We know that strong early experiences make a difference in the lives of all children and their families, and especially in the lives of our country’s most vulnerable. My question: how can educators in every role in the early learning system adopt an optimistic leadership stance that results in every child’s success now and in the future?

Optimistic Leadership is foundational principle of the Leading for Children approach to transformative change. Optimistic Leaders commit to internal effort to change in order to activate external transformation. Systems can get stronger when the people within them at every level are deeply motivated to think and work in new ways on behalf of a larger vision of quality and exemplary practices for children and families. In this month’s blog, I would like to share a work in progress: definitions of the five commitments of Optimistic Leaders.[1]

  1. A commitment to reciprocal dialogue leads to purposeful and open back-and-forth conversations that uncover ideas and opportunities and break down barriers to creating strong teams. Using intentional dialogue creates a climate of shared leadership, increased investment and exploration of ideas. Using reciprocal dialogue, the educator listens with intention to learn. She chooses when and how to speak, selecting words and tone that fit the situation — always aiming for an exchange to foster deeper thinking.
  2. A commitment to active learning 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.
  3. A commitment to effectiveness focuses the Optimistic Leader on purpose and alignment. Every decision — whether how to give feedback, choose a new initiative, or create a grant proposal, begins by identifying what is working and why and then building on these strengths. Each new decision builds on and aligns with what’s working and is carefully articulated to address outcomes and the overall vision of quality.
  4. A commitment to collaboration 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. The Optimistic Leader actively makes space for trusting interactions by modeling clarity and transparency and demonstrating the three commitments already described.
  5. A commitment to a deep sense of self-awareness is critical for the Optimistic Leader. Within this commitment she works to understand her strengths and challenges, what causes her static[2], biases she may have, and is receptive to feedback from others.

Optimism is a state of mind that leads to a sense of purpose and a path to positive outcomes. Optimistic Leaders are driven by this sense of purpose and focused on these outcomes, rather than on tools and techniques. They build a clear, direct and focused pathway to achievement.

As early learning educators, by embracing these five commitments, we embody optimism for ourselves and the children and families we serve.

Please respond with comments. What is your response to the idea of Optimistic Leadership thus far? What else do you want to understand? What do you think about the word commitments? Do these five commitments capture a clear picture of the internal work of an Optimistic Leader? You are welcome to post in the comments box or write to me directly at jjablon@leadingforchildren.org.


[1] Thank you to the Leading for Children advisors who have committed to ongoing conversation with me about the work of Leading for Children: Laura Ensler, Diana Courson, Nichole Parks, Khaatim Sherrer El, Laura Lamothe, Margo Dichtelmiller, Jonathan Fribley, and Tychawn Johnson, and Barbara Bilello. Thanks also to Gretchen Henderson and Jessica Downshen.

[2] Static is defined as the noise in your mind that keeps you from focusing on what is happening in the moment. From Coaching with Powerful Interactions. Jablon, Dombro, and Johnsen. 2014. NAEYC: Washington, DC.