What is the field of early childhood?
The field of early childhood is organized around the commitment to ensure that children from birth through age five are safe, healthy, eager to learn, and ready to succeed in school. Organizations, advocates, policymakers, communities, and families that work together to develop the best services, programs, and policies to support children’s well being and learning together make up the field of early childhood.
What do you mean by work in policy development, systems building, and advocacy?
Governments at all levels (local, state, and national) enact laws, appropriate money, write regulations, and operate systems in such areas as education, health, and child welfare that directly affect children and the communities they live in. This includes everything from setting qualifications for teachers and establishing safety standards for child care centers to specifying how old a child must be to start kindergarten. Policy development involves identifying problems or areas that can be improved and developing and testing new approaches. Advocacy involves communicating to the public, and to people who make the laws and regulations (legislators, school boards, etc.), to propose and urge passage of measures that promise to improve learning opportunities. Going beyond direct service and program administration to the broader issues of improving early childhood experiences through policy and systems change is an important element of the Fellows program.
What is leadership development?
Developing leadership has several components. It includes developing the skills needed to lead, including strategic thinking, communication, organizing groups, and encouraging the development of others. It includes experiences and reflections to deepen the traits associated with effective leadership, such as courage, integrity, and accountability. Finally, developing leadership requires a depth of knowledge about one’s subject area and field. The Illinois Early Childhood Fellows Program helps emerging leaders to enhance their abilities in all these areas, and encourages Fellows to adopt a regular practice of deliberate reflection about the meaning and use of their leadership.
- Hands on practice
- Explicit education about the field, systems change, early childhood, leadership, and networking
- Opportunities to use and refine new skills and expertise, while drawing on existing skills and knowledge
- Mentoring that is regular, deliberate, and insightful
- Development of professional networks, including leaders in the field, civic leaders, policymakers, and funders
- Individual and collective learning
- Intentional reflection on what is being learned and what is of interest
- Reflection about the meaning of leadership and how each Fellow wants to apply her/his leadership
- Specially designed seminars, organized by Erikson Institute
- Annual opportunities for additional individual professional development
Can I stay in my current job and be a Fellow?
No. This is a full-time commitment for two years. Fellows are individuals who intend to build their career in the field of early childhood care and education. People who work in the field now and qualified individuals who now work in a host organization are welcome to apply. If chosen, such a Fellow will be placed in another host organization.
Will I be able to choose where I’m placed as a Fellow?
You will have a voice in that decision. Finalists – both Fellows and the mentors in host organizations – interview one another twice. Each then ranks her/his preferences for placements. Project staff uses that information to match hosts and Fellows. While there are no guarantees, staff does its best to honor all finalists' top choices.
Do Fellows receive a grant or salary? Do they receive health insurance? Will their families?
Fellows are employees of the organizations in which they are placed, and receive a first-year stipend or salary of $55,000. Fellows receive all of the benefits offered to the employees of the organization where they are placed. Organizations vary on the type of benefits they offer.
Can I learn to be a child care provider in this program? An early childhood teacher?
No. The Illinois Early Childhood Fellows Program is focused on the policies and systems that help assure that all children have high quality care and education. Direct service with children is not the focus. The Internet has many resources about careers in child care and teaching
How did the Fellows Program originate? Who is behind it?
Six Chicago funders who are leaders in the field of early childhood created the Fellows Program in 2008. The current funders are The Boeing Company, Grand Victoria Foundation, The Irving Harris Foundation, McCormick Foundation, and the J. B. and M. K. Pritzker Family Foundation. The Evanston Community Foundation is fiscal sponsor, providing project management and fiscal administration. The goal of the Fellows Program is to enhance the leadership of individuals, develop a pipeline of diverse, knowledgeable, committed leaders for the early childhood field in Illinois, strengthen organizations and the field as a whole, and ultimately strengthen the communities served by the Fellows.
Who are the mentors?
Top leaders in Illinois’ early childhood community, including leaders of the host organizations, regularly serve as mentors; for information see Mentors. In addition, Fellows have extensive opportunities to network with leaders in the field – state legislators, philanthropic leaders, scholars, and advocates.
Does the Fellows Program offer an academic program or a degree?
Fellows have substantial learning opportunities, including a seminar series organized by Erikson Institute with leading practitioners and community leaders, workshops on leadership skills, and an individual budget for self-chosen conferences and professional development opportunities. The program does not involve formal university coursework or lead to a degree.
When will the new cohort for the Fellows Program begin?
The Illinois Early Childhood Fellows program is using its sixth year to evaluate its impact on the emerging leadership of Early Childhood institutions in Illinois and focus its resources on current Fellows and program alumni. As we allow time for this evidence-based decision-making and strategic planning, we are suspending recruitment of new Fellows. We anticipate announcing our plans moving forward this summer.