Whole Leadership: What’s It Mean to You? | Policy [M]atters, Episode 4

by Teri Talan and Susan Ochshorn

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Welcome to episode four of Policy [M]atters, an early childhood policy video chat series produced by the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. This episode features Teri Talan of the McCormick Center and Susan Ochshorn of ECE PolicyWorks. In this episode, Susan and Teri dialogue on their perspectives of whole leadership.

They discuss parallels between the whole child and whole leadership concepts. Teri shares the ‘why’ behind the McCormick Center’s whole leadership push. Other questions that come up are:

  • Where does advocacy fit in?
  • What responsibilities does a leader have?
  • What impact could whole leadership have?
  • Does more professional development funding for leaders mean less for teachers?

Join the conversation! What does whole leadership mean to you? Share your perspective on whole leadership in the comments section below.

Dr. Teri Talan is the Michael W. Louis Chair at the McCormick Center and Professor of Early Childhood Education at National Louis University. She is co-author of the Program Administration Scale, Business Administration Scale for Family Child Care, Escala de Evaluación de la Administración de Negocios, and Who’s Caring for the Kids? The Status of the Early Childhood Workforce in Illinois.

Susan Ochshorn is the founder ECE PolicyWorks and author of Squandering America’s Future: Why ECE Policy Matters for Equality, Our Economy, and Our Children. She works in a broad range of settings to bridge research, policy, and practice, to integrate ECE into the larger education reform conversation, and to catalyze social change.






VOICEOVER: Welcome to episode 4 of Policy [M]atters, an early childhood policy video chat series produced by the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. This episode features Teri Talan of the McCormick center, and Susan Ochschorn of ECE PolicyWorks. In this episode Teri and Susan dialogue on the perspectives of whole leadership.

TERI: Welcome to our policy video chat, I’m really excited to be here with Susan Ochschorn, I’m Teri Talan, and we’re going to be discussing the topic of Whole Leadership today.

So I will just get started Susan, by saying that the McCormick Center has been engaged in a really exciting endeavor exploring the concept of a Whole Leadership.

And people are familiar with the whole child, you’ve written a lot about the importance of the whole child. And I’d like to ask you to start by saying, what comes to your mind when I say to you, “whole leadership?”

SUSAN: What comes to mind is the whole child, and as we’ve been charting this kind of, I hope it’s going to be a movement, or an initiative, to really look at the whole child. Leadership has to be in sync with that. So that means really being very attuned to kids’ social-emotional development, their cultural, and racial backgrounds, whether or not they live in poverty.

You know, what are the factors that have an impact on their ability to learn well and develop. Looking at health, also looking at the way they are in their communities. So a whole leader is somebody who really kind of embodies all of those things, and needs to be kind of connected in that ecosystem.

TERI: So I think when I think about whole child, I think about the fact that we really want policy folk to be cognizant that all of children’s development is really key to have the kinds of healthy development that we want for young children.

And we all know that policymakers sometimes like things simple, like one simple single ingredient to focus on. So by focusing on the whole child, and yet that’s a clear-cut concept, it helps policymakers deal with the reality that all of children’s development, cognitive, social, emotional attitudes towards learning are important. At the McCormick Center, we were responding to the fact that our space, early childhood program leadership, which has been our space for 30-plus years, right, has suddenly become of interest to policymakers, and people very broadly.

And yet, we were concerned that the concept of what it takes to be really effective as a program leader could easily run that same dangerous path of saying, “oh we know instructional leadership is important,” and focusing there without realizing that’s so important but it’s only one piece of what’s important. So we jumped on the bandwagon really of thinking, “whole child” communicates something immediately and “whole leadership” hopefully does the same.

SUSAN: I think it does Teri, you know, we started a series of whole child Twitter chats. In the process, I have met a lot of people who are really really embodying what McCormick is looking at as whole leadership. David Aderholt, who is a superintendent in the Princeton area of New Jersey, he really sees social-emotional development as very very important. Jamal Bowman, who’s here in New York City where I lived, he’s Principal of, and founding principal of a middle school. And he really sees that the whole child is very important and he’s working with kids who are in poverty, and children of color mostly. Then there are others. There’s a Maryland principal who’s
working… not a principal, a superintendent, whose name I don’t remember, but… So in
any event, I think that it’s already out there and the exciting is that early childhood I mean as we’ve talked about before, has the space that you’re in and then early childhood educators are in, is perfect. It’s like the perfect storm for really starting a conversation about what it looks like.

TERI: Right, and I just want to… like another piece that I think is really critical right now, is getting people involved so that this… I think of Stacie Goffin, and the important work Stacie has done around having the field be involved in defining what the profession looks like, and who is in this profession? What are the competencies, and how do we self monitor, and direct the profession and be responsible for what it is committed to doing? And take responsibility for it.

Same thing for program leaders. We have many people on the outside who want to define what an effective program leader is, but we haven’t had a lot of tapping into the incredible knowledge base of program leaders themselves. So one of the things we’ve been doing with our series of blogs, is really pushing program leaders in the field to think deeply about the concept of whole leadership. Is it instructional leadership? Is it pedagogical leadership? Is it administrative leadership? Is it operational? Are these the right terms? What else is critical to our work?

