An Executive Director with a Plan
Once upon a time, there was an Executive Director, Barbara Jackson, who hatched a plan to help grow the skills of educators.
After many years of working as the Executive Director of a stand-alone child care centre, I realized the immense pressure this role places on individuals working in this position. Many Executive Directors are Educators who have shifted their practice from working in a classroom to taking on administrative tasks. Over the years however, I learned that some Executive Directors of licensed child care organizations were not Educators and instead had a background in business, finances, human resources, marketing, or communications. Additionally, I learned that Executive Directors of large organizations employed individuals with expertise in specific areas necessary for successfully operating a licensed child care organization.
I began to ponder, what would it look like for our organization if we were able to rethink our organizational structure and create one that exemplified shared leadership and democratic practice?
Community conversations had inspired me to think about succession planning, so it was my hope to create a robust succession plan while providing opportunities for learning and growth.
Capacity building funding applications shared with the child care community by our municipality, presented an opportunity for our organization to “rethink our practice”. Our Program Supervisor had participated in the Pedagogist training with the Provincial Centre of Excellence. Our Centre embedded this pedagogical practice with our Educators and we sought to engage another child care centres to learn together between our sites. This pedagogical project would involve the Program Supervisor and Executive Director working alongside Educators in another organization to research together with children, families, and communities.
The twofold benefits of this plan became evident as we realized:
- The opportunity for our Educators to learn administrative tasks to foster the growth of a shared leadership model, and;
- In researching together with Educators from another organization, we would not only engage in pedagogical growth within the child care community, but would also work towards succession planning by fostering a larger knowledge base within our Centre.
We secured funding for this pedagogical project from the City of London. Within the Centre we launched an application process to recruit for two new Team Leader positions who would begin to learn the daily operations of a licensed child care centre. The Team Leaders quickly became familiar with the many tasks involved in the day to day operations of a licensed child care facility including the complexities of our work with children, families, and the community.
The second phase of our Pedagogical Project involved partnering with another child care centre. It was our hope that our sites would in unison and engage in learning with each other and with the children. The work from this interagency engagement would be shared with our families, our communities, and our colleagues in the wider child care community.
Yet, as we prepared to enter this next exciting phase of the project, the world was suddenly faced with an invisible enemy, the invasion of the Covid-19 virus.
Turn the Page to the Pandemic
Quickly our entire child care community was turned upside down through the mandated closures of all licensed child care centres in Ontario. Licensed child care agencies were forced to make many difficult decisions during this closure period in 2020. I remember hours of intense meetings with our volunteer Board of Directors, who were busy trying to establish their own family plans to offset the temporary loss of child care.
Driven by our collaborative mission, and a shift to on-line practices, our organization was able to retain our permanent employees. From a home office, I moved payroll to an online system, managed communication with staff, families, and the Board, and revised budget after budget.
Additionally, I sought an approach to keep our staff engaged during a pandemic. Little did we know how this shift in practice was going to lead to an intense, but rewarding, period of growth for our Centre.
Did you say, “Book Club”?
The Centre remained closed as the Pandemic continued and it became clear that the Educators needed to feel connected to each other, and to their practice. Members of the pedagogical team met virtually and proposed the program team develop an online community of practice for our staff.
A Board Member with experience in Early Childhood Education, proposed another opportunity.
Dr Wendy Crocker, an academic working on-line with doctoral students in the U.S., was overseeing the work of a student looking to conduct a virtual Book Club as a strategy for promoting equitable professional development.
Initially, the Book Club was a mechanism to delve more deeply into pedagogical documentation with the Pedagogical Team. However, the weekly Book Club meetings quickly developed into a blueprint for the team at Parkwood to lead professional learning with other interested stand-alone centres.
Both Wendy and Barbara joined the Parkwood Book Club with Nicole and the Program Team. They were co-learners in the discussion of the selected book, Pedagogical Documentation in Early Childhood by Susan Stacey.
Selected for its Canadian content, its easy to read and implement format, enabled the club to choose the next chapter based on the key elements emerging from each discussion. More time was spent in some chapters, while in others the discussion grew into an exploration of the implementation of the ideas in practice at the Centre.
What emerged was a hopscotch through the chapters as opposed to reading the book in order. This approach was an important step to developing a deeper, more personal understanding of pedagogical documentation and how it could unfold at Parkwood.
Both the Program Team and the Pedagogical Teams engaged in learning through parallel work during the pandemic. The teams collaborated frequently to share experiences, to develop ideas, and to dream of ways to continue to grow the pedagogical practice of the Educators in Parkwood Children’s Centre.
The Program Team continues to engage with Educators both inhouse and in the community to think about next steps for networking, communities of practice, and to support one another through these challenging times. Working in stand-alone centres can be isolating, so creating spaces for connection during the pandemic was more essential than it was even before Covid.
The larger Pedagogical Team continues to meet and find ways to push one another’s thinking. Further, they are engaged in research to showcase the learning that is taking place among children, educators, families, and communities.
As an organization, we feel so much more aligned and draw strength from our new shared leadership.
The Program Team, Danielle Gebeyehu, Michele Andersen, and Susan Ward, shared their perspectives and experiences on this journey at Strive’s Educator Stories session on March 11, 2021.
As we come to the end of the story of Parkwood’s Book Club,
The doctoral student and the Board Member were delighted at the success of the research project.
The Pedagogical Team and the Educators were inspired by the deep learning that had taken place through the Book Club, and the new ideas that were shared.
The Executive Director was thrilled with the opportunity that the Book Club had presented for engagement and connection both inside the Centre, and outwardly to other stand-alone child care centres during the Pandemic.
And behind their masks, they smiled.
Written by Barbara Jackson, RECE, MPEd, Parkwood Children’s Centre, Executive Director, and Wendy Crocker, OCT, PhD, Parkwood Children’s Centre, Board Member.
Has the pandemic inspired change or reflection in your own practice or organization? Comment below!
Barbara Jackson is the Executive Director of Parkwood Children’s Centre. She was born and raised in London, Ontario but also had the opportunity to work and learn with children in Alberta and Japan. Her background in cultural anthropology inspired Barb to travel over the years, finally settling in London 15 years ago. Barb holds a Master of Professional Education degree with a focus on Early Childhood Education. She plans on continuing her learning journey but is currently enjoying her time growing pedagogical practice at Parkwood Children’s Centre and working as a part-time instructor at Fanshawe College in the Early Childhood Leadership program.
Wendy Crocker, PhD is a Board Member at Parkwood Children’s Centre. An educator for 30 years in London areas schools, she now teaches in the doctoral program at the School of Graduate Education, Northeastern University, Boston, MA. When she’s not on Zoom with her students, Wendy loves watching movies. She has been planning her garden with the hope that Spring is on the way!
Do you have an inspiring impact story that you’d like to share? We’d love to feature it on a future blog post!