From Our President. Empowering Early Educators
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If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,
If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it,
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
This is how I started my remarks as an agency speaker for the United Way’s Annual Campaign. It was 1996, and I was the new program director at Ellis Memorial Early Education Center in Boston, having been promoted after teaching for three years in the preschool classroom. I led sing-alongs in conference rooms across Boston with executives at large banks and partners at law firms. It was my way of bringing a little bit of the early education world into places that were new to me and intimidating. If I could find a way to feel more comfortable, I would do a better job sharing information about how funding from the United Way supported the children and families in my program.
I believe in learning by doing. So far, I have been able to use the same skills to both captivate 4-year-olds at circle time and draw in elected officials and policy makers. My perspective and experiences as an early educator helped prepare me for my current roles—an advocate working on state policy at Strategies for Children in Massachusetts, an adjunct faculty member teaching leadership and advocacy at Wheelock College and Quinsigamond Community College, and the president of the NAEYC Governing Board.
Over the years, I have had mentors and colleagues who provided opportunities for me to observe, ask questions, reflect, and practice as I learned something new— sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong, but always learning. I have benefited from volunteering and working for organizations that put a high priority on leadership development. NAEYC is one of those organizations.
We need to think about what could be and not focus only on what has already been.
When I started my four-year term in June 2017, I began as president-elect of the Governing Board. I had a year to be part of this incredible organization, serve on the board, and learn everything I could from Tammy Mann, NAEYC’s past president. I could not have asked for a better guide and mentor as I spent the past year observing, asking questions, reflecting, and practicing. Thanks to Tammy’s leadership, wisdom, and commitment to excellence, I feel ready to continue this exciting work along with my fellow Governing Board members.
In March 2011, I was first elected to the NAEYC Governing Board as a member, serving until July 2014. During my tenure we hired a new executive director and updated NAEYC’s vision, mission, values and beliefs, and strategic priorities. We refined the bylaws and completed the National Dialogue. It was a transformative time for the organization and an exciting time to be part of the board. I believe the same is true now. I am grateful to the leaders who have come before me and for the history they created, the risks they took, and the dedication and commitment they gave to our field.
One of the greatest opportunities for our early education field is also one of our greatest challenges: our rich, long history serving children and families in so many different and important ways can sometimes be an obstacle as we consider how to move forward. We need to honor the past but push ourselves to think boldly about the future. We need to think about what could be and not focus only on what has already been. We need to believe in ourselves and be willing to think differently about the future. We can do it!
This is a critical and exciting time for early education in our country. For far too long, early childhood educators have been overlooked and undervalued. Together, we will change that. By working collaboratively, we will ensure a well-educated, well-compensated, well-supported, well-respected early childhood workforce. You do your part for children every day. Now do your part for the profession: join the discussion! Through Power to the Profession, you can help define the early childhood profession. Learn more about this national coalition—and add your voice—by visiting NAEYC.org/our-work/initiatives/profession.
My personal mission is to empower early educators and get them involved in advocacy, policy, and research. We need to be intentional about developing leadership opportunities for educators and administrators, preparing educators to engage in developmentally appropriate practice, and setting high standards while providing the supports needed to help educators achieve and maintain high-quality, reflective practice. I ran for president of the Governing Board because I believe that NAEYC can make this vision a reality.
My mission is to empower early educators and get them involved in advocacy, policy, and research.
I attended my first NAEYC Annual Conference in 1995 in Washington, DC. I was a preschool teacher, and my executive director printed business cards for me for the occasion. This was a small but important gesture that helped to make me feel like I belonged and I was valued. I had never seen so many early educators in one place. As I stood with educators from across the country, I remember feeling overcome with hope, pride, belonging, and empowerment. That feeling has grown stronger, and I am honored and humbled to serve as president of the Governing Board.
Thank you for all you do to support children, families, and educators.
Amy O'Leary serves as President of the NAEYC Governing Board.