Leadership in the Lone Star State: A Time to Inspire, Innovate and Impact

October 24, 2023

They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and that was the case for our Early Educators Leadership Conference this month. We had so many attendees that they overflowed into two lux Westin hotels at The Galleria in Houston. It’s the largest shopping center in Texas and the fourth largest in the country, with a dazzling array of options for dining and shopping. You can find everything from Old Navy to Neiman Marcus under its massive roof. There are also two swimming pools and a full-size ice-skating rink for recreational and figure skating, a post office and play area for children—the focus of the early childhood field.

Our conference also offered a wide array of options for meeting the needs of young children and the educators who serve them as we work to drive change in our profession. Sure, our field has been skating on thin ice for the past few years, a thought that came to mind while strolling past the rink. But with the pandemic in the past, it’s time to innovate, inspire and impact the early childhood education community nationwide. We learned how in the Lone Star State as we heard from stars of the early childhood profession.

“We’ve brought together national leaders who are igniting change,” as Council CEO Dr. Calvin E. Moore, Jr. explained at our opening general session. He kicked the conference off by asking, “How do you foster innovation?”—a question that brought a lively response from the panel members. Michelle Kang, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, responded that “innovation comes from listening to what educators are telling us so we can respond to their needs.” But we can’t do much until we build trust, added Natalie Vega O’Neil, president and CEO at Junior Achievement of Washington. “Once you have trust in place, you can move ahead,” she said. And “action is what leadership is about,” said Dr. Leah Austin, president and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute, a leader in building equity for young learners.

And conference attendees showed their commitment to being ECE leaders by showing up to attend sessions like a stirring panel on men in ECE. It featured Council COO Andrew Davis; Jamal Berry of Educare, DC; Anthony Toombs from the Playmaker Project and Dr. William White from My Brother’s Teacher. The panel members shared their experiences and insights on the role of men in the field, along with the commitment to bringing more brothers into the profession. “We need more folks who really care about kids,” Toombs pointed out. “We have to tell men about the opportunities in our field.” And taking active steps to recruit men is part of leadership, as Dr. Moore pointed out during the session. “Life isn’t a spectator sport,” he insisted. “If you’re going to be in the stands, you’re wasting it.”

This call to action has already reached many of our presenters at the conference. For example, Zuly Vazquez, national manager of professional development for Head Start, issued a rousing plea for attendees to awaken the leader inside them and make an impact, something each of us already does to some degree. “Whatever you are doing, you are impacting people consciously or unconsciously,” she said. “A leader simply makes a stronger impact by uniting people around a common vision.” And Zuly has shown that she’s that kind of leader as she advances CDA training for the members of our profession. So is Dr. Shantel Meek, the recipient of our CDA Advocacy Award. As executive director of the Children’s Equity Project, she assists the Council in embedding equity in everything we do as we reimagine the CDA credentialing process.

“We’re leveraging technology to increase access to the CDA,” Dr. Moore said as he discussed how the Council is streamlining online systems that CDA candidates use. Of course, we don’t have any technology as flashy as the towering robots, Mr. Anywhere and Mr. Everywhere, who appeared at our dance party, an evening of futurism and fun. They were ready to party, and so were the attendees as strobe lights lit up the dance floor that night. The sense of belonging that filled the room embodied the official Texas motto, “Friendship.” And it came from a common mission to help more teachers gain the skills they need to give kids high-quality care.

One of the people who’s making a major impact to move our field ahead is Dr. Tony Allen, who spoke at the closing general session. He’s CEO of Delaware State University, home to the Early Childhood Innovation Center, where they provide holistic support for educators statewide to earn their CDA. He inspired attendees to chant and clap as he talked about his work to make the center a model for the nation and urged them to step up as leaders.

The work of leaders like Dr. Allen has advanced the Council’s mission and helped us reach an impressive milestone, Dr. Moore announced as the conference closed. The Council recently awarded its millionth CDA, he informed the crowd. And as he spoke, another motto came to mind, that of our meeting place this year. Houston calls itself “a city with no limits,” a phrase that describes its efforts to look ahead and always improve. Our field can also keep getting better if we “embrace partnership and professional growth, creativity and collaboration,” Dr. Moore pointed out. “We can all be leaders who inspire, innovate and impact,” he’s convinced. If we work together, there are no limits to how we can build the future of the early childhood field.


2023 EELC At-A-Glance

EELC Testimonials from 2023 Attendees

“Attending the EELC has been life changing in a number of ways. Not only does it speak to and nurture the early childhood professional inside of me, but it has also allowed me and prepared me to better serve those who are in the field.”

“EELC has really opened my eyes to the possibilities that are in store for our future. Many say our kids are our future, but our kids are now.”

“EELC has really opened up my mind to more possibilities.”


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