This has been a year like no other in our collective memories. It has tested us, called forth our determination and grit, and given us opportunities for learning and growth. The need for leadership throughout our field has never been greater, and our Exchange Leaders have stepped up and moved forward in response. Thank you to all our leaders and to all of us who follow. Together, we work to assist in stabilizing families and communities through our supportive services.

Since 2014, the Exchange Leadership Initiative has been making leadership more visible in the field of early care and education. Now with more than 400 Exchange Leaders, we see them everywhere—in classrooms, family child care programs, administrative offices, schools, colleges, universities, and in all of the offices, programs and services that support children and families. As leaders, they provide vision and stability, and through their actions they provide direction for now and into the future.

Exchange Leaders thoroughly understand early care and education principles and practices, address diversity and equity, and are engaged in lifelong learning. They are grounded in their own work and are using their strengths and skills to make a difference for children, families, and their communities.

Our Exchange Leaders have always been individuals. This year we also honor as Exchange leaders the San Francisco Educators for Equity, a group, as they introduce their culture of “we.” With congratulations and delight, we invite you to meet your new Exchange Leaders for 2021.

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Amy AltAmy Alt
Sauk City, Wisconsin, United States
Program and policy analyst-advanced, Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

What is your personal “mantra” that is important to your leadership?
The great Jeree Pawl, clinical professor in psychiatry, once said, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto others.” This quote has remained in my heart and my mind, acting as a guide to my work as a leader in early childhood. Supporting children and families is complex and often emotional, requiring strong and compassionate relationships between children and educators and between educators and leaders. Understanding that one relationship affects another, I place great importance on creating relationships with others, and ensuring they feel heard, acknowledged, and supported in this difficult work.

Samuel BroadenSamuel Broaden
Salem, Oregon, United States
Consultant/trainer/teacher, Honoring Childhood

What is your passion in the field of Early Care and Education? Why?
The idea that I keep in my mind at all times throughout my work with children is to be the person to children that I needed when I was younger. I did not have anyone to look to and say, “They are like me, they like what I like, they sound like me,” and so on. If I did, I may have had a better experience discovering and being proud of who I am—and I want to give that to all children that I work with.

DeCarla BurtonDeCarla Burton
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Director, Jump Smart Early Learning Academy

When did you realize that you were a leader? How did you embrace the pride and the willingness to self-identify as a leader?
I believe community organizing helped to capture my true leadership qualities. Moving into a neighborhood that was plagued with the usual challenges found in the city did not deter my or my husband’s vision of unifying the community. This proved to be a difficult task, but rewarding. In time, our neighborhood became a community, and now a family grounded in love and respect.

Nicky ByresNicky Byres
Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
Executive director, Society of Richmond Children’s Centres

Tell us about a “key moment” that influenced your leadership.
I went to a conference on professional development. I was there for a plan. I was going to take good notes to share with my organization and get some good ideas, visit some centres and take some photos.
At the opening keynote, I was met not with a plan or some key points, but with some BIG questions. At first, I was annoyed, but as I sat with these questions and started to imagine the possibilities they held, my heart started to crack open, and I ended up a transformed leader with a vision instead of a plan.

Turner CagleTurner Cagle
Tacoma, Washington, United States
Lead teacher/program supervisor, The Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center

When did you realize that you were a leader? How did you embrace the pride and the willingness to self-identify as a leader?
I realized I was a leader well after I was already leading. I am a lead-by-example type of person. I believe in being constant and consistent, while learning and evolving. It wasn’t until someone else in a leadership role lifted me as they were climbing that I understood I was doing the same for others. Then I became intentional with my  leadership.