So it’s understanding that we don’t want one single ingredient, we really want program leaders to be engaged in this defining what this work is and setting the standard. So just the same as we’ve engaged teachers in identifying what’s important for the whole child, that’s what we’re trying to do with the McCormick Center around whole leadership.

SUSAN: I love your blog and I’ve been reading it, it’s great. I remember reading something in one of the blogs about a kind of authenticity. Yes, you need to be a whole leader, program leader, needs to be very on up to speed on all of the infrastructure, and the management, and all of those things. But there needs to be also a real appreciation of sort of the whole ecosystem of the setting. Right?

And also totally analogous to what we’re talking about with kid, right? We’re looking at them in their ecosystem. The other thing is that that I think is important, is that part of that authenticity needs to involve advocacy and really really relating, and connecting for collective impact in the community, who are working with kids and families.

TERI: That’s one of the questions that one of our readers, and responders on the blog brought up. Where does advocacy fit in for effective leaders? And you know is this an aspect of leadership that needs to be called out on its own? Is it a part of administrative leadership? Is it everybody’s professional responsibility? But I like the fact that we’re beginning the conversation about where it fits, and highlighting it as a part of leadership.

Because you know program leaders are internally focused, and making sure their organizations are running smoothly, but if they’re not focused on the outside in the communities that they’re situated in, in the state, and federal environments, then they are always reacting to things being done to them. So a truly effective leader needs to be able to be outward focused as well, and think strategically, think systemically, and that’s what some of our readers have been highlighting.

SUSAN: I’m so glad to hear that. You know I’ve done some work with Naomi Karp and LaVon de Ville at United Way in Southern Arizona, and this is exactly… they had this really groundbreaking professional development initiative, which is very much… in sync with what you all are doing at McCormick. And the idea was… what we really focused on was talking about connections in the community, really fostering those kinds of links to nonprofits, to policymakers, to other institutions of higher ed, to you libraries, to health organizations.

All of the building blocks of a child ecosystem have to be part of this, the leader’s toolbox really. I don’t see it as separate really. I mean yeah, administrative leadership, I guess you could say technically, needs to be sort of its own place, but it is a responsibility. It is one of NAEYC’s professional standards. Advocacy is.

TERI: Yeah, and I think people have certain assumptions. What is administrative leadership? Recently I was looking at that term, and think of it in terms of both strategic leadership and operational. So oftentimes that strategic, where I see the policy, and community building in the community systems building work is part of that strategic leadership. It doesn’t get addressed. And if you think about how leaders are prepared, there’s so little attention to that aspect of what an effective leader needs to know and be able to do.

So I think this is going to have hopefully major impact for the preparation of leaders moving forward. Once we really tease out, or as my colleague Mike Abel put it, “deconstruct program leadership,” I think then we’re really going to be able to try to work with higher ed and other institutions to make sure those competencies are getting addressed.

SUSAN: I love it. I think it’s it has such potential, and also Teri, there really isn’t another alternative given how interconnected we are… given the very sort of holistic way that we’re viewing the child, that we see development, and early learning. It’s just a no-brainer, it has to happen.

TERI: So I want to take it back to policy though for a moment. Okay? And I know from work that I do with national advocates, that there’s been so much effort at addressing the needs of having high-quality, well-qualified teachers. That there’s been a reluctance to say we need to have a similar focus on leaders.

And because in some way it’s perceived as there’s a finite amount of resources, and we don’t have enough to go around, to focus on having well-qualified leaders. What would your response be that?

SUSAN: If you don’t have well-qualified leaders, you’re not going to have terrific, well-qualified teachers, that’s my response. I think that’s suicidal, really. It makes no sense to me. I don’t understand that. I think… I mean we both know, we all know, that the resources for professional development of the early childhood workforce are really,  inadequate and there has to be a way.

It has to be both and, they can’t be separate, and there needs to be equal… they need to be equally funded and invested in. And this gets back to the advocating and to really to the role of the leader in the community and in policy shaping. And if leaders have it as part of their professional responsibility to advocate for their staff, and for children, and families then that’s the way it’s going to happen.

It has to be something that’s really organic. But it’s not going to happen if they are isolated in their settings and are not really engaged for collective impact in the community. They have to find peers and other colleagues in other systems that serve children and families, and in other institutions and with other stakeholders in the community, both locally in the state, and yes on the federal level. But locally is really really important, I would say.

TERI: So as my grandmother used to say, “from your lips to God’s ear.” Right? Equal funding for the professional development of effective leaders needs to be on the agenda of policymakers, along with a “not instead of,” but an along with well-qualified, and supported, and compensated teachers.

Thank you, Susan, for joining the conversation, I hope you’ll put some of your comments on our blogs and look forward to having you join in in this continuing conversation about Whole Leadership voluntary.

SUSAN: Thank you, Teri, it’s been a pleasure.