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Director’s network provides support during challenging times

Managing a center-based or home-based early childhood education program is a demanding job—and can feel isolating at times.

Some of Arizona’s program directors have formed director’s networks to build support for themselves. These groups are comprised of early childhood program leaders, directors and administrators within a local geographic region. The groups provide an informal venue for professional networking, information sharing and partnership opportunities.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Arizona, center directors and family child care providers recognized the vital importance of coming together to work through the challenging time. New director’s groups emerged in response to this need.

One such group is the network of child care program directors across Coconino County. The group began when Jannette Bressler, director of Kingdom Kids Preschool and Play Center in Flagstaff, began hosting a web-based, weekly director’s group to share information and resources.   

Open meetings with relevant topics

“When this first started, I just called other directors to check on them and see how they were doing,” said Bressler. “After talking with about five sites, I could see we were all scared and had common ideas and fears.  It just made sense to form a group and go on this journey together.”

Bressler, who is a Quality First participant, invited both Quality First and non-Quality First programs to participate in her group. Quality improvement partners, like the region’s Quality First coaches, child care health consultants and mental health consultants, were also invited. The virtual format has allowed more directors to attend and stay connected.

Bressler set up the meeting so that the attending directors could give input to set the agenda and topics for discussion. Directors shared questions, concerns and challenges and collaboratively brainstormed ideas together.

A major focus for Bressler’s group has been problem-solving the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and working with the Coconino County Health Department’s COVID response manager for guidance. The group has received information for developing new policies and practices and finding resources to meet their programs’ needs.

Benefits of participating

Participants of the Coconino County director’s network have supported each other and shared resources, newly developed forms, contacts of vendors for supplies and COVID-related policies and practices.

Here is what a few participants shared about their experience and the benefits:

  • Useful information for decision-making: “Being able to have zoom conferences with other directors, the health department, and Rebecca with Association for Supportive Child Care was a huge relief! I didn’t feel so alone with the daunting task of trying to make all of the right decisions. This group was truly a beacon of light in this nasty storm!”
  • Connecting and problem-solving with other directors: “I love coming together with other directors during this time to support one another, bounce off ideas and find ways to connect with each other during one of the most difficult times we have ever experienced in child care!”
  • Encouragement and confidence: “…the meetings provide us with support in finding information that is pertinent to our families and to us.  These meetings bolster our resolve to continue to offer safe and healthy options for child care in northern Arizona.”

Thinking about starting your own group?

If you’re thinking about starting up a group of your own and have identified a virtual platform to use, Bressler said start with these first three steps:

  • First Step: Start by assessing the need for a group in your area.

Find out if others are interested in networking and their ability to join a network. This information will help you get an idea for how committed others would be to attending an ongoing group. “I think the key is to make that first connection with other directors. I found the best way to connect is by making phone calls,” said Bressler.

  • Second Step: Expand the invitation to beyond directors.

Gather people together who can help provide different areas of support, like the county health department or organizations with knowledge of resources. “Invite others who are connected to sites or who have a real interest in what is happening in the schools,” said Bressler.

  • Third Step: Get the word out.

The best kind of marketing is word-of-mouth, so encourage others to make the group known to their network. “Make sure to connect with others who have access to large networks to make sure as many people know about your group as possible,” said Bressler.

Interested in connecting with an existing group?

If you have a coach or technical assistance professional working with your program, ask them if they know of any director’s networks in your area. They may be able to put you in contact with a group in your community.

You can also contact one of the agencies below to learn about director’s networks you can join:

Association for Supportive Childcare

Coconino, Gila, Gila River Indian Community, Navajo Nation, Navajo/Apache, Pinal, San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache, Yavapai and Maricopa regions

Contact: Ruth Ray at rray@asccaz.org or 480.829.0500 ext. 1024

Southwest Human Development

Maricopa regions

Contact: Angela Zilch at azilch@swhd.org or 602.633.8744 

Child and Family Resources

Pima regions

Contact: Wendy Flynn at wflynn@cfraz.org or 520.320.4027

La Paz/Mohave and Colorado River Indian Tribes

Contact: Shirley Cunningham at scunningham@cfraz.org or 928.542.7489

Yuma, Cocopah

Contact: Yanira Martinez at ymartinez@cfraz.org or 928.788.4003 ext. 15

Easterseals Blake Foundation

Pima regions, Cochise, Santa Cruz and Tohono O’odham Nation

Contact: Jordana Saletan at jsaletan@blake.easterseals.com or 520.327.1529 ext. 7100

At Quality First, we love to hear from you! Share your new and innovative practices so others can be inspired. Send an email to QualityFirst@FirstThingsFirst.org.