Jene ChapmanJene Chapman
Omaha, Nebraska, United States
Program specialist II, Nebraska Department of Education Office of Early Childhood

Tell us a story about a person (or group) that made a key difference for you in your decision to be a leader.
I came from a long line of educators and knew instantly, as a young girl, that I wanted to be an educator who not only changed the lives of children directly, but who changed the lives of those who impacted children on a day-to-day basis. I gained motivation from professional women of color that have been influential in my life. Seeing how they multitasked, being key stakeholders in their community, church, and family, played a large part in my development as a leader. They were committed to excellence, never settled for average, paid attention to detail, performed with consistency, and if they made a mistake, they recognized and accepted it and failed forward towards growth and improvement. As I observed throughout my years, I knew that it was possible to be a woman of influence, as well as a successful leader of effective change.

Charles CoeCharles Coe
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Executive director and founder, Incredible Kids Learning Center, Inc.

Tell us about a time when your own determination and persistence made a difference in your leadership.
The pandemic is the perfect example of how I had to utilize both my determination and persistence. My organization serves as a centralized hub and resource center in our community for children, families, other businesses, and community members. We serve as the voice for our children, families, and our community. We create opportunities for empowerment and advancement on many levels in a community truly in need. In fact, we have gone into overdrive mode to better address the needs of the individuals who depend on our services.

Katari ColemanKatari Coleman
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Project director/researcher, NCASE – Education Development Center, Inc.

Tell us a story about a person (or group) that made a key difference for you in your decision to be
a leader.
When I worked with a young mother and her four children as their home visitor, I became captivated by her 3-year-old, who displayed high levels of intellect. I saw it, but no one else did, due to his behavior issues. One day, I transported him to a language assessment appointment, and I was allowed to listen in and watch through a glass window. The assessor asked him to point to the trousers. I thought, ‘How dare you ask a little Black boy from the south side of Chicago to point to the trousers. You could have asked him to point to the pants, jeans, slacks or used a word that was mainstream in his community.’ Yes! I interrupted the assessment to explain to the assessor my frustrations, but she said she must administer the assessment with the specified language. Pushing through my anger, that day I made a decision and commitment that I would somehow work to support the needs of young children and their families who are marginalized by systems through inadequate education and services due to systemic racism.

Diana DiazDiana Diaz
Rego Park, New York, United States
The Aspire registry director, New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute

Tell us a story about a person (or group) that made a key difference for you in your decision to be
a leader.
I admire my executive director, Sherry Cleary. She has made a difference in my life because of her loving way of speaking and working fiercely on behalf of children and families. I work closely with Kimberlee Belcher-Badal and the executive team at the National Workforce Registry Alliance, and we care less about titles but instead are deeply invested in serving our community; we work in collaboration with more networks that share the same passion for our workforce, children and families. This group of people oozes kindness, but we are driven by much love and respect for our work and our mission. I am bold, visionary, and idealistic. I set and drive with high expectations, because early care and education deserves the very best and needs leaders who take action, but who do it with kindness and empathy above all.

Hope DoernerHope Doerner
Robbinsdale, Minnesota, United States
Early childhood education faculty, Minneapolis College

What is your passion in the field of Early Care and Education? Why?
My passion in this field is to continue to help everyone understand the need to see each child and to know their story. Our role is not to change the children or their families to fit into a mold, but rather to help educators see the beauty in the uniqueness each child brings, and then to help that child grow and blossom even more with our love and care.

Jacqueline EwonusJacqueline Ewonus
Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
Program director, SFU Childcare Society

What is your personal “mantra” that is important to your leadership?
Educators must be seen, heard and feel valued. I wanted to support educators’ passion and build on their capacity. I was moved by a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea.” This quote spoke directly to how I feel about being a leader, what I hope for, and how I do my work.

