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Leadership Development Programming for Early Childhood Educators: Rockwood’s Key Learnings

By July 9, 2020August 24th, 2022No Comments

Photo by Aaron Burden

Rockwood is proud to share that we have partnered with The David and Lucile Packard Foundation to launch the California Fellowship for Leaders in Early Care, Learning, and Health to support leaders working in roles that support all children, focusing on birth through age five.

We invite you to nominate colleagues, friends, and perhaps yourself for this leadership development opportunity:


or learn more about the nomination criteria

In 2018, Arabella Advisors funded by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation assessed the leadership development landscape within the early care, learning, and health (ECLH) field, as well as the demand for leadership development among those leaders in California.

The research pointed to the need to create a transformative leadership development program for leaders in the ECLH field, as well as delve deeper into the specific needs and issues that ECLH leaders are facing.

The following year, Rockwood was invited to explore the leadership challenges and needs that those in the ECLH field find most pressing. We interviewed 30 experts and potential participants who occupy a wide variety of roles across the field of early care and learning in California, and asked them what they see as their top challenges.

Before we were able to publish the results of that research, COVID-19 threw the issues we uncovered into stark relief. Not only is the pandemic disproportionately affecting communities of color, but it is also completely disrupting the ECLH field. Without strong, transformative leadership, closures to schools and childcare centers, decreases in funding, and discriminatory immigration policies will change the face of the ECLH field for years to come and negatively impact generations of children in the US.

At the same time, police murders and violence towards the ensuing protests are bringing to light the deeply racist inequities in American society. These systemic inequalities are present within the ECLH field, where a significant portion of direct service caretakers of children birth to age five are immigrant, women of color with limited access to leadership positions within the field.

Both of these interrelated realities make one thing clear: a leadership development program for ECLH leaders is more essential now than ever before.

Here are our key learnings for the design of a program that would help California ECLH leaders create and sustain high-quality, affordable, accessible, and equitable educational systems for all children:

    • Build a more cohesive and unified network by curating cohorts from a wide array of roles across the field

The early care and learning field is vast, extending far beyond schools and childcare centers to include healthcare agencies, government programs like libraries and parks, people working in policy and advocacy, social services, and more.As participants in this survey pointed out, this causes a lack of cohesion in the field. A cohort-based leadership development model – as opposed to one that focuses solely on the individual – would not only build more unity within leaders’ respective areas of work, but also allow them to learn more about the work others are doing across the sector. This benefit would also ripple out across the entire ECLH field as cohort members connect their communities.

    • Empower leaders to make systemic change by legitimizing their work, and countering racism and sexism within the field

Survey participants didn’t hesitate to point out that working with children and in education are both seen as coming naturally to women, which has relegated this crucial work to the “feminine sphere”. On top of this is the reality that Black and immigrant women of color are more likely to be in these roles, often for white employers. Participants shared that this creates a field where, despite recent data on the importance of early childhood education, wages are low and there’s a disregard for the professional skills required to do this work.

Providing leaders in the ECLH field – especially historically-marginalized leaders like child care providers and teachers, private childcare owners, small nonprofits, and friends, family, neighbor (FFN) networks – with tools and systems of support that would help empower them to better face and address the very real marginalization they experience.

    • Create spaces for organic partnerships to emerge

What would be possible if teachers began developing programming with librarians? If people in social services worked closely with people creating policies? If nonprofits provided support to childcare centers?The ECLH leaders we surveyed shared an interest in being a part of a program where they could share what their work looks like on a daily basis in order to generate potential for partnership. Giving ECLH leaders more opportunities to build, expand, and innovate the field would ultimately provide the children they work with the best care and education possible.

The key here, however, is that these partnerships should be organic and driven by the leaders themselves. Because the field is wide, diverse, and siloed, there’s a gap in knowledge and communication about what would be the most beneficial for the field and the children it serves. By bringing  cohorts together, we often see that the gaps begin to close, and the partnerships that emerge are often ones that couldn’t have been anticipated.

    • Build trust and allow for vulnerability to help leaders feel more connected, powerful, and purposeful

Participants expressed feeling a sense of isolation within their roles, which is little surprise: it’s one of the most common themes leaders from every field and sector mention before going through Rockwood’s programs.While a cohort-based model plays a large part in eliminating that feeling, it’s also essential to have a curriculum that allows participants to build trust and be vulnerable with one another. When participants feel safe, secure, and validated in their experiences, it allows them to open themselves up more fully to the often difficult work of self-reflection that leads to transformation.

Early care, learning, and health professionals are doing the critical and valuable work of shaping future generations, and they do it within a culture that treats their work as unimportant while also facing racism, sexism, and isolation.

Creating a leadership development program that would help them meet those challenges head-on would give the leaders we trust with our children’s lives and well-being the skills, support, and connection they need to do that work effectively and joyously.