Greater Good Blog

What We Learned by Listening to Leaders in Early Childhood Care and Education

Gwen Walden and Shayna Keller
What We Learned by Listening to Leaders in Early Childhood Care and Education

Last summer, the New Venture Fund, with support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, commissioned Arabella Advisors to review the leadership development landscape within the early childhood education sector. As detailed in the resulting report, Arabella’s researchers found that strong leaders are vitally important to advancing the field’s priorities, but relevant leadership development opportunities are scarce and scattered 

We’re now releasing a follow-on reportbased on new research that focused on the needs and first-hand perspectives of a group of diverse leaders in the broader field of early childhood care and learning. This report bridges our existing knowledge of the “supply” of leadership development programs with a deeper understanding of the “demand” for such programs among potential participants. We believe that putting the voices of those who aspire to one day lead the field front and center is essential as we work to build more equitable, effective early childhood systems. Accordingly, leaders’ voices figure prominently in the report and its recommendations.  

My school is the epicenter of many systems of oppression that are converging,” one interviewee observedI want to think about what’s next, but I don’t have the mental capacity to do so because I’m consumed with making sure that the school is a safe, vibrant, and healthy place for kids and families. 

Another interviewee noted that her “secret dream” is to serve on a task force that “works toward making high-quality, affordable preschool education available to all children in California.” We think the most motivated and dedicated leaders in this field should be serving in exactly such capacities, and we know they need opportunities to think about what’s next. 

More broadly, we found that leaders in early childhood care and learning understand that achieving the best outcomes for children and families means learning to navigate complex personal, organizational, and systemic challenges. To do so effectivelythey have to become skilled at managing individuals and teams, stewarding organizational resources, and advocating for their communities’ needs.  

Few leaders receive formal leadership development training to strengthen these skills. Many are eager to pursue such opportunities; they see leadership development training as essential to their personal growth and as a critical step toward building the field and effectively serving children, families, and communities. 

With all of that in mind, the report arrives at the following takeaways: 

  • Philanthropy has an immediate opportunity to help cultivate a strong next generation of leaders in early childhood care and learning. Funders interested in improving outcomes for children and families and improving equity in the field can invest in leadership development that fortifies early childhood leaders’ skills, helps them build strong and lasting networks, and provides the financial support and flexibility required to make these programs accessible. 
  • Early childhood care and learning leaders want to effect change at the systems level. They are excited about the scale and immediacy of the impact of policy, specifically as it influences how resources are allocated for children and familiesLeaders understand that actively engaging decision makers (including funders, district leaders, and legislators) and the communities they serve (including families) is essential to driving the changes they wish to see in their schoolsdistricts, and regionsAccordingly, leadership development programs should help leaders build inroads to decision makers across sectors, learn to galvanize people around a shared vision, and amplify their voices as advocates. 
  • Learning to lead effectively takes time and requires intensive development. To build lasting change for children, families, and communities, leaders desire access to cohort-based programs with extended learning time horizons and applied opportunities to implement and refine their new skills. 

To download the full report, click here 

Given the racial, socioeconomic, and geographic diversity of the field’s rising leaders, we believe leadership development is vitally important in increasing equity within the field. We hope our reports will help funders find effective ways to support this work. If you or those you know have questions about how best to engage, feel free to contact us at 

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