Jenni began working with a new EI program a few weeks ago. She’s really happy in this new position and one of the reasons is the great leadership. Her supervisor is a wonderful resource for how to implement best practices. He’s current in his knowledge and skills and supports his staff, including Jenni, in growing their practices. Jenni regularly meets with him for supervision to reflect on her practices and discuss expectations, which makes Jenni’s job easier. He regularly observes visits, which at first was intimidating but turned out to be a good opportunity to receive feedback for Jenni. He makes sure the staff have access to current resources and dedicates time for staff to get together to discuss and plan for how to use what they learn in their work with families. He also monitors service delivery by touching base with Jenni and the other staff often, reviewing IFSPs and giving constructive feedback, and inviting feedback from staff about how to improve services. He uses this feedback to help determine professional development needs and supports training efforts to build staff knowledge and skills. He makes his expectations clear: that all staff will use best practices because children and families deserve the highest quality supports and services. He understands that his role in leading the charge is an important one, and Jenni thinks he does it very well!
Leadership in Early Intervention
Not all EI leaders do all of these things…but wouldn’t it be great if they did? I know how reality can set in with so much to do – supervision, hiring, quality monitoring, budget management, administrative meetings, and maybe even seeing a family or two (or three, or ten) for those leaders who are also practitioners. Determining how to lead can be tricky too. Fortunately, the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children has developed a set of Recommended Practices that outline practices associated with leadership. These practices can be a resource for leaders in helping them make sure that they are leading the charge successfully.
DEC Recommended Practices for Leadership
Let’s take a look at a few of these practices and think about what they might look like for an EI leader:
L1. Leaders create a culture and a climate in which practitioners feel a sense of belonging and want to support the organization’s mission and goals.
The leader sets the tone for how the program works. Creating a culture of best practice that cultivates practitioners’ knowledge and skills is the leader’s responsibility. Having clear expectations about how practitioners can support the organization’s mission and goals, and the field’s Mission and Key Principles, is essential. Leaders need to help practitioners know what it “looks like” when all of these goals are met. Leaders also need to ensure that the climate is responsive to the needs of practitioners and helps them fill gaps in their knowledge and skills.
L2. Leaders promote adherence to and model the DEC Code of Ethics, DEC Position Statements and Papers, and the DEC Recommended Practices.
Visit the DEC website to review these resources and see how they fit into your program’s mission and goals.
L7. Leaders develop, refine, and implement policies and procedures that create the conditions for practitioners to implement the DEC Recommended Practices.
Once a leader knows about the DEC Recommended Practices, it could be useful to consider whether or not program policies, procedures, and expectations reflect the practices that have been identified as best for effective service delivery. Same goes for practice guides from other disciplines. Visit the Implementing Supports & Services page on the VEIPD site and scroll down to find links to the positions statements for OTs, PTs, and SLPs. You’ll find that they all have a lot in common!
L9. Leaders develop and implement an evidence-based professional development system or approach that provides practitioners a variety of supports to ensure they have the knowledge and skills needed to implement the DEC Recommended Practices.
This could look differently depending on the priorities and resources of the program. Maybe the leader facilitates inservice training during staff meetings or provider meetings. Maybe speakers are invited in. Maybe staff are encouraged to participate in webinars and other online resources. Maybe a monthly discussion group is formed to discuss articles, books, or other resources. Maybe a mentoring network is established to support the implementation of best practices. There are lots of options and they all take commitment and coordination but the responsibility can be shared across staff or programs.
L12. Leaders collaborate with stakeholders to collect and use data for program management and continuous program improvement and to examine the effectiveness of services and supports in improving child and family outcomes.
Without knowing the impact of service delivery on child and family outcomes, it’s really hard to ensure that best practices are used as intended. Data could be collected through family surveys, phone calls to families to check in on their satisfaction with services, monitoring IFSPs, reading contact notes, etc. Equally important is sharing the results of this data collection with staff so they can help with planning how to improve program practices. When staff are involved in program planning, leadership is easier because everyone shares the responsibility for success.
L13. Leaders promote efficient and coordinated service delivery for children and families by creating the conditions for practitioners from multiple disciplines and the family to work together as a team.
Leadership is key in making teaming happen. Setting expectations for teaming and collaboration, building in time for teams to gather and collaborate, and appreciating the contribution of all team members is so important. While a leader can’t really be expected to keep track of what is happening with each team or each family all the time, staying abreast of how teams function, whether or not they are working well, and intervening when teams needs outside help can make a great difference. Again, the leader sets the climate!
If you’re an EI leader, take a moment to compare your leadership activities with the recommended practices described here. Does your leadership look similar to how Jenni’s supervisor operates? Take time to think about and plan for how you can be the best leader you can be!
If you’re like Jenni, think about what you can do to contribute to a positive climate in your program. Leaders aren’t just supervisors…think about what you can do to promote the use of recommended practices too!
How do you cultivate a climate that supports practitioners’ professional growth? What happens in your program that supports the implementation of best practices?
What are your best leadership strategies for leading the charge?
Share your experiences as a leader or as a practitioner in the comments below!