Connecting Your Professional Oxygen Mask

You spend your days working hard to support others, meeting the needs of staff, children, and families.   You chose this work and find joy and meaning in the results of your efforts.  As much as you look forward to going to work (most days!), it can be a very challenging job.  So, let’s take time out to think about your professional self:  where do you find support and how are your needs met?

You know the airplane rule—secure your oxygen mask before helping those around you.  If you can’t breathe, you won’t be able to continue supporting others.  One way to find that professional oxygen is by connecting with other directors.  Scheduling time to nurture relationships with your peers allows you to share the load, hear new ideas and solutions, and renew your inspiration and courage.  As you share laughter, you open your brain to learning, reduce stress, and see your problems in perspective.

Since 2000, the Arkansas Children’s Program Administrator Certificate and Credential (ACPAC) has brought together directors from diverse programs for specialized professional development.  In addition to the 129 clock hours of seminar time and the individual projects, participants are eligible to join the ACPAC Google group that makes connections as close as their keyboards.

Jill Gunderman participated in ACPAC while an assistant director.  She discusses community, leadership, and connections below.

The community built during the ACPAC experience is different from joining a professional organization (which is also important!).  Through intentionally crafted learning experiences, participants connect with each other around the content in each two-day seminar.  I got to share my ideas and thoughts and hear others’ ideas and thoughts, all surrounding the passion that we share.  I developed relationships with colleagues through this experience that I still enjoy today.  Even though ideologically I may disagree with fellow participants, there was true respect for the community that was built.  The community building occurred within the context of learning and examining best practices in leadership for young children.

 “The ACPAC experience allowed me to consider who I was as a leader.  I explored my communication style, my philosophy, and my abilities, enabling me to define my individual leader style. 

 “A big takeaway from the ACPAC experience for me, was the realization that I am not alone in this work.  Leadership can be a little lonely, even in large organizations.  But through the support of my fellow participants, some who had been doing this longer than I and others who had different life experiences that brought them to this place in their careers, I learned that although we may face different challenges, we face many more similarities.  Having the opportunity to learn from them and having the opportunity to articulate my thoughts helped shape me into the leader I am today.”

To sustain a vital professional life, you need the professional oxygen that comes from the relationships you find in a network of directors.  We encourage you to decide to join or create director networking opportunities in your area.   

Let Us Hear From You:  Post a comment and share with your colleagues.

  • How could SECA enhance your networking and sharing opportunities on a broader, regional scale? We sponsor a Directors Seminar at the annual conference each year that is designed to promote networking and sharing but we reach only a small number of SECA members who are in attendance at the conference.  What ideas and suggestions do you have about how we might increase support for you through other strategies….technology, sharing forums, dedicated website resources?
  • Have you developed local opportunities for networking and support?  Tell us about them and share your ideas with your colleagues throughout the South.
  • What do you see as the biggest challenges facing administrators of early childhood programs today?


 Diana Courson, Associate Director for Arkansas State University Childhood Services, worked with Geania Dickey to design the ACPAC curriculum in 2000 and continues to serve as a seminar facilitator.



 Jill Gunderman, Program Coordinator for Arkansas State University Childhood Services, ACPAC participant. 




For another model of Directors’ networking, check out the August 2016 blog post, Director to Director:  Supporting Each Other, by Laura Newman.

10 thoughts on “Connecting Your Professional Oxygen Mask

  1. In Louisiana the state has mandated that each district develop a network for any facilities that accept any public funding related to early childhood. This has been a long process that has not happened without many bumps in the road, however what has been observed is that over time the people who truly support the efforts have developed relationships with others in supervisory roles and continue to share victories and difficulties in carrying out the expectations for themselves and their staff. It has provided many opportunities for everyone to gain growth in the early childhood field. The biggest winners have been the children and parents who utilize the facilities where the on going higher expectations and training continues to take place.