Karen Foster JorgensenKaren Foster-Jorgensen
Gold River, Nova Scotia, Canada
Founder and business strategist, ChildCareDirector.com

Tell us about a “key moment” that influenced your leadership.
My first formal leadership role was as a program director in a large nonprofit family-oriented organization. Supervising dozens of part-time team members and organizing a multitude of child, teen and family programs was an exciting adventure for me, and sometimes a little overwhelming at the tender age of 23. Being an innovator of ideas, paperwork was not my strength. One day, my kind mentor and accomplished leader came into my office. He had just one clear sentence to impart, which I have never forgotten: Karen, when I look at the top of your desk, I have a pretty good idea what is going on inside your head! From that moment forward, I knew that to be a successful leader, I needed to be organized! Today, I regularly teach time management, and people say they like to learn it with me because they realize that they can also find success in a skill that is not natural to them. Thus we grow!

Jessica FrazierJessica Frazier
San Diego, California, United States
Director, UCUC Preschool

Tell us a story about a person (or group) that made a key difference for you in your decision to be a leader.
Participating as a member of the San Diego Reggio roundtable motivated me to step into a leadership role. As a steering committee member, I felt emboldened and empowered, through the support and encouragement of my fellow committee members, to use my voice and advocate for children and teachers, making real and tangible changes in my own school and community. They showed me that leadership supports multiple perspectives and welcomes differing viewpoints as a means of achieving lasting and meaningful change.

Tiffany GrantTiffany Grant
Maple Grove, Minnesota, United States
Business development specialist, First Children’s Finance

Tell us about a “key moment” that influenced your leadership.
Seven years ago, I was in college taking two child development courses while I was pregnant with my first child. One of the courses focused on the overall development of children and the other focused on language development. It was in those classes that I first learned the importance of talking and reading to children as early as the tummy, and the significant word gap between African American children and their counterparts. I remember telling myself, “There will be no gap with my child.” From that day on, I began reading to my baby while she was in my tummy, and I continued this practice when I had my second child. I was amazed and pleased when I saw both of my children talking at very early ages. This showed me the power of information and inspired me to share what I learned with the world.

Robert GundlingRobert Gundling
Alexandria, Virginia, United States
Better Futures LLC

What is your personal “mantra” that is important to your leadership?
Be kind, humble, and dedicated to service leadership. Always remember that out of adversity come strength and wisdom.

Bethany HernandezBethany Hernandez Parks
Bellflower, California, United States
Principal consultant, First Start Educational Consulting

What is your passion in the field of Early Care and Education? Why?
My passion in the early childhood field will always be centered around the opportunity to use children’s natural curiosity and excitement to create a solid learning foundation. I think early educators have one of the most important jobs, however I do not think that we are appreciated for the hard work that goes into creating a developmentally appropriate and engaging learning environment. I hope to continue to support this field and advocate for not only the children and families, but also for the educators who are so central to the success of this area of education.

Simon HoSimon Ho
Cupertino, California, United States
CoFounder/CEO, 1Core Solution

Tell us about a “key moment” that influenced your leadership.
The key moment is when I realized I can turn my passion into action that makes a difference. My daughter has a congenital liver disorder condition, which led to a deliberate search for the right child care, which in turn triggered my passion to leverage my business consulting background to develop the right technology solutions that were lacking in the industry. Instead of sitting on this passion, I took action and recruited like-minded people to join me on the journey to make an impact to serve the child care industry.

Dana HolahanDana Holahan
New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Director of professional development, All Our Kin, Inc.

Tell us about a “key moment” that influenced your leadership.
The massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 had a profound impact on me as a person, a parent and a leader. It happened only 20 miles from where I live, and my daughter was the same age as the children who were killed. It was completely devastating, and still is. It impacted my leadership, because it fortified my conviction that all children deserve protection, along with all the opportunities they need to fully develop physically, emotionally and intellectually. It also deepened my commitment to working hard to ensure that this protection and these opportunities are given to all the children we reach through our work, along with their caregivers and educators.

