Our everyday lives are filled with rules. We are aware of some rules; some, we abide by without knowing how much they exhaust us—leading to burnout. On July 14, Executive Director of Rural Utah Child Development (RUCD) Keri Newman Allred will join NHSA to identify some of the rules that are tiring you and how to create a new way of living that can better sustain you in the work you do.

Keri’s 30-year career in early childhood has been inspired by the motto: “childhood is a journey, not a race.” In advance of her Bold Leadership session, NHSA had a chance to ask Keri a few questions about her philosophy, her outlook on the future of Head Start, and the most important values to demonstrate every day.

NHSA: Tell us about your talk on July 14 and what you hope attendees will take away from the discussion?

Keri Newman Allred: The conversation is one that may be new to some: the idea that burnout is not to be avoided, but embraced. The very exhaustion of the way we are working and living is showing us what is unsustainable. The answer was never to leave the job, to try to do things better, to use self care to avoid the effects of living a life that isn’t true, or to ignore all the many ways our mind and body are trying to tell us to stop. We need to stop pacing, stop overthinking, stop worrying, stop living so many other lives, and live your own—fully, loudly, truly. My hope is that starting July 14, there will be leaders who lead, not leave.

NHSA: What do Head Start leaders need to thrive in the next program year?

KNA: If Head Start leaders would gift themselves the permission to do what works for them, to notice the rules they are abiding by that are exhausting, and to dare to follow the rules that are empowering instead, this next program year could be one of living instead of leaving.

NHSA: What are the most important things Head Start leaders can focus on in the next program year?

KNA: The last two years have been a battle, a chaotic spin of what we knew and what we needed to learn, quickly and efficiently, all while trying to keep those around us calm and feeling appreciated and safe. Now is the time to get ahead of what is coming, to see down the road and not step to the side, but meet it head on, hands up, heart open. Our focus for next year is this: we don’t need our work to be perfect, we just need to work. We don’t need to be failure free, we need to be comfortable with falling forward, standing back up, and picking up the charge to serve that we agreed to.

This is our time to show what we are made of. We are enough just as we are—we already have what it takes, as we have proven time and again. The time to prove is over, and now is the time to do it. In fact, we are already doing it! Let’s not wait until things are perfect to see they are beautiful.

NHSA: How can Head Start lead through change?

KNA: When things outside your control are changing rapidly, there can be pressure to try to keep up with that pace. But leading through change has a lot to do with staying the same inside of yourself. No matter how noisy, frantic, or hurried, it is always quiet somewhere. Find that somewhere and stay awhile.

NHSA: What are the three most important values you demonstrate daily?

KNA: Truth, kindness, and grace.

NHSA: What are two or three things you do or resources you use to avoid burnout?

KNA: I have come to believe that burnout is not to be avoided, that when burnout shows up in my day, it means I am not being honest about something that is true for me. I have said yes when I meant no, or I stayed silent when I needed to speak. Burnout is the fire that burns what no longer serves, and so, instead of avoiding it, I turn toward it, and ask it what it is trying to tell me, and then I light a match.

Emily Wagner

Emily was NHSA's director of communications. Previously, she was deputy director of advocacy communications for the American Library Association and worked for many years in communications for Catholic University and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Emily spent her early years as a newspaper reporter.

Related Content