  2. I am in a small group of local Directors that has been meeting monthly for many years and shared joys and concerns in the industry. The group consists of 5 members, which fosters confidentiality, close relationships, and trust. We share valuable information and help each other keep up with ever-changing times, and we have agreed not to “compete” with each other.
    It could be nice to connect with other small groups – maybe twice a year, but a larger group will not have the trust needed to really share great ideas, fees, payroll info, etc.
    SECA could help by creating a “registry” of small groups and perhaps supporting a larger gathering of these groups occasionally.
    One of the biggest challenges we face is paying our staff a sustainable wage, and keeping up with ever-changing and increasing standards for education.

  3. Thank you for deep diving into this essential topic! As detailed in my blog post referenced from August, I shared a successful model of a monthly face to face cohort group, an effort to deliver a peer network of support one meeting at a time. Now approaching its second year, there are 11 state approved (training) topics for a full calendar cycle. Owners, directors and their management teams have the option to attend these meetings in one of six regions. Each region offers the identical content and agenda addressing the unique challenges our leaders face but otherwise without a vehicle to share best practices nor troubleshoot key issues.

    Director to Director (D2D) by design provides broad print resources aligned to the topic, coffee, conversation and the camaraderie necessary to make a difference. Additionally, I have supplemented the meetings with an electronic forum, a dialogue of exchange with most of the same resources delivered in person but available online for greater reach. The feedback and recent expansion into three other regions is an indication that our industry has a strong need to “connect their professional oxygen mask”!

    With that said, I invite any reader interested in learning more or with a desire for assistance in launching a comparable model to contact me directly.

  4. Some school districts do not recognize the Preschool programs as authentic learning. They perceive us as playing not understanding that this is how our children learn through structured play. So when its time to attend conferences they don’t see a need to fund and send the early learning staff to conferences that benefit our curriculum.

  5. Just as parents need connections with other parents, directors need connection with other directors. These connections allow for wisdom to be passed along to those newer in the field. I remember a great piece of advice I heard from a long-time director, Regina Morrow. Regina shared that she would phone a parent of a minor boo-boo or a bite from another child before the parent arrived at the center even though such minor incidences were not required by the state regulations. Doing so allowed the parent to begin working with their naturally protective emotions before arriving at the center and there would be less “up-set” to deal with upon arrival. This also builds a trusting relationship with parents. Regina is wise in going beyond the state minimums.
    Small pieces of wisdom are what help a center run smoothly! Sharing such knowledge is helpful. In Bibb County, Georgia a network of directors began with a group called the Early Learning Network sponsored by United Way of Central Georgia. People from all areas tangible to early learning were invited to participate to coordinate efforts of networking and streamlining resources. A huge success of this group was being named as an E3Z Zone by the Georgia Department of Early Learning. This is a three year grant project targeted at improving the quality of child care in both centers and family learning homes as part of the QRIS program in Georgia. Through these efforts a specific directors’ network has been developed which meets monthly during the academic year. Small bits of wisdom continue to be passed down and new problems are addressed collaboratively.

  6. Sometimes just a cup of coffee and conversation—and connecting with each other– are all we need to spark new ideas and enthusiasm to continue our wonderful work! Thank you for all your great ideas, and thank you for the burst of energy and enthusiasm regarding collaboration!

  7. Carol, I completely agree! The “coffee, conversation and comaraderie” drive the Director cohort of monthly topics, with a new pilot project in the works delivering the same format to the teachers (of the program directors who attend our D2D’s). An effort to impact whole learning and support for our industry leaders while trickling down to the staff who work directly with the enrolled families. Great dialogue illustrating a real need to reach those working hard at the center level.

  8. Connecting with directors is vital to my success. I belong to two different groups in DC and cherish my relationships with each group.

  9. Here in Austin, TX I have been fortunate to be a part of the AAEYC Accreditation Network group. Being with other directors and community members who have different experiences, run different types of preschool programs and can bring to the table a range of ideas has helped me so much. As a new director I felt lonely and overwhelmed and this wonderful group has helped me grow and develop my skills. We also use this time to get training hours with a wide variety of appropriate topics.

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