Jacky HowellJacky Howell
Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
Consultant/coach/author, Azspire, LLC

What is your personal “mantra” that is important to your leadership?
People that I work with would tell you I am full of quotes and songs! One is, “Beliefs into practice”—we in the field need to always challenge our beliefs, be willing to grow, stretch, discover, sometimes disagree, and yet explore what we currently believe and how it aligns with best practices in our field. I find in our work that we do what we believe—and so, the importance of consistently challenging and examining those beliefs is vital. Add to that, how does one translate those beliefs into meaningful practice? Saying I believe children learn through play, and then asking them to sit still and be quiet in a circle, seemingly contradicts that belief. How can we bring those things together—our beliefs and our values and great, caring, connected, meaningful practice? That mantra drives me to do the work and I continue to encourage others around me to do the same.

Tara HurdleTara Hurdle
Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Chair elect, NAEYC-Affiliate Advisory Council

Tell us about a “key moment” that influenced your leadership.
I had been invited to become involved with an organization’s board and felt quite honored in the moment. When I arrived at my first meeting, that feeling quickly changed. I felt like I was being given a conditional seat at a table that was never meant or equipped for me. I felt on display, and realized at the moment how important and powerful my voice can be, because this narrative had to change, and I was in the right place and time to begin the process.

Michelle JacksonMichelle Jackson
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Center director, Bright Horizons

Tell us about a “key moment” that influenced your leadership.
A pivotal moment that has influenced my leadership is leading through COVID-19. I had to find the positive in all of this, and lead through a crisis. I had to communicate to staff that they would be furloughed, or communicate with families that we had a COVID-19 exposure on-site; these were new challenges. Preparing to reopen after being closed for three months also presented a challenge. However, keeping in mind my personal mantra, “lead with heart,” shaped the way I showed up for my families, staff, and children, and continues to shape my leadership skills one year later.

Monique JohnsonMonique Johnson
Kennesaw, Georgia, United States
Lecturer, Kennesaw State University

What is your passion in the field of Early Care and Education? Why?
My passion for the field of early care and learning is developmentally appropriate practice, anti-bias curriculum, and social justice. I feel that developmentally appropriate practice is the foundation for all learning, which should include anti-bias teaching along with social justice. Using these as the foundation for the education and guidance of early learners promotes the highest trajectory for their success.

 

Grace JouanGrace G. Jouan
Spotswood, New Jersey, United States
Technical assistance specialist, CJFHC

What is your personal “mantra” that is important to your leadership?
Every leadership style is unique and unlimited. What is important is to believe in my leadership skills. I believe the only way to inspire others is being aware of what motivates them.

 

Carin LeivaCarin Leiva
Jersey city, New Jersey, United States
Family engagement specialist, 4Cs of Passaic County

When did you realize that you were a leader? How did you embrace the pride and the willingness to self-identify as a leader?
During the pandemic, I, as the family engagement specialist of Passaic County, unintentionally became the point of contact to create follow up meetings and email threads among the family engagement specialists from the other 20 counties in New Jersey. I became responsible for informing FES’s on upcoming family outreach trainings, community food distributions, and shared family outreach strategies. FES’s felt secure and safe to reach out to me when they needed community event advice and/or recommendations on parent outreach.

Laurice McGinnis Lincoln
Greendale, Wisconsin, United States
Director, Bureau of Equity and Inclusion, State of Wisconsin Department of Administration
What is your vision for what needs to happen in Early Care and Education?
My vision for early care and education is equity and inclusion at the education table. First, we must remove the word “just” from the beginning of our introduction—e.g., “just” a child care provider or “just” a child care director. Second, we must move from having great ideas to having great implementation and sustainability plans.

Panu LucierPanu Lucier
Anchorage, Alaska, United States
Director, System for Early Education Development
When did you realize that you were a leader? How did you embrace the pride and the willingness to self-identify as a leader?
In the fifth grade, I started at a new school, where no one looked like me. One of the boys, Mike, started calling me Susie Muktuk when he found out I was Eskimo. I confronted him in a very straightforward and assertive way, but what happened afterwards was life changing for both of us. My father came to the school to teach the boys how to make an Eskimo drum, and I taught my classmates how to Eskimo dance, and we performed in the gymnasium for the entire school. Mike was alongside me on the stage.

