Using Collaborative Leadership as a Foundation in ECE Expansion

By: Jo Rutkiewicz

Expanding and improving early childhood education is on the minds of Minnesota’s leadership, and growth is inevitable. Gov. Walz is pushing a $5.1 billion budget in education, with early childhood learning among the biggest priorities in his plan (Lopez, 2022). The DFL-led MN congress members are following the governor’s lead with the proposal of HF 3591, which appropriates $5 million in 2023 for “community-based organizations working with family, friend, and neighbor caregivers to promote healthy development, social-emotional learning, early literacy, and school readiness.” The effort and funding are in the works, but this initiative must be executed with best practices and fidelity.

What is Collaborative Leadership?

The Human Capital Research Collaborative published a list of ten essential elements of early childhood program effectiveness, which provides the framework for a high-quality early childhood program backed by evidence-based practices. Among these elements is collaborative leadership, which is multidimensional, with different positions and responsibilities school staff, families, and other community members step into (Reynolds et al., 2018). In addition, by creating an environment where diverse voices are heard, decision-making is collective and enhances the program's culture because the varying stakeholders are encouraged to participate and voice their opinions that would otherwise not be heard (Weckström et al., 2020). HCRC is continually monitoring the effectiveness of the ten essential elements through the midwest expansion of child-parent centers, and improved academic performance is found at CPC schools in St. Paul (Reynolds, Richardson, & Lee, 2021). 

In the proposed bill, investment in community-based organizations that work directly with stakeholders, like family and services providers, is required. Collaborative leadership is a framework that establishes a foundation to develop a high-quality educational setting. Governor Walz’s proposed policy expands access to over 23,000 students (Lopez, 2022), no easy endeavor. With a recommended teacher-to-student ratio of at most 8.5:1 (Reynolds, 2021), over 2,500 educators are required to meet this goal just in the classroom, which doesn’t consider other service providers. This is a process that requires people to work together with a shared goal at the center of decision-making, which collaborative leadership fulfills. 

Next Steps

Collaborative leadership is not the only essential element, but it establishes a strong foundation for policy and practice. By improving early childhood programs through such shared ownership, Minnesota and other states will be able to effectively increase access and quality in scale-up efforts. Cultivating and sustaining high-quality learning environments are the core goals of our educational and social institutions. Collaborative leadership empowers educators, families, and citizens to rightfully share in the responsibility to create healthy environments that endure.