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Ep4. The Future of Leadership in Early Childhood

Today on Early Childhood Chats we sat down Paul Behrman a consultant, trainer and administrator with expertise in leadership, management, and organizational development at Walnut Leadership ( to talk about Leadership and Staff Retention in Early Childhood. Please click subscribe and follow to get more content like this.

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whoa let's do it hey everybody welcome back to Early Childhood chats your podcast about All Things Early Childhood

I'm here today with my good friend Paul bman who's G to talk about leadership and some of the challenges that we're

seen some of the advice for our young leaders out there and just reflect a little bit on how things have changed

over the last what 10 years 20 years abolutely um so Paul comes us to from

Paul comes from uh the great state of Vermont is what I'm trying to say and he's got a wealth of experience in early

childhood Head Start director and of course a leadership consultant now so

Paul thank you for being here really appreciate thanks thanks for having me Andy yeah appreciate it tell the folks a little bit about yourself yeah thank you

well as Andy mentioned uh you know I started many many years ago actually if you go back 30 years uh I was a lawyer

originally and I was doing some work on behalf of people with low income um and then I eventually sort of gravitated

toward working for a community action a gency in Northwest Vermont um and I started on the Community Action side of

the house um doing some work on behalf of low-income people a lot of advocacy a

lot of basic life Necessities um and then in 1999 the Head Start director job

opened up um I was always fascinated with Head Start I love the two generation model I love the

multidisciplinary model of Head Start um so I explored it um and I got the job

and I did that for about 22 years and uh and I loved it and it was fantastic

great work challenging work rewarding work um I was also chair for the Vermont Head Start Association for over 20 of

those years um and I love that role and I'm still on the board for the Vermont Head Start

Association and then in 2021 about a year after sort of the peak of the pandemic um I did my Pivot to

what I had wanted to do in 2020 but did not because of pandemic which is go into

Consulting uh and training and keynoting primarily in the Head Start network but also a bit outside the Head Start

Network nationally um and a lot as you say uh around leadership supervision

teamwork communication camaraderie um it's interesting because uh a lot of my work sort of started in two different

buckets there was a lot of technical Head Start management Project work uh

that I've done for many years um and supported programs did a lot of training on whether that was collaborative

partnership or getting ready for federal reviews um all sorts of things on the

technical end program planning strategic planning and then the people work the leadership supervision teamwork all

these kinds of things and I I found over the last several years you know that more and more I was called you know both

personally and the need in the field you know around the leadership work and and working with folks in the people side of

things um and it's great because I love it you know it's it's kind of my passion well we're so excited we're here today

at the New York State State Head Start association annual conference so that's why you see all the stuff behind us here

um and we're actually leaving and going to the New Jersey Head Start Association conference so it's a busy week for everybody so I really appreciate you

taking time one of the big challenges we keep hearing about and this certainly precedes the pandemic is turnover in

early childhood 40% before the pandemic now the latest studies I've seen 60%

maybe so think about or talk to us kind of about leadership in

this job field where we constantly have this churn like what what is this it's very different than other fields yeah it

is well you know it's interesting I think you're absolutely right that I think the workforce crisis predated the

pandemic and the way I describe it is we had a Workforce crisis in early childhood before pandemic pandemic was

almost like this TI that further capsized the boat you know it just made a bad situation worse um and you know I

think for many reasons there's been a Workforce crisis I think largely because for decades the field hasn't had um all

the attributes of a professionalized field that it really should have you've had folks over the years who have you

know pursued um you know uh degrees and certification in early childhood and and

that's fantastic but even as folks have pursued you know um associate degree

bachelor degree and Beyond some teacher lure and so forth by and large in the

early field it has not been compensated or treated as a professional field so you haven't had compensation you know

that sort of parallels a lot of other professionalized fields that I think is is one of the biggest problems um and

then I you know I I don't know all the reasons behind why pandemic led to so much Soul surging and further Exodus

from the field but it did make it worse it made it more challenging and I think and this is you know again I'm not the

foremost authority but I think pandemic also had an impact on society young kids and families families

you know that we serve in headart many of whom you know come from lowincome have dealt with traumatic experiences

you know both adults and children um which has led to I think an escalation perhaps and more behavioral issues that

we're seeing with kiddos um more Mental Health Access you know on behalf of families um it makes the work a lot more

challenging um and so when you combine you know a a historically low paying

field and it's it's ironic because it's among the most important work that happens in society I always say um you

know even without Head Start if you talk about the broad field of early care and education the science is well

established right birth to age5 most important years of brain development informs the whole trajectory of the

child's life and then when you couple that with head start serving kids and families largely lowincome you're