Geri MendozaGeri Mendoza
Denver, Colorado, United States
Mentor coach, City of Lakewood
As a leader, it is important to access a “seat at the table.” At what “tables” have you claimed a seat? How did you achieve your seat? Who offered to help you?
My ECE journey has led me to be at many tables. In my coaching work, I am permitted to sit at the planning table, to collaborate and push deeper thinking with teachers, as we make decisions for the classroom setting. As the coach in my program, I sit at the administrative table and bring in the voices from the field, again posing questions for deeper thinking regarding programming. Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with colleagues with whom collaboration, innovation and re-imagining are of high value, so a seat has been offered to me at many tables, due to my skill set and passion for aligning vision, offering support and creating challenge.

Kalanya MooreKalanya Moore
Greenwood, Mississippi, United States
Director of elementary and secondary education undergraduate programs, Mississippi Valley State University

Tell us a story about a child; a teacher or staff member; or a family that had a major influence
on you.
My mom is a retired special education teacher. For 41.5 years, my mother provided endless hours of special services to young children with special needs, which taught me compassion and temperance.

Gail NealGail Neal
University place, Washington, United States
Executive director, Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center

Tell us a story about yourself that makes you especially proud.
In 2006, I worked for a agency that was closing down their early learning programs due to funding cuts. I took over the programs July 1 of that year, with no break in service. Previously, we had 13 employees and provided services to 58 children. Today, we have over 100 employees and provide service to 300 children and families each month. We now house 26 programs for families, instead of one program.

Lisa NicholsonLisa Nicholson
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Coordinator ECE programs, Delta School District-Continuing Education

What is your personal “mantra” that is important to your leadership?
Listen to the whispers of my soul; teaching, learning, inspiring and living with heart! I am committed to bringing who I am and my truths to conversations I am honoured to be a part of, and inviting those who gather in community with me to do the same, as we deepen our thinking on ways of being in the world.

Austin NikolichAustin Nikolich
Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Curriculum coordinator, Sacred Heart Preschool

What is your personal “mantra” that is important to your leadership?
I attended a training where the speaker said, “Norms follow leadership.” I couldn’t agree more, and what this means to me as a leader is that I have a responsibility to create community, build relationships, and curate an environment in which everyone feels seen, heard and welcomed.

Kristie NorwoodKristie Norwood
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Education manager, Start Early

Tell us a story about a child; a teacher or staff member; or a family that had a major influence
on you.
I worked with a teacher that was so rigid. She followed every point in the policies and procedures. One of those polices was to turn parents away if they were late arriving for the day. She would turn parents away two minutes past the cut-off. I was so frustrated. Through reflection, I found that I had cultivated that behavior in her, earlier in my own leadership journey. When I first became a supervisor, I was insecure, so I hid behind the policies and procedures. I held my teachers to this same standard. I focused on an environment of high compliance instead of humanity and compassion. I learned that leadership is a lot like gardening. I’m responsible for the environment and the nurturing that impacts the growth and outcome.

Ashley ParksAshley Parks
Arden, North Carolina, United States
Center director, Verner Center for Early Learning

Tell us a story about a person (or group) that made a key difference for you in your decision to be a leader.
One instructor I had was an early childhood leader and I respected that she taught children, high schoolers and college students. She encouraged me as I showed interest, and pushed me to raise the bar for myself professionally, and always held the expectation that I would continue to pursue a master’s degree. She later asked me to be on the local early childhood board and become a chairperson. This instructor, Bonnie Graham, empowered me as a woman and a leader. I delight in encouraging other early childhood professionals to pursue professional opportunities and further their careers; sometimes it just takes someone else to give you the push that you need to explore your dreams!

