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In The Wings - Issue 4

In The Wings - Focus on Head Start

Message from Carla Rogg, President, ProSolutions Training

Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, once said, "the only constant in life is change."


The last few years have brought seemingly insurmountable levels of change, so we’ve all had to adapt. During times of change, supportive leadership becomes something we all strive to find. 


As a leader, you set the tone. You must lead in a thoughtful, proactive manner. So, how do you get through this? How do you support your employees, your families, and yourself?


First, take care of yourself. Before an airplane takes off, flight attendants demonstrate using the oxygen mask. They advise: If you’re traveling with a young child or someone who needs help, put your mask on first. Why? If you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else. 


The same principle goes for any other helping role, including leadership. So, take care of yourself. 

 

It’s normal to feel sad, stressed, scared, or angry during challenging times. If your feelings become unmanageable, consider reaching out to a counselor or physician. Many now offer phone or video-based counseling services. 


Here are five strategies to remember while leading during times of change. 


1.  Communication

It is rare to find poor communication associated with a well-run business. Times of change require us to step up our communication skills and efforts.   


Recognize — and embrace — that we’re all learning to communicate in new ways. And don’t forget: communication includes listening. Sometimes listening is the most powerful thing we leaders can do!


2.  Transparency

If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to let your employees know. Be honest. There’s a misconception that transparency only applies to owning up to a mistake or righting a wrong. Transparency should be part of all interactions. It builds trust and credibility. 


3.  Flexibility

This is hard for many of us in positions of leadership. We like to set expectations, provide deadlines, and expect staff to follow our direction. Yet, the world is changing daily, and we, too, must adapt.


4.  Show Grace and Compassion

In the work context, we don’t often talk about grace and compassion. That’s a big miss on our part as leaders. Change can feel stressful. Even still, pause and show grace and compassion. 


5.  Let Go What You Can’t Control

You can’t control the actions of other people. However, you can control your own attitude and actions. Your ability to show kindness and empathy. At least once a day, disconnect yourself from the news, television, and social media. Take time to just be. Focus on what you can control — not on what you can’t. 


The world is changing. Our current times are testing our resolve and shaping who we are. We are finding out what we have inside us. I’m confident we will learn, grow and come out stronger and better. 

 

In every crisis, the true heroism is self-discipline, patience and strong determination.  (- Amit Ray, Peace, Bliss, Beauty and Truth: Living with Positivity)

Interview with Dr. Deborah Bergeron, Deputy Director of Community Engagement and Innovation at National Head Start Association


ProSolutions Training (PST): Can you give us a brief history of your experience in early care and education and Head Start? What is the best part about your career with Head Start?


Dr.  Deborah Bergeron: I started my career in K-12 and spent about three decades working as a teacher, administrator, and supplemental educational services provider. Early childhood was part of that work. But I had not focused on early childhood until I was asked to lead the Office of Head Start in 2018. At that point, it became apparent very quickly that Head Start is where I belonged. Funny that it took so long to find, but there it was, and I haven’t looked back. 


Effective early learning transforms lives.


And Head Start is the best-spent federal dollar. It approaches child development from a whole family perspective. It views the parent as a child’s first and most important teacher. It trusts families as integral throughout the process of supporting their children’s growth and development. 


In fact, this was demonstrated yet again in a recently released multigenerational study of Head Start. It shows that our efforts disrupt intergenerational poverty. This is exactly what Head Start was designed to do!


PST: What impact have you seen COVID-19 have on Head Start programs? What major adjustments have providers had to make?


Dr.  Bergeron: It has been said that COVID has accelerated existing trends. So, if we look at Head Start, we can see that pattern exactly. Programs that were struggling with hiring staff are struggling more. Programs that were struggling to fill slots are struggling more. Programs that had solid relationships with families have even stronger relationships now. Programs that were dabbling in the use of technology, both in classrooms and as a family connector, expedited that development and have fully embraced it to enhance their effectiveness overall. 


Overall, the workforce crisis we are seeing nationwide is exacerbated by COVID and more impactful in Head Start than elsewhere. When Head Start programs cannot hire staff, classrooms are shut down. Children and families lose access. This is not what happens in public schools, for example, so even though public schools are also struggling to hire, a child is never sent home because of this challenge. As well, the lack of adequate pay for this very important work has only gotten worse since COVID began to impact programs. Wages have not kept up with inflation. The expectations of the workforce have shifted. Vaccine and mask mandates caused a great deal of staff loss as well. 


PST: What do you feel are the critical needs for Head Start providers?

 

Dr.  Bergeron: The most critical need right now is more staff. Period. Qualified staff are not there. Even potentially qualified staff are not there. There is no pipeline of people to train and excite about this very important work. The lack of staff is the impetus for many of the other issues that exist right now. 


Enrollment is down in Head Start (as it is in all early childhood programs and PK

classrooms). Much of the decline in enrollment, however, is caused by the closure of classrooms because of the workforce crisis. 


Staff wellness is suffering. People are physically and mentally exhausted, and work that requires enormous physical and mental endurance ends up suffering. Again, a big part of the added stress to existing staff is the lack of staff overall. When hiring is difficult, folks who are in programs must carry the burden that causes. Whether it is doing extra administrative work or simply carrying the stress of being unable to serve all children and families who need the support, staff are struggling. 


