Leadership is most needed during times of stress and crisis. Jenna Pettinicchi is currently transitioning from her role as the Director of FirstStepNYC, a high quality early childhood program located in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, to take a leadership role at the Institute’s Early Childhood Leadership Initiative. As a program director, Jenna demonstrated how a resourceful leader reaches out to her staff, providing the continuing and consistent connection that moves everyone forward. The creativity Jenna employed to support her staff offers them a model that she hopes the teachers will emulate as they connect with families, thus illustrating a parallel process of leaders working with teachers and teachers working with children. Inspired by Judy Jablon, Amy Dombro, and Laura Ensler’s Powerful Interactions approach, Jenna used the fundamental practices of being present, telling your truth, being open to curiosity, and suspending judgement to support growth and development through relationships.

One of the most meaningful gifts an early childhood director can give to their teachers is recognition and appreciation for the work they do with children. Acknowledgements of a teacher’s ‘moments of effectiveness’ work best when they are specific, informative, and describe how the teacher’s decisions facilitate children’s growth and development.

Prior to moving to virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jenna and her administrative staff created a documentation board prominently displayed in her center. Each and every teacher was featured for all to see on the “Teacher Moments of Effectiveness” documentation board, which was updated bi-monthly. 

Here is an example of one of the acknowledgements on the board:

Ms. Mabel works one-on-one with Jorge in a quiet corner of the classroom on a gluing project with cut out shapes. Jorge selects the shapes he wants to use and decides where he wants to glue them on his page.  Jorge follows Mabel’s verbal cues with the glue, neatly getting just the right amount onto the back of his cut-out shape. Ms. Mabel’s time with Jorge provided him with support in his development of problem-solving skills, making and testing observations, following directions, as well as, receptive language and his ability to concentrate and focus for extended period of time.

But what happens in a remote learning environment without common spaces to share this unique view of teachers practicing their craft? What could Jenna create to replace the documentation board in her center to highlight “Teacher Moments of Effectiveness?”

On Sunday, March 28, Jenna launched the “Weekly Wrap Up”, a newsletter which began each week with Jenna’s recorded video message to her staff.  Jenna knew how important it was for the teachers and staff at FirstStepNYC to see and hear from her. Jenna’s weekly messages offered connection, inspiration, encouragement, and a sense that we are all in this thing together.

Here is Jenna’s message after the first week of remote learning:

Included in each newsletter were highlights from the staff’s remote classrooms. Jenna shared videos, photos, teacher commentary on the children’s work, and brief summaries of what is happening in each classroom. One highlight included:

Room 110 – Jessica and Victoria did video check-ins with all of their families and the children were so excited to see their teachers. I especially liked Dylan’s reaction: ‘Dylan was very excited to see me. He even hugged the phone.'”

With so much sadness around us and so few answers about the future, it takes true grit and courage to stay present as Jenna did with her staff. Her recognition of the small moments of connection make it possible for educators to stay focused on their interactions with children and families.

How have you recognized and communicated your appreciation for the teachers in your program in this remote learning environment? Please share your comments in the section below.

Steve Castar is a Leadership Coach with the Institute’s Early Childhood Leadership Initiative.