talking about you know the most at risk most vulnerable kids and families so we really you know it's sort of upside down

you know the sense of we really should have the best most highly trained highly compensated folks particularly for this

sector early care and education throughout you know throughout the United States but I think particularly in Head Start and we're not there right

it's and so it makes it very very challenging both from I think an early childhood practitioner standpoint the

folks who want to go into the field be an early childhood work with young kids um and from a leadership standpoint

right the people who are supporting um you know the field so it's it's challenging on all fronts well and that's where it just irks me so much

when people say baby Sinners right you don't know anything about what's happening these beautiful little brains

a million synapses a second the most active your brain's ever going to be yeah zero to five setting you up for

success or maybe not so much you know later in life so how do we address kind

of the the leadership challenges right now when when I know look Head Start

child care even family providers I mean a lot of places and you see it as you travel the country too they're

struggling to just get day by day I mean I can't tell you how many times a director an owner Whoever has to just

get into a classroom to meet ratio so they can keep the doors open that's hard to be a leader when you're having to be

in the classroom every day and can't really think strategically and you know kind of think big picture what what kind

of advice are you kind of telling some of your clients how do we deal with the day-to-day but not losing sight of the

long term and what's really important and all that kind of stuff yeah no I think that's a great question Andy you know I I think about it like on a couple

different levels you know I would say there's a macro level to this and then there's a more local level the macro

level is and I'm going to get a little bit you know sort of um ambitious right aspirational here as you said earlier

these early years of of Child Development birth to five absolutely the

most critical years of development as a society we should be investing in these

early years we have a publicly funded K through2 system right in almost every

state in America we have a public a fully publicly funded K through2 system I think by and large it's six hours a

day from you know entry in kindergarten until right until graduation from high school and that's an important system

but we've neglected to fully fund to to to allocate full Public Funding to birth

to five these are the most crucial years I wouldn't take away from the K through 12 years but I'd say this is part of our

problem as a society right because when we don't put the proper investment in

young children at this age not just head start but all young children at this age then we don't get the outcomes you know

years from now as a society that uh that we want leads to a lot of societal problems so I think from a macro level I

think we need to keep this conversation going about um you know we really need more funding and development around the

entirety of the ECE system in America um you know my dream is full Public Funding

birth to five right and I'm just going to keep saying it right you know until you know someday hopefully in our

lifetimes it happens because you know it uh I don't think it's so it's so uh

Fantastical you know it's it's it's something that if we invested in a society you know the the data tells us

the return on investment would be there it would be a good economic engine right for our society so so that's the macro

level of things so I think there it's it's about advocacy it's about Civic engagement right it's about talking with

our legislators and elected officials and saying hey you know yes of course you know Head Start we want more funding

in Head Start we want to grow Head Start we want it to be robust and high quality the entirety of the field of ECE really

should be fully fund you know full Public Funding this is what it should look like so that's macro to your

question I think on a micro level um you know the things that I tend to talk about are you know it's it's really

about sort of how we think about sustainable leadership and quality

leadership I think throughout the the entire field um I often talk about

things like we need to bring the right mindset to the work the right heart set

to the work and do what I call anchoring practices which is really around the self-care the personal Wellness the

self-regulation um and this is sort of like the framework that I continue to um try to

develop and share you know with folks through conferences and trainings and working with programs and organizations

um I bring these days I try to Overlay this with uh Concepts uh from emotional

intelligence some of the classic Concepts um but I break it down into these three big buckets mindset heart

set and anchoring practices and I think for mindset it's about being focused on the

mission right when I think about this you know this broader mission that I hope we all share all eight billion of

us right on the planet you know I think about you know we we should be taking care of humanity we should be taking

care of our friends our families our communities right um all all of our societies we should be thinking globally

you know around about people around the planet solving you know Humanity's problems whether it's disease or conflict or all these things you

education all these things you know like working toward a higher quality of life uh you know for folks around the world

taking care of the planet you know leaving the planet in better shape for successive Generations within that

framework the work that we do in early childhood supports that mission in other words that's that's the mission in the

broadest sense but then you can look at a lot of sort of service oriented work

around the world whether it's early childhood or caring for elders right or health care or higher ed right all of

these things are supporting the well-being um and in early childhood and in Head Start for example we're

specifically supporting the well-being and the development of of very young children and their families so main

always maintaining that focus on the mission keeping some motivation uh

around that keeping some optimism and some hope um and some positive

visualization um I you know I I'm I'm a you know I'm just an optimist like I I can't just throw in the towel and say

well we're just doomed right and like no you know we have to we have to work for a better world and so the work we do in