Pamela PentonPamela Penton
Newton Center, Massachusetts, United States
Director, Meeting House Child Care Center

What is your vision for what needs to happen in Early Care and Education?
I believe that in order for early child eare and education teachers and programs to be respected, teachers and administrators need to be compensated at an appropriate level. In order to achieve this, more money needs to be earmarked from the state and federal government and the profession needs to be considered vital for the growth of the economy.

Hans PetersenHans Petersen
Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Regional training coach, Child Care Aware of Kentucky

As a leader, it is important to access a “seat at the table.” At what “tables” have you claimed a seat? How did you achieve your seat? Who offered to help you?
As a white male, I have been extremely privileged to have seats at many tables accessible to me throughout my life. From this experience, and an understanding of the role of white supremacy and institutionalized racism, I feel it is my duty to ensure that at every table I find myself, seats, prominent voices and real authority and power are provided for those who are most impacted by what is being discussed/addressed, even if it means relinquishing mine.

Debbie PiescorDebbie Piescor
Lincroft, New Jersey, United States
Teacher/curriculum specialist, A Child’s Place School

What is your passion in the field of Early Care and Education? Why?
My greatest passion in early childhood education is to help build upon autonomy and empowerment in children as powerful problem solvers. This includes a healthy approach to problem solving in every learning and developmental domain—from handling conflicts in safe and effective ways to inventing strategies to pursue self-initiated inquiries. When young children have a view of themselves as competent and capable in solving a plethora of problems, they are likely to grow into critical and creative thinkers with a self-fulfilled approach to learning.

Peter PizzolongoPeter Pizzolongo
REHOBOTH BEACH, Delaware, United States
President, Early Education Consulting
What is your vision for what needs to happen in Early Care and Education?
Early care and education must be universally available to all young children and their families, accessible to all, and funded appropriately by federal and state governments. I support a system in which center and family child care community- and school-based programs serve children from birth through kindergarten, with the “academic period” (from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) funded with public dollars. Parents needing full-day child care could then pay affordable tuition for the time before and after this academic period. Teaching staff would ideally have at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, would be adequately compensated, and the programs should be comprehensive and provide support services to children and families as needed in the areas of physical and mental health, nutrition, and social services.

Michelle RosenMichelle Rosen
Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States
Director, Kids Campus at SFCC

What is your passion in the field of Early Care and Education? Why?
We know that the first five years of a child’s life are critical for brain development, and that by age 3, the architecture of the brain takes shape. Exposure to high quality learning experiences is key in developing the joy of learning and the thrill of discovery. Guiding and coaching early childhood educators to create a space of wonderment for children, filled with opportunities for exploration and engaging activities, is a passion for me!

San Francisco Educators for Equity, aka the Frogs
San Francisco, California, United States
Educators, classroom teachers, consultants, directors, mothers, administrators, specialists, community advocates, writers, poets, podcasters and artists who work to better ECE systems and programs.

What is your vision for what needs to happen in Early Care and Education? What needs to change to achieve the vision?
Our vision is rooted in our statement of rights. As we have worked together through this pandemic, we have come to recognize that, in order to offer the most fertile ground possible for the rights of children, families, and providers to flower, we must both model and demand the creation of bottom-up, inclusive processes for generating diverse solutions to the problems faced by our field. This is now reflected both in our intentionally collective and collaborative group process, as well as in our vision for the regulatory and systematic innovations which are so clearly needed.

Margaret ShirleyMargaret Shirley
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States
Lead teacher, Sunbeam Family Services

Tell us about a “key moment” that influenced your leadership.
One of the professors that I had in college said something to our class that resonated with me and changed the way that I viewed myself in regards to leadership! She said, “Everyone is a leader because everyone has followers. Your attitude and your view of yourself will determine how far your leadership will take you.” Ever since that night, I have been more intentional in the ways that I lead, noticing those who are following me, and working to always have a growth mindset.

Brian SilveraBrian Silveira
San Francisco, California, United States
Lead teacher, Pacific Primary

What is your vision for what needs to happen in Early Care and Education?
I think that we need to pay teachers a living wage, so that they can live vibrant lives full of wonder. We need strong policymakers who put ECE first.