COVID has also caused stress on our children and families, which, in turn, creates greater stress for staff. Challenging behaviors exhibited by children who have had extremely tumultuous lives in recent years create stress in classrooms and cause teachers to lose confidence in their ability to do their jobs well, which is extremely important to them. 


The bottom line is Head Start programs need staff support. Higher wages, more mental health support, more classroom support, more professional development for staff and leadership support are all aspects of program operations that could help alleviate much of the current stress. 


PST: What are some of the top ways Head Start supports families and communities? Do you have any recommendations on how to get parents and families more involved?


Dr.  Bergeron: The most basic thing Head Start does that is unique to its very structure is build TRUST with parents and families. Trust is built by engaging families in every aspect of the program. Through Policy Council (required in the Act) programs parents sit on boards, help hire new staff, look at budgets and contribute to programming decisions. When parents feel that level of ownership, they feel like partners, and everything just runs better. Some programs have found new technologies (again expedited due to COVID) to be very effective in deepening connections with families. 


PST: What professional development or training opportunities do you see that need to be filled? What would you like to see more people in your industry learn?


Dr.  Bergeron: Staff need ongoing professional learning opportunities. That is true in all industries. People who grow are more invested in their work. People who see their opportunities for growth are more committed to their organizations. In Head Start, this looks like teachers getting more and more support with new and effective teaching and classroom management strategies. For support staff, it’s skills training and ongoing development. For leadership, it’s learning leadership skills that help to support staff work toward the mission of the organization. All these sectors deserve ongoing access to quality professional learning. 


PST: What do you see as the future for early care and education, and with Head Start in particular?


Dr.  Bergeron: COVID caused the issue of childcare and early care to become a higher priority. Much discussion about increased funding and support for early care has taken place. These are indicators that the future for early care is bright. For Head Start specifically, its bipartisan nature keeps it front and center, and we do not expect that to be different as the administration considers new budgetary priorities. Head Start has the potential not only to prepare children for kindergarten but also to strengthen families so their children are ready for kindergarten and beyond. 


PST: Are there any other organizations you look to for guidance?

 

Dr.  Bergeron: School system associations like the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) have worked closely with Head Start to ensure there are tight connections between Head Start and schools. Community Action Partnership is also a strong connector to Head Start. There are also many philanthropic organizations that support Head Start and work closely with NHSA to

ensure it can adequately support programs. 


PST: Tell us a little bit about yourself. When you aren't working, what do you like to do for fun?


Dr.  Bergeron: I love to read, run and just be outside. If I can do anything it is to spend time with my family. 


PST: If you could take a training course about anything outside early care and education, what would it be and why?


Dr.  Bergeron: I love to learn. I am beginning sailing lessons in August and have never even tried to sail a boat. So, I’d just say anything that is interesting to me is worth learning. 

Interview with Myra Ingram, MBA, Executive Director Region IV Head Start Association, Inc. 


PST: What are the main challenges/concerns you feel Head Start faces today?


Myra Ingram: Children and families count on Head Start and Early Head Start to provide the care, education and comprehensive services they need to succeed in school and in life. At the center of that success is well-qualified staff.  


Yet, compensation for the early childhood workforce, including Head Start, ranks in the lowest 10% of professions. Low pay is a leading cause of the network’s recent and unprecedented turnover of Head Start staff, which threatens the ability of Head Start programs to reach and serve the children who need us most.   


This moment of crisis - which has been building for decades - demands economic legislative action to close the wage disparity and ensure the workforce receives a true living wage commensurate with their credentials, qualifications and experience. 

 

PST: What are the main opportunities for the future of Head Start?


Myra: Head Start and Early Head Start are threads of the same fabric. Together, these programs form a seamless delivery of high-quality care, education, and comprehensive services to expectant mothers and children from birth to 5. Their combined impact is greatest when they are funded to serve the greatest number of eligible children.   


Currently, only 11% of income-eligible infants and toddlers have access to Early Head Start. This must change. Federal economic legislation, in conjunction with shared policy priorities and approaches at the state and federal levels, can lead to a significant expansion of Early Head Start. 

 

PST: What impact has COVID had on Head Start programs? What major adjustments have providers had to make?


Myra: Head Start and Early Head Start programs have faced and overcome unprecedented challenges since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and, together, we‘ve experienced the effects of the pandemic in big and small ways while displaying tremendous resiliency, innovation and perseverance. One of the most significant adjustments has been the use of technology, not only in program administration but also in classroom instruction and family engagement.   


Administrators, teachers and family services staff, as well as parents, have pushed their technology skills to the next level. Administrators improved their understanding of how to use digital management systems effectively. Teachers integrated digital curricula, online assessments and virtual instruction into their professional toolbox.   Family services staff used modern communication tools, such as Zoom, to form and nurture relationships with parents. Families worked with their programs to secure the understanding and technology – from equipment to Internet and data - they needed to participate in digital learning experiences for their children, themselves, or the family unit.  

