Why do we need Optimistic Leaders for Children?

Think of optimism as the light at the end of the tunnel.

We know that young children thrive in an environment of trusting relationships with the adults who care for and educate them. All aspects of children’s development — intellectual, social, emotional, physical, behavioral, and moral — are shaped by the relationships they have with the adults in their lives [1]. Now, imagine this environment of nurturing relationships where every adult in children’s lives owns a clear sense of purpose, has a strong voice, and listens and learns from diverse perspectives. These adults are intentional decision-makers who collaborate with others to make good things happen. They are optimistic, see a path forward, and have the grit to persevere even when the going gets tough. Just imagine the possibilities for all children if they could live and learn in an environment with such exemplary models of leadership surrounding them.

It’s time for us to acknowledge that due to systemic racism and inequities, children of color and from marginalized communities don’t get the same opportunities as children from more affluent zip codes. Together, we can change this! Now is the time. We must create high-quality early learning systems that are equitable for all children. This requires that all of the adults in the lives of young children embrace their roles as leaders. Leadership is not defined by your role or title, however. Leadership is how you see yourself, your willingness to recognize the impact you have on others, and your commitment to take action to effect positive change.

Optimism is an attitude — a state of mind — that allows us to see a path forward. Optimists move beyond disappointments and persist to find solutions. They have conviction that when the inevitable obstacles occur, they can be hurdled with analysis and perseverance. Think of optimism as the light at the end of the tunnel. If we combine optimism and leadership and model this for children, just think of the possibilities!

Optimistic Leaders are committed. A commitment is a pledge, a promise, an undertaking, a responsibility. Commitments take effort and persistence. The Optimistic Leader practices five commitments to achieve high-quality programs for children. Each commitment is a set of skills you consciously and continually work at to improve both your own experience and the experience of children and families. As you begin to practice the commitments, you will see how they are interrelated and support each other.

1. Think impact to make informed decisions. This commitment involves reflecting on the benefits and consequences of your actions — both short and long-term. Each time you are about to decide or act, reflect on the implications, the outcomes, the consequences, the results. Whether it is moment to moment or something you plan out in advance, think it through so you can anticipate what you want to have happen as a result of your action. As you analyze the why, consider with care how it will ultimately result in something important and meaningful for educators, children and families. This applies whether you are designing a lesson for children, arranging a classroom, doing strategic planning for an agency or choosing professional development for a group of teachers.

2. Cultivate self-awareness to guide thought, emotion, and behavior. This commitment is critical for the Optimistic Leader. She works to understand her strengths and challenges, what causes her static, biases she may have, and is receptive to feedback from others.

3. Nurture relationships to support learning and collaboration. This commitment encourages the Optimistic Leader to move beyond what we know about the importance of strong, trusting relationships to facilitating groups where people can benefit from the collective relationships within a team.

4. Refine communication for mutual clarity and understanding. This commitment leads to purposeful and open back-and-forth conversations that uncover ideas and opportunities and break down barriers, creating strong teams. When you strive to refine your communication skills, you create a climate of shared leadership, increased investment and exploration of ideas. You listen with the intention to learn. You carefully choose when and how to speak, selecting words and tone that fit the situation — always aiming for an exchange to foster deeper thinking.

5. Activate curiosity to find connections and continue learning. This commitment deeply acknowledges the importance of growth and change with the goal of moving along the path to increased quality. The Optimistic Leader asks questions, considers possibilities, and makes connections with a focus on application and implementation. He shares knowledge with humility and always looks for more resources and perspectives.

Optimistic Leaders are committed to achieving goals and will persevere even when the going gets tough. I believe that creating a nation of Optimistic Leaders in early learning can change the narrative for all children. Think about it. I invite you to embrace your role as an Optimistic Leader for children and practice the five commitments. Be a model of the change you want to see.

[1] Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2016). From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts: A Science-Based Approach to Building a More Promising Future for Young Children and Families. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.

© Leading for Children, 2020.

Leading for Children is a national nonprofit that empowers adults across the early childhood ecosystem to be leaders and learners.