early childhood is part of that always try to validate that for for folks in early Ed and say Hey you know the work

that you do is you're making a positive difference in this world you're making a positive difference for individual kids

individual families you're making communities a better place so mindset in order to support that mindset we have to

have the proper heart set right we cannot have um you know darkness and ill

will and mean-spiritedness and lack of compassion like that just doesn't align

you know with with with the work that we do so we have to bring the compassion um

bringing in keeping compassion is work right it's not it's not automatic we need to you know focus on it be be

conscious about it um we need to engage right we need to engage you know both

with you know like friends like us and colleagues who are easy to get along with we need to engage with people who

see the world differently than us right we need to engage with folks who may have different ideologies and you know

different sides of the political Spectrum from all of it it's it's about engagement with compassion right saying

hey you know we're never no two people are going to see the world identically the same but we we share Humanity right

let's engage and and the other thing I say about art set is let's just keep putting kindness into the world you know

there we're never going to look back with regret that we put too much kindness into this world right there's no such no such thing we're never going

to look back and say oh I put too much kindness into this world you know what a tragedy right it's it's so all of these

things I think give us the right heart set to do this work right and and and

stay focused As Leaders on the mission and keeping that heart set and and focus

on Mission we need to do what I call anchoring practices which means all of the self-care the wellness

self-regulation um and these are some of the things that I promote and some of them are very obvious things and like

wellestablished you know things around diet and exercise but I also talk a lot about sleep you know and the import

and and more and more when I talk with folks about sleep it it's increasingly apparent to me that many of us struggle

with good sleep you know and it's it's a key ingredient to you know to functioning at our best and keeping the

mindset and heart set in the right place and then things that help us cultivate

quietness of mind right how do we slow down the mind how you know our minds are always going they're always churning um

you know how do we let the dust settle get to a place of of peace and I say to folks you know look there are formal

practices you can meditate you can do yoga there are things that you know obviously are geared toward that some

people just like to dig in the dirt and get in the garden for an hour a day right that's their way you know I know

another guy who likes to get on his road bicycle and like he rides for three hours and that's his thing you know

whatever whatever is your practice you know that gets you to that place so you know I call those you know activities

that help quiet the Mind cultivate peace so that's that's a fourth sort of anchoring practice and then I talk with

folks a lot about self-regulation and you know without getting all complex and brain sciency

about it you know the idea is um events happen situations happen um and and we

have internal reactions things upset us things bother us right we're human beings right so it could be uh you know

something you know a driver an aggressive driver Cuts you off in traffic and you have this sort of visceral reaction right it could be

somebody said something to you the other day like a friend said something that didn't land well with you and that's

bothering you you know things bother us right we have the internal reaction how

do we process that internal reaction you know how do we get to a place where maybe we're thinking about it we're

reframing it we're bringing curiosity thinking about things different ways how do we respond to situations in better

ways right how do we respond to situations in in ways that um are better in terms of outcomes that really sort of

ort of uh support the mission right get us really further where we want to be so when I talk with folks about leadership

these are some of the things you know the way I connect these dots if you will yeah well and I think it's it's

interesting we always he on the airplane you got to put your air mask on first and then you go and and help your friend

I think that's true in this case too though I mean if you're not taking time for yourself and you're a mess a better

word yes you're not going to really be of service to others right absolutely you know and it's funny because you know I I I have used that analogy so many

times and and in some ways I I love the analogy in some ways it s like when we talk about self-care and personal

wellness it's almost become a cliche right it's like oh you know Wellness Wellness you and and and I I try to

bring us back to yeah we need to actually take it seriously and I always say to people like I'm a work in

progress like I don't I I don't put myself out there as like oh I've got it all dialed in you know diet sleep

exercise you know mind quieting like all of this I just try to be conscious about

I'm like okay how can I be better in this area right what can I do better you know around this one what can I do

better around this one okay I backslid here a little bit how can I right so keep you know sort of keeping it

Forefront and saying all of these when I've come with these anchoring practices

and these different areas the diet sleep exercise quieting the mind and then thinking about some self-regulation

practices these are these are the areas I have continuously come back to and and

said you know what I use this example you know in some training that I do where I'm talking about uh you know

situations that rattle us right when we get rattled right things that bother us and and my classic example is the the

aggressive driver who dangerously Cuts you off in traffic right the aggressive driver who dangerously Cuts you off

we've all had this experience right aggressive driver dangerously Cuts you off what happens well there's a whole

lot of like brain and Physiology things that happen in that moment right and you know maybe the heart rate get get

elevated you know the brain is secreting hormones you know the heart rate gets elevated right and then what happens is

