The Atlantic Early Childhood Education (ECE) Lab was born out of a commitment to the early childhood education sector, embodying collaborative learning, innovative experimentation, and a drive to sustain and grow the ECE workforce. Since March 2020, the Lab has brought together diverse stakeholders, including educators, operators, policymakers, colleges, and professional associations, to co-create innovative solutions that support the critical ECE sector across 3 Atlantic provinces: New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Eward Island.  

The issue at hand was multifaceted. The sector was marked by fragmentation and the ECE workforce faced substantial obstacles, including retention difficulties, staffing shortages, and low wages. At the root of this was a pervasive underappreciation for the sector’s critical role in our society.  

Despite these hurdles, a collective spirit of resilience emerged. The Lab’s partners banded together, drawing inspiration from the ECE community’s unwavering dedication and passion. This synergy fueled the Lab’s mission and reinforced its foundational Theory of Change: empowering operators with the time and support to lead pedagogically would translate into a higher quality work experience. This, in turn, was anticipated to boost recruitment, improve retention, enhance professional learning, and, ultimately, elevate the quality of learning and care provided to children. 

Guided by a vision to strengthen and unify the ECE sector, the Atlantic ECE Lab has actively navigated through challenges, charting a journey of significant impact over the past three years. 

Behind these figures are tangible initiatives that have fostered professional growth and a sense of community within the ECE sector. These initiatives, shaped by the lab’s dedicated teams, have made a palpable difference in the lives of the ECE workforce. To fully grasp the extent of our impact, we need to spotlight the core of the Lab’s mission: the eight innovative teams and their nine groundbreaking prototypes.  

The ECE Lab led eight teams through the development and testing of nine innovative prototypes. Each of these prototypes aimed to create the conditions for thriving work experiences for operators and educators in the ECE sector.   

Team NB Anglophone Prototype: Building Trust Across ECE Centers 

This team facilitated a peer-support cohort for directors in the Anglophone South School District. The cohort provided a space for constructive discussions on challenges and solutions, improving job motivation, and fostering connections between operators. 

“[We are] having conversations about our struggles and getting different ideas about how to handle things. I’m looking forward to the next session… it’s nice to get [together] with operators who are going through the same struggle and just having that person to talk about issues with and brainstorm how to handle it.” – Participating operator 

Team NB Francophone: Establishing a Community of Practice in ECE 

 A newly established ECE community of practice, focusing on center-based pedagogical leadership. The initiative delivered virtual training sessions structured to foster reflective practice among educators. This strategic approach equipped them to return to their centers, where they could enhance support for staff through the cultivation of authentic relationships, collaborative efforts, and strength-based approaches. 

“It’s about going where the child’s needs come first in the daycare and always with the goal of supporting ECEs to do that. Can you imagine what it would do for quality? Because we all get that ELCC are about helping children to learn, to become strong members of society, but if we’re understaffed and the staff are exhausted.. Well, we’re losing good people who are going to change fields, so you’re affecting that too… by having someone there who’s dedicated to making sure staff are supported, it’s going to change your entire perception of your work in the end.” – Participating Director 

Team Newfoundland & Labrador: Facilitating Paid Professional Development for ECEs 

Team Newfoundland & Labrador’s initiative to integrate paid professional learning (PL) within work hours has marked a significant success, with 2 centers successfully hosting inaugural close-out days. By establishing a robust toolkit of PL resources, the team has empowered administrators with the knowledge and tools needed to organize these dedicated development days, enriching the quality of ECE practices without impinging on educators’ personal time. 

Team PEI: Cultivating Leadership Through Collaborative Learning 

Team PEI created a leadership learning buddy program that paired six director duos in a reflective journey of self-evaluation and mutual development.  Supported by a leadership coach, these pairs established and pursued individual learning goals, shared insights, and provided accountability. Regular cohort meetings fostered a network of peer support, enhancing management strategies and personal development within the center’s leadership. This buddy system not only bolstered individual growth but also enriched the collective learning experience for all participating directors, proving to be a valuable model for professional development in ECE management.  

Francophone Early Childhood Education Association: Strengthening Francophone ECE Networks 

In the francophone cohort of the lab from Round 1 it was identified that each province is working in a minority language context with limited resources and that there was a need for those working in the francophone ECE sector in the region to connect more frequently to share resources, training opportunities, and best practices in francophone ELCCs.  

With support from another FSC funded initiative the Atlantic Colleges Atlantique (ACA) guided a subcommittee with representation from each province’s ECE directors, colleges/ universities, associations, and government to build the mandate and structure to present to the larger committee in the fall of 2021. This subcommittee further secured funding from RDÉE and the ECE Lab Prototype Fund to prototype the development of an Atlantic-wide and francophone organisation and an offering. On March 23, 2023 they offered a virtual training on supporting the child through emotional (dis)regulation and had over 120 educators in attendance from all 4 Atlantic provinces.  They have developed a Facebook group and are currently developing a website and organisational structure. 

North Shore Micmac District Council: Enhancing Indigenous Outdoor Learning Quality 

The ECE Lab Prototype Fund helped support a project by the North Shore Micmac District Council.  This project’s focus is the development of quality outdoor learning measures in nine First Nations communities within North Shore, NB and PEI. The project will explore existing Assessment for Quality Improvement (AQI) measures from an Indigenous perspective and apply those AQI measures to outdoor environments. A 4-part certificate for NB and PEI educators and operators will be tested in May 2023 with cohort feedback incorporated into subsequent certificate offerings. Project leads will attend the 2023 Outdoor Learning Conference in Banff, AB and also visit local First Nations communities to discuss how outdoor spaces are culturally responsive and safe places of learning for infants and children. 

While the ECE Lab’s formal journey may be concluding, the enduring impact of the collaborative efforts to support and elevate the Atlantic ECE sector is just starting to take root and grow. The wisdom we’ve gathered, partnerships we’ve nurtured, and breakthroughs we’ve achieved stand as a testament to our collective resolve. These are not mere outcomes but the very seeds of progress, heralding a new era of excellence in early childhood education across the Atlantic provinces, and beyond.