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The field of early care and education has no shortage of challenges. Difficulties finding and retaining qualified staff remain at the top of the list for many. But the list also includes low wages and lack of benefits such as paid sick leave, fluctuations in enrollment, adequate funding to support high-quality care, and, of course, the physical and emotional demands of the work. When challenges seem to pile up and the future feels bleak, I suggest we focus on hope.
Having hope in the face of struggles and uncertainty does not mean we ignore our challenges; rather, it means we reframe our perspectives to focus on the opportunity for things to get better. Hope helps leaders cope, and leaders who cultivate a climate of hope within their program can help staff have a more positive mindset and foster resiliency when faced with difficulties or setbacks.
A central component to hope is the idea of self-efficacy. In Building on Whole Leadership: Energizing and Strengthening Your Early Childhood Program, the authors use the definition from Albert Bandura, who defines self-efficacy as the “belief in one’s personal capability and resources to meet the demands of tasks and to reach defined goals.” Self-efficacy allows us to trust that even in hard times, we have some control over helping things get better.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brené Brown writes of discovering the work of C. R. Snyder (former Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas and author of The Psychology of Hope). She learned that “…hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process. Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process made up of what Snyder calls a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency. In very simple terms, hope happens when:
Essentially, Snyder suggested that hope results from a will (a person feels the desire to make a change) and a way (a person can see a pathway forward).
As a leader, you can use several strategies to cultivate hope and promote self-efficacy, first within yourself and then within your program.
Within Your Program:
We face no shortage of challenges as a field, and the past two years have been especially difficult in a number of ways. But while we have heard administrators and providers share stories of adversity and challenges, we have also learned about their resilience, adaptability, innovative thinking to meet unprecedented challenges, and gratitude for their staff. This is why I know that now more than ever, focusing on finding hope, even on our toughest days, is how we will make it through to brighter days.
Barb Volpe, M.Ed., is the Leadership Academy Manager for the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University (NLU). In this role, she manages and facilitates leadership academies and quality improvement training for early childhood administrators and technical assistance providers. Barb has over 25 years of leadership and management experience. Barb enjoys developing trainings and has made many local, statewide, and national presentations. Barb obtained her M.Ed. from NLU in early childhood administration and her B.S. in child and family development from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Prior to her work at the McCormick Center, Barb worked in the early childhood field as an infant/toddler and preschool teacher, site director, and education coordinator for both community-based programs and Head Start. She has written articles on topics in leadership and management of early childhood programs and taught for several years as adjunct faculty at the local community college. Barb’s passion is to support center and home-based administrators in making continuous quality improvement for the care and education of young children and their families.