Early childhood professionals struggle with burnout

Today’s managers and supervisors are faced with many critical decisions daily. A new approach to problem-solving may be the answer.

The leadership of an organization does not have to be anchored in one person.
The leadership of an organization does not have to be anchored in one person.

Many child care center directors and administrators carry a heavy load of work and responsibility. Managing facilities that often struggle for enough funding, interacting with staff and families that cope with emotionally-laden issues and constantly working to improve the quality of early care and education can drain a person of energy and creativity. The profession as a whole needs more resources for its leaders. A recent book by Cassandra O’Neill and Monica Brinkerhoff could offer solutions.

O’Neill is a business management specialist and CEO of Leadership Alchemy and Brinkerhoff is an executive at a Head Start grantee in Arizona. Both have decades of experience in their fields. Their new book, “The Five Elements of Collective Leadership for Early Childhood Education,” published in late 2017, challenges the typical corporate notion that the boss makes the rules. This book is a breath of fresh air for early childhood education administrators and leaders.

“The Five Elements of Collective Leadership for Early Childhood Education” offers a new way to manage early childhood programs by sharing the decision-making processes in managing early childhood education centers. While this system empowers teachers and family members to become leaders in their programs, it also helps to reduce the burden on overworked administrators and directors.

O’Neill and Brinkerhoff suggest that we think of leadership as a process, not a person. The leadership of an organization does not have to be anchored in one person. They suggest a change from hierarchically structured leadership in an organization to collective leadership. In this model, members of an organization take turns heading projects or problem-solving initiatives.

They use a “V” formation of flying geese to help us envision collective leadership. The geese take turns being at the head of the V where the going is the hardest, and when the lead goose is tired, it falls back to one of the arms of the V and another steps up to lead the flock.

The authors lay out their vision of collective leadership in five key elements. A summary of these elements includes:

  1. Using a shared envisioning process where the group identifies shared goals and “adopts a mindset of abundance.”
  2. Incorporating a sense of wholeness in that leaders are available to the entire staff where the groups practices self-care and builds resiliency so they can navigate difficult conversations
  3. Using collective wisdom, which has the advantage of multiple perspectives to solve problems, building on strengths and identifying structured processes that make shared decision-making effective.
  4. Developing co-action in which individuals work in collaboration with others for greater accountability.
  5. Committing to evolution/emergence in which feedback is constantly elicited to promote growth and engage leaders in reflection.

O’Neill and Brinkerhoff say the benefits of collective leadership is that non-administrative workers and family members can increase their potential and self-direction and the administrators can avoid burnout. The organization can benefit by seeing more effective decisions and sustainability.

To learn more about collective leadership in general, Michigan State University Extension suggests the following websites:


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