Monday, Aug. 7th 2017

A call to action: Seeking inspired leaders and followers to advocate for Head Start


By Edward Condon
Executive Director, Region 9 Head Start Association    




Like many Americans these days—and certainly among educators—the notion of good leadership presents itself regularly: Our national leaders—whose job it is to set policy and make choices for all of us—are casting a critical look at domestic spending, with cuts in mind for community programs like Head Start.

Some in Washington, D.C. are now in favor of resurrecting a proposal to turn the Head Start program into a block grant for each state—thus threatening the structure of what makes Head Start successful—how it transforms children and parents’ lives through the emphasis on education, health and overall well-being. So right now with this threat on the horizon, Head Start in America needs more advocates—its own leaders and followers—to continue spreading the good word about the Head Start advantage.

Current headlines notwithstanding, there is much to celebrate in our land—in particular that rising generation of young people who are naturally inclusive in outlook, open-hearted by nature and eager to share the nation’s equality, privileges and prosperity with everyone.

We have a dual role here, then, to nurture that rising generation of young people, which of course is the raison d’etre of Head Start’s work, but also to gather support for the program itself. We are faced with the reality of not only having to be educators—but being cheerleaders as well to survive—to lead the charge. We shoulder that responsibility to advocate for Head Start locally, regionally and nationally.

Among the reasons for Regional 9 Head Start Association’s ongoing work is to activate our community. One way we do this is during our annual The Leadership Challenge workshops where we tackle the concept of how to inspire others, what makes a great leader—and a most important but overlooked concept: how to be a good follower.

Frequently, I teach a workshop that delves into aspects of leadership. I take up this task passionately because in my nearly two decades of Head Start association work, I have seen the accrued benefits from leadership training in parents, staff and program managers. I focus on how a leader can inspire others to action and include in the curriculum one of the greatest calls to action of the 20th Century: Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I Have A Dream” speech.

King’s historic 1,660 words are thrilling, uplifting—and what a speech is also supposed to do: Be up-gathering. A leader needs followers who believe in the message, who are credible actors themselves and who can bring others on board.

That’s why I also cover another essential aspect to leadership: Gathering up more people—for one individual does not a movement make. It needs followers. Cultivating a “first follower” is an art itself, according to American entrepreneur Derek Sivers, who calls the first follower an “underappreciated form of leadership.” Says Sivers, “The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that really makes the fire.” Not all of us can be leaders, but we can be first followers—or second followers—or among the mass of folks who make up the rest of a movement.

King made his famous speech during the March on Washington in 1963—a speech to rally the masses to demonstrate power of the people. As it happens, National Head Start Association is holding its own rally there—Families Unite for Head Start Rally and Hill Day—on Sept. 27, to demonstrate to official Washington that Head Start is as vital as ever and that block grants to states are unwarranted. The rally is even preceded by a special Parents As Leaders training program—to get parents ready to advocate for Head Start in front of senators, representatives and other officials.

So whether you have the ability to travel to the nation’s capital, attend Region 9’s The Leadership Challenge or make a phone call to your local congressional representative, this is the opportune time to step out on faith—and lead, or be a first follower or even a voice for advocacy in your community.

When King spoke, he referred to “the fierce urgency of now” for civil rights. I, too, sense, a “fierce urgency of the now” for Head Start. That’s why it’s imperative to step up our game and become more powerful promoters of the thing we so mightily believe in. Promoters in Silicon Valley are often called “evangelists.” I like that term because it harkens to the heart—to the spirit of the thing. We need more evangelists—and we need you now.

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The Vision

All children, regardless of their circumstance at birth, deserve a full and prosperous life.

The Mission

  • Support high-impact Head Start programs for children and adults by creating opportunities for collaboration, networking and information sharing.
  • Unite with state and national Head Start organizations to ensure regulatory and budget outcomes that support our work.
  • Champion the message that every child and family who succeeds makes their community a better place.
  • Provide resources to assist our members in compliance and professional development.

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