challenging task, so we put an Individual Professional Development Plan in place. This plan included a new role that we coined “Master Lead Teacher,” in which she supervised and coached her current two-person teaching team. She learned about coaching and supervising by coaching and supervising, while also receiving formal training.
Teacher 3: Guiding Staff Through Planning Their Own Growth
We had another person who demonstrated strong growth as a teacher but made clear she had goals beyond the classroom. although she didn’t know what that looked like. She came to me professionally and presented that she was ready for a move, and we had a discussion about her strengths. Together, we sat down and created an Individual Professional Plan. This targeted plan helped her to see that her organization skills, experience, and influence with her peers made her a great choice to become a professional development coordinator with the organization.
Intentional professional development of teachers is one valuable strategy to support and retain the Head Start workforce. Investing in our staff who do the heavy lifting would benefit us all, but it’s important to remember that investment isn’t just monetary. Investment can mean your time, patience, affection, and love. We owe our staff that much so that they can pass it on to the children and families they care for every day
Jamal Berry is the Deputy Director of Educare DC. The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of his organization.