 

PST: What do you feel are the critical needs for Head Start providers?


Myra: The pandemic has created a new technological landscape in early childhood education. Head Start and Early Head Start programs must strategically consider what lessons learned from remote and hybrid learning will shape curriculum and instruction as well as how they will integrate digital devices into teaching and learning. As a network, we must be intentional about our next steps, because technology as a key component of a child’s learning experience is the new normal.  

 

PST: What do you see as the future for early care and education, and with Head Start in particular?


Myra: Head Start was launched in 1965 as an integral part of President Johnson’s arsenal to fight poverty. For more than 50 years, Head Start has been on the front lines of opening doors to opportunity out of poverty, but it has also been reducing the achievement gap and ushering in social change. Although we have positively impacted more than 25 million lives, there is still more to be done. It is my vision that Head Start will continue to keep its charge while expanding our reach, resources and partnerships. In turn, our commitment to our mission will fuel innovation in the entire early care and education community. 

 

PST: What professional development or training opportunities do you see that need to be filled? What would you like to see more people in your industry learn?


Myra: The recent and unprecedented turnover of Head Start and Early Head Start staff has been extremely challenging for programs as they navigate how to reach and serve children most in need of services.   


Programs must strategically implement a multi-faceted approach to rebuilding our workforce that integrates tradition and innovation.


The Child Development Associate Credential (CDA) has been part of Head Start’s rich history for more than 40 years as a career pathway and ladder to post-secondary degree attainment. Programs should intentionally incorporate CDA recruitment, training, and attainment – from high schoolers to parents to community volunteers - as part of its pipeline to rebuild its workforce.   

 

PST: What are some of the top ways that Head Start supports families and communities? Do you have any recommendations on how to get parents and families more involved?


Myra: Parent and family engagement in Head Start and Early Head Start is about building relationships with families that support family well-being, strong relationships between parents and their children, and ongoing learning and development for both parents and children. Just as Head Start individualizes its approach with children, the same is true for how we partner with families. Each family is unique, and the partnership approach is based on their individual strengths, interests, needs and goals. From overcoming food and housing insecurity to securing wellness and mental services to job training and employment connections, our staff work with families so they can receive the right services and community enrichment at the right time. The best way to strengthen parent and family engagement is to be intentional about inclusion, honoring parental expertise and respecting cultures. 


PST: Can you give us a brief history of your experience in early care and education and Head Start?


Myra: I have more than 30 years of proven performance in the fields of non-profit and organizational management, adult education and workforce development, as well as early childhood education and family engagement. I’ve been responsible for driving innovation and growth, building and nurturing impactful partnerships, and amplifying the voice of vulnerable populations. I have spent the majority of my career in the Head Start network. 


Since July 2006, I have served as Executive Director of the Region IV Head Start Association, Inc. (RIVHSA). RIVHSA is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to improving the quality of early care and education for Head Start and Early Head Start children and their families in the Southeast. Region IV is the largest region in the country – serving 20% of the children enrolled nationwide – and has the highest level of federal funding – but it is also a region that faces significant child and family well-being challenges.  

 

In my current role, I’m responsible for the implementation of the organization’s strategic direction, performance and growth as well as working with the association’s affiliates to advance school-readiness indicators, strengthen family outcomes, build stronger communities and ensure access to opportunity. The association has purchased a corporate headquarters, experienced marked growth in individual and agency membership, greatly expanded its network of corporate and collaborative partners, increased its operating revenue by more than 250%, and elevated its advocacy and public policy impact at the regional and national level. 

 

PST: What is the best part about your career in Head Start?


Myra: The scope of impact. I am energized by the knowledge that my individual contributions and the collective work of RIVHSA have and continue to open doors of opportunity for thousands of young children and their families every day. That is powerful! For me, it is much more than a career, it’s my life’s work. 

 

PST: Are there any other organizations you look to for guidance?


Myra: Our national affiliate is the National Head Start Association (NHSA). Since 1974, NHSA has been the central association for the Head Start workforce and serves as the national voice for early childhood education and leadership on Capitol Hill. Our affiliate relationship is steeped in rich history as well as a mutual commitment to advocacy. In addition to being a top contributor to NHSA’s Dollar per Child (DPC) Campaign, RIVHSA has been a consistent sponsor of advocacy activities at NHSA conferences and adopts their policy agenda as a roadmap for guiding regional decision-making; educating legislators and influencers; and advocating for changes in current law, regulation and practice.  

 

PST: Tell us a little bit about yourself. When you aren't working, what do you like to do for fun?


Myra: Explore. From a visit to a local farmer’s market to a staycation in a nearby town or state to vacationing abroad, I believe life is not meant to be lived standing in one place. I plan to explore as much as I can, as far as I can, for as long as I can. Exploration and travel expand not only your worldview but also deepen your appreciation of the simple things – peace, joy, and good health. 

 

PST: If you could take a training course about anything outside early care and education, what would it be and why?


Myra: Definitely a course related to documentary filmmaking. I believe every story has value. Capturing stories on film is more powerful than in print because the subject and the audience make an authentic connection that cannot be fully expressed by words alone.