then comes the emotion right the emotion of like maybe a moment of fear maybe a moment of anger right all these right

frustration right whatever these these things are and then comes a moment where

we can choose our our response right and we can respond badly in that situation

and make matters worse or maybe we can if we're if we're fortunate we can

choose a better response and not have situation you know the situation be worse right because hey there's a lot of

road rage out there today we know we got got to concern ourselves with these things right so we don't want to make things worse but what I say is look all

of those anchoring practices inform the way we respond and our ability to choose

our best response right because if my diet was you know if I just loaded up on

sugar last night right and I didn't sleep well and I had a crappy night sleep sleep and instead of going for a

walk I played violent video games for six hours right and I ate a bunch of Twinkies and Twizzlers and right all

these things right like all of these things inform our ability to choose the

response so all of the anchoring practices matter and we just need to do our best with them right just make it

make a conscious commitment and say hey not perfect I'm going to backslide now and then but I want to keep these things

as as targets you know to and and again it's not just Wellness for wellness sake

right but but but to your point it's so I can put the mask on other people right it's it's like hey you know I'm like I'm

not just like putting on the mask so I can survive just me right I'm putting on the mask so I am better able to lead

right I am better able to to bring a more sort of stable focused uh you know

version of myself so we can achieve the best outcomes sure and we think really

any organization we're going to have formal and informal years of course yeah and I would suspect certainly interested

in your take you know if if I'm looking up to somebody in my organization and they're not doing this yeah I'm probably

GNA mirror that behavior in some way or I'm G to say well I gotta get out of this field I I don't want to be working

and not being able to spend time with my family or stressed out all the I mean that has an impact on everybody in the

organization right absolutely Andy you know the way I think about it is it's interesting because you know uh in in

recent years everything I just shared with you you know around some of the leadership stuff and like Frameworks

there it led to and and lar in large part because folks said can we take this

into this realm of workplace culture right and and so I said all right you know that's I think I think that's right

let's talk about how this informs the entire culture of an organization could be a a bigger organization around Early

Childhood or Head Start could be a smaller right but of all sizes the the leader the leadership impact really

matters right right and so the the way the leader sort of sets the tone the way

the leader models these things uh has dramatic impact for the entirety of the culture um I always say to folks you

know the work in early childhood is challenging work I think the work in in Head Start is particularly challenging

you know because we're working with kids and families who've experienced a lot of hardship um often times uh the work

itself is challenging but we can still create a culture and a climate around that that

is positive and supportive right so we can support people even in challenging circumstances to bring their best and do

their best so it's crucial that the leader I the way I sometimes describe leadership you know when I when I sort

of summarize like when people say well how would you define it right I always say to people for me leadership is about

providing support and Shining a light right and and what I mean by shining a

light is you know leadership is certainly about where are we going right let's let visualize the future how do we

get to this better future that's shining a light in that sense it's also shining the light that's within us right it's

about modeling the best that we can be the best versions of ourselves so to your point other people can see that and

not just feel good as a result but emulate that and say you know what I want to Aspire to my best version That's

The Shining of light and then the supporting people along the way you know affirming people you know really trying

to support people in in very challenging work whether that's about wages uh

benefits working conditions you know you know I'm a big advocate of hey let's let's have smaller group sizes in early

childhood let's have better ratios more individualized attention for children right more Humane working conditions for

teaching staff you know all of these things so all the leadership sets the tone for all of this you know and then

it's it's it's hopefully an environment where where we can raise cultivate the next generation of leaders well it's a

great Saveway so I wanted to ask if about the next generation of leaders and I'm hoping some folks here that are

listening and or watching um are thinking about hey I want to make a go in this I want to make a career of this

maybe I'm in school right now getting a degree or maybe I'm already working in this field what do we say to our next

generation of leaders it's a different environment you've been doing this decades I mean it's changed over your

time yeah how do you prepare what would you give advice to a young person who wants to become a leader wants to become

a director wants to own their own child care what are some things they should be thinking about Beyond maybe just the

textbook right right right right so yeah so I think you know it's interesting because uh you know and you and I I

think you know we were talking you know before you know uh uh starting the the conversation um for the podcast about

you know I had this sort of atypical uh you know route into into Head Start in

early childhood and it's interesting because um you know I've seen where many

many people I think in leadership in early childhood um are folks with you know almost like a classic classical

Early Childhood background you know maybe they got a you know a degree in early childhood you know studied Early