Heather SiskindHeather Siskind
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States
CEO, Jack and Jill Center

Tell us a story about yourself that makes you especially proud.
I had two children under the age of 5 by the age of 24, and worked as a teacher in early education, and had an internship placement to earn my degree in social work. I was overwhelmed and determined all at the same time; nothing was going to stop me. I grew up in poverty, with housing and food insecurity, health challenges, and not knowing what the future was going to be. I learned about college and what I needed to do to get there. I was able to attain my graduate degree and represent all the women that came before me. I was the first woman in my family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and also a master’s degree, and now I’m the CEO of a nonprofit serving children and families in need. I believe that no one can take away your education! I have helped so many women over the last 25 years achieve just that. We found a way together to get the degrees they sought and the careers they aspired to. This was a journey for not just me, but all women I have come into contact with. My own daughter is graduating with her master’s degree in a few weeks. I couldn’t be prouder!

Whitney Rea SmithWhitney Smith
Swannanoa, North Carolina, United States
Director of family engagement, Verner Center for Early Learning

What is your passion in the field of Early Care and Education? Why?
My passion is helping families recognize their potential and providing the necessary support they need to achieve their goals and aspirations. Breaking barriers and building bridges allows these families to have the same access to a bright future.

Heather SmoyerHeather Smoyer
Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, United States
Director, Kindercare

What is your vision for what needs to happen in Early Care and Education? What needs to change to achieve the vision?
The early child care teacher should be recognized as an exceptional teacher with value, just as the elementary teacher is recognized. I believe that the “great pause” helped politicians and other leaders, along with parents, recognize the value of early care and learning. It is my hope that it is not soon forgotten.

Zlata Stankovic RamirezZlata Stankovic-Ramirez
Dallas, Texas, United States
Higher education instructor, Texas Woman’s University

Tell us about a “key moment” that influenced your leadership.
I was co-president of the Dallas chapter of TXAEYC when the transition from being a stand-alone organization (DAEYC) to becoming a chapter of TXAEYC was happening. The tension, the feelings, the heated conversations and opinions were happening at every board meeting for an entire year. The key moment was allowing everyone to have a voice, to be heard, and to listen to their concerns. The co-director and I walked away with a new resolve to get as many questions answered as possible, and to help soothe the obvious anxiety that existed for some members. Being a good leader = being a good listener. It’s stayed with me to this day.

Jennifer SturgeonJennifer Sturgeon
Bennington, Nebraska, United States
Chief academic officer, CUES School System

Tell us a story about yourself that makes you especially proud.
Recently, I worked with staff at an Early Head Start center who wanted to remove a 20-month-old who scratched and bit other children. I encouraged them to have a conversation about the child so we could begin problem solving, and it was shared that she had been in three foster homes in her short life. I was able to help the team see how much they could shape this child’s future by keeping her enrolled in the program. We enlisted a team of people to support the child and the teachers. Needless to say, while it did not happen overnight, we saw positive results and the child remained in the center. Although I was not the one doing the hard work daily and was just there as a consultant, I feel like I played a small role in giving this child the consistency that she needed.

Maribel TapiaMaribel Tapia
Leonia, New Jersey, United States
TAS, Grow NJ Kids

What is your passion in the field of Early Care and Education? Why?
My passion in early education began when I was a parent volunteer in a Head Start program. I began to recognize the importance of early education with my own children, how the teachers educated them, and how they educated me about the importance of education.

Barbara ThorntonBarbara Thornton
New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States
Senior technical assistance specialist, Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey

Tell us a story about a child; a teacher or staff member; or a family that had a major influence
on you.
I had the privilege of providing care to a young boy (from birth to age 4) of a very young mother (age 14-18 years). He displayed sensory and attachment issues, and his mother had a number of her own challenges. Through patience, trust and open communication, always through an equity lens, I discovered ways to best support them. This young woman’s grit, perseverance and love for her child continue to inspire me to this day.