Childhood went through um you know being a teacher in in in eared and you know

and so forth and then maybe they went through different levels of you know management or or had leadership

experience that way and then they find themselves in these senior leadership positions um a fairly typical route mine

was very different right so mine was was more you know you know here I am working as a lawyer you know I did find myself

doing some work on on behalf of people with low income you know which really informed some of my values around service and commitment to you know to

folks you know who've been through hardship and and and folks with low income and I eventually found my way to

a Community Action Agency that was doing work for our communities particularly

people with low income that really aligned with my values and I said you know what this is a good fit for me in

terms of how I want to serve this is before I started working for Head Start for this agency you know I was really

working on the Community Action side and then when the headart uh you know position opened up as director uh and I

sort of segwayed into that um what I quickly found was yes it's about early

childhood but in headart you know in in particular it's it's a really multidimensional service model right so

early Ed is is is in many respects sort of at the epicenter but then you have this child health

component right that is a that that's that's foundational you have a family service and a family engagement

component so it really is multidisciplinary which you know which again for I think folks thinking about

Head Start that's one of it's not that you have to have an early Ed degree and a MERS in social work and I was more of

a Human Service guy and an advocate right who came to this work sort of through that route so I think folks who

have sort of this broad interest um you know around um you know uh child

and family development I think on the on the sort of academic side that's all

helpful but not necessarily exclusively necessary right I think I think it's

very helpful the other things that I think are helpful are I think in today's

Early Education World um we have to be sort of really Savvy around multiple

areas of leadership and management like I talked about some some sort of concept Cal things around leadership skills but

we also need to understand things like strategic planning and budgets right and

things like human resources right it's like all of these sort of major areas

around managing successful Endeavors I don't want to say it all has to be like business e um but I think you know

bringing that level of sophistication like if you're really interested you know in leadership and management you

know of these sorts of Endeavors all of these skills are extremely helpful um you know and and really having an

interest in saying okay you know this is not going to be the first time I've ever seen an Exel spreadsheet you know the

day you walk in as a head start director right especially you know if you're if you're dealing with you know with big budgets and you know and some folks who

work in in the field are managing uh you know big organizations with a lot of people um and having a level of of uh

skill and and knowledge you know around you know Human Resources again you don't need to be an HR specialist you don't

need to be you know a CFO or a finance person but bringing those sorts of skill sets marketing right branding all of

these things I think are increasingly important bringing this sort of almost like a business mentality but I don't

want to lose the human side of this right so all of that coupled with you

know some of those leadership Frameworks you know that I mentioned earlier I I would have people be thinking about

these areas well it's a really good and and kind of like eyes wide open because I think maybe we don't realize there's

going to be so much admin kids are call they admin um it's like oh I'm going to

get promoted I'm going to run this and then oh my gosh I get hit with a freight train of like wow there's budgets and

there's HR issues and there's legal issues and there's insurance and there's I mean leases that negoti oh my goodness

all sorts of stuff yeah so Paul B Walnut leadership I mean I I think one of the

nice opportunities thank goodness CO's over uh because we get to be together and we get to network and really the

mentor aspect I think is coming back in a big way which excites me you know you think about learning and stuff and

talking to people that have been there and I guess one of the things that's not you know absent is like we're going to

have a pretty big retirement here I mean if you think about just some of the directors that are out there there's a

lot of people that have been doing this for a long time and we're going to have a pretty Monumental shift in the next five or 10 years I would say so there's

going to be a lot of opportunity yeah for a lot of people to get in this field to do very well in this field to move up

quickly in this field and thinking about how we kind of set them up with the right Mentor get them the tools they

need have them start thinking about that now to that career path out I know you're on the road all the time if

people want to get a hold of you if they want to find you if they want to hire you to come and consult do some wonderful management leadership trains

how do they how do they find you well thanks and I app I appreciate that you know the easiest way to get me is to go to my website which is Walnut and there's a contact page um and so yeah people are interested I you know work with uh with

individual programs all across the country uh traveling a lot you know showing up live and in person for INS

service pre-service working with management teams working with directors um a lot of conference opportunities you

know where I'm presenting keynote speaking all these kinds of things um so I I love all that work um and I would

say you know the the things uh as I said earlier uh you know that I really bring

hopefully are you know when people are working on some very technical Head Start project management um you know I

try to support them on that more and more people are asking for things around leadership workplace culture supervision

teamwork camaraderie conflict resolution you know different models different ways of thinking about these things that that

is more my passion work I'm more of a communication guy and and humanity is about good communication so um so yeah I

look forward to it and thanks for that opportunity oh my God and every session this guy had this week was standing room only I I don't know what was going on

there uh I've had the privilege to to work with Paul in the past CMS speak he's phenomenal he'll be at the region

who had start Association conference October in the Virgin Islands we hope to see a lot of you guys there but Paul

thank you very much taking time budy thank you good stuff yeah


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