Camden ThorntonCamden Thornton
Houston, Texas, United States
Customer service representative, Kidventure

What is your passion in the field of Early Care and Education? Why?
My passion is seeing children grow with a purpose. Being able to see a child stumble with a particular subject or problem, and then seeing them work so hard to find a solution, allows me to know that not only did the child learn something, but I did as well, which helps solidify my passion and purpose working in this field.

Kelly TwibellKelly Twibell
Davis, California, United States
Interim director, University of California, Davis

Tell us a story about a child; a teacher or staff member; or a family that had a major influence
on you.
About five years ago, I was approached by two families regarding concerns for their Black children’s well-being. They had read the research from the Yale Child Study Center highlighting implicit bias by child care workers in their interactions with children of color. Additionally, the parents had concerns regarding staff response to one of their children’s perceived challenging behavior. While uncomfortable, this initial conversation led me to develop a work group at our site, formed of staff and families, to address anti-Blackness in early childhood education. I learned so much from these families. They shared the realities of their day-to-day existence, as well as the fears they had for their children. I helped staff maintain the roles of listeners and learners in this situation. Even with our best intentions, we may not always be aware of our biases and their impact on our work. This group yielded new approaches and training for staff and practicum students. The parents involved shared with me that they learned that not all school administrators and teachers are going to close the door on their concerns. They said our partnership gave them hope.

Jennifer VanderbergJennifer Vanderberg
Langley, British Columbia, Canada
ECE instructor, DCE ECE

What is your passion in the field of Early Care and Education? Why?
Our work in creating communities of practice has highlighted the importance of deep, engaged, sustained professional learning. It has been transformative and nourishing for me to hold space for conversations, learning, and the deeply reflective practice that occurs when supported in brave spaces that honour the uncertainty that comes from leaning into one’s longing.

Eboni WalkerEboni Walker
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Education consultant, Learning Matters, LLC

What is your personal “mantra” that is important to your leadership?
When I was considering graduate school, I felt very apprehensive about my chances of getting accepted into the program of my choice. When I shared this with my mother, she said to me, “Eboni, let them tell you ‘no’ but don’t tell yourself ‘no’ first!” Her message stuck with me, and ever since then, I have become more comfortable with the risk of rejection, still choosing to apply myself, still choosing to take leaps of faith, still choosing to dream.

Heather WalterHeather Walter
Gaithersburg, Maryland, United States
Visiting assistant professor, George Washington University

Tell us a story about a child; a teacher or staff member; or a family that had a major influence
on you.
My grandmother worked as a school secretary, and always knew everyone and supported children and families as they walked in the door. Her love for her job and connection with people truly mattered. She always influenced me in many ways, but she made me realize that it is not about what you do, it is how you make people feel, that sparks true connection and trust.

Stacy WeinbergerStacy Weinberger
Burlington, Vermont, United States
Early education director, King Street Center

When did you realize that you were a leader? How did you embrace the pride and the willingness to self-identify as a leader?
I became willing to self-identify as a leader when I knew I could make mistakes. Early in my career, and in fact for most of my life, I was aware that I had leadership qualities. I am friendly, open-minded, admire other people and enjoy hearing their stories and seeing their talents. I am organized and can get a group of people together to work together on a project, have fun, and get things done. But those qualities simply make me a good cheerleader, not a leader. I realized that I could be a leader when I learned how to make myself vulnerable and to be willing to do so on the issues that matter most. I am proud of myself for becoming this kind of leader.

Pam Boulton, Ed.D., is coordinator for the Exchange Leadership Initiative for Exchange magazine and is an instructor for the Center for Early Childhood Professional Development and Leadership in the University Wisconsin-Whitewater Department of Continuing Education. She focuses on leadership development in the early childhood field.

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