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Mindful EC: Self-care partnerships for ECD professionals

Promoting self-care and retention among the ECD workforce through mindfulness-based stress reduction

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

After talking with ECD professionals who have years of experience working in the field, we thought about ways to lower barriers to entry for the innovation. This includes leveraging the strengths of ECD professionals to volunteer as on-site childcare providers so that participants feel welcome to bring their own children to the mindfulness session. We also considered running parallel mindfulness programs for children. In addition, we anticipate testing the most convenient program dates and times. Speaking with experts at the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard, we have identified a key question for program financial sustainability - namely, a) whether we envision ECD professional employers as the customer; b) if the program can go direct-to-consumers, or c) the program lends itself to a non-profit model of fundraising through various donors. For now, the first option has the most potential and we hope to engage ECD employers for feedback and interest. While ECD professionals are generally underpaid, there may be enough of a value proposition for them to participate. Experts in ECD also advised that we conduct a deeper dive around performance metrics and outcomes we can track through the pilot phase of the innovation. We have proposed several in this application that we think will be the most promising. They include looking at turnover, participant satisfaction, stress-levels, self-regulation and metrics around strength of network.

Name or Organization

Tim Huang


We are graduate students located in Cambridge Massachusetts. Initial implementation of our idea, specifically the pilot phase, will take place in the greater Cambridge/Boston area.

What is your stage of development?

  • New Innovator, with less than one year of experience in ECD


  • Team

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Building a network of mindfulness-based stress reduction community programs to improve the well-being and sustainability of ECD professionals

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

We are a first-mover in providing a scalable mindfulness program for ECD professionals through an evidence-based service that lowers stress, turnover, and through a social network. Research shows that there is a tremendous need for programs that help with stress and depression among ECD professionals. Our own experiences not only reflect the need for these programs, but the desire of ECD professionals who are seeking them out. We want to deliver these services in a new channel beyond the workplace where authentic relationships can be developed and reinforced.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Our innovation delivers an evidence-based mindfulness intervention to ECD professionals through a community that meets regularly to build authentic relationships. We create and support mindfulness-based ECD communities that provide an evidence-based stress reduction program accompanied by group support to prevent negative outcomes such as burnout and depression in the workforce. The mindfulness-based stress reduction and relationship-building practices will also deepen adult capabilities to provide stable, responsive care to children. The structured program consists of weekly gatherings where there is a guided session on mindfulness that teaches ECD professionals the skills they need for stress management, self-care, executive function, and emotional regulation. The result is a more healthy, compassionate, and effective educator and caregiver. ECD professionals also build authentic relationships with a community of peers, which serves as a source of support, mentorship, and learning. Guided sessions are followed by a reflection circle and a group meal. This innovation draws on research on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and best practices from programs such as Weight Watchers, Alcoholic Anonymous, Meditation Circle that harness the power of authentic relationships and social networks to drive results.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Excessive work stress among early childhood education professionals is leading to both high rates of depression and burnout in the workforce. The research now suggests that this stress hinders the educator’s capacity to use her executive function skills in the classroom and bring about the best developmental outcomes for the children. Moreover, the early childhood workforce lack the supports they need for wellness and long-term sustainability within the field.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

We are creating mindfulness-based ECD caregiver communities that provide group support and build resilience from burnout in the workforce. The mindfulness-based stress reduction and relationship-building practices will also deepen adult capabilities to provide stable, responsive care to children. Through weekly gatherings, community-building, and guided sessions on mindfulness, ECD professionals develop the capabilities they need for stress management, self-care, executive function, emotional regulation, and interpersonal skills, empowering them to thrive as healthy, compassionate educators and caregivers. What is the program? A structured once-a-week program would involve: A 30-minute guided Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction exercise, such as a short meditation or deep breathing practice A 30-minute sharing and listening circle for educators to connect meaningfully about their week (with a guided prompt or passage to elicit honest and open sharing) A healthy meal shared together to close out the evening Each of these pieces contribute to the retention of these ECD professionals through 3 key principles for the program: Self-Compassion: Developing a regular mindfulness practice for self-care and stress reduction Purpose: Reinvigorating a sense of purpose to the profession Community: Deepening connection to a community of peers who can continue to support them Why mindfulness? We believe that mindfulness is approachable, inclusive, and beneficial for the well-being of caregivers. With that said, we draw on success of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, pioneered by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School as a clinical health program that provides systematic training in mindfulness practices as a self-regulatory approach to stress reduction and emotional management. Today, more than 1,300 published studies on MBSR show symptom reductions across a wide range of mental health diagnoses as well as neurobiological impacts of participants. These include reported significant declines in stress, negative affect, rumination, state and trait anxiety, and significant increases in positive affect and self-compassion. Theory of Change ECD professionals feel excessive stress from work and are at-risk of leaving the workforce → ECD professionals attend a weekly mindfulness-based stress reduction community program → ECD professionals develop the stress management and self-regulation skills as well as a community of meaningful social connection and socio-emotional supports to sustain their work → ECD providers and the ECD field at large benefit from higher retention rates and lower burnout; Children in the classroom benefit from improved adult capabilities for responsive care and more stable and present providers How does it work? The innovation targets adult stress by building intentional community for self-care and training adults in science-based, mindfulness-based stress reduction strategies. This innovation intends to grow the network and movement of early childhood mental health and well-being through affordable, scalable adoption by ECE providers, schools, and non-profit organizations. The short, simple, and adaptable program relies on existing ECE professionals as community ambassadors who can facilitate the program and grow the network. In the pilot phase, the program will initially be facilitated by experienced mindfulness practitioners and educators, but as the program develops, to ensure both sustainability and ownership, enthusiastic caregivers will take things forward by hosting the program within their own network. To address key challenges around equity and inclusion, especially for teachers who face additional barriers to attending, we intend to integrate ways that ECE professionals can volunteer to support implementation with on-site childcare and ridesharing as well as offer a healthy meal to encourage participation. The innovation's focus is around developing powerful authentic relationships among ECD professionals. We anticipate harnessing existing technology platforms insofar as they promote these relationships and allow for ease of organizing programs, coordinating, and improving outreach.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The primary beneficiaries are early childhood professionals who have high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression at risk of leaving the profession due to burnout. A survey of Pennsylvania Head Start programs found that 24% of the 2000 respondents reported clinically significant levels of depression. The Economic Policy Institute found that a majority of preschool teachers are low-income women of color with often no more than a high-school diploma. This program allows ECD professionals to access a community of supportive peers and some tools that help reduce stress and burnout. We want to stress the importance of developing authentic relationships beyond the workplace so that ECD professionals recognize that they are not alone and realize that they too have a powerful community to rely on for support and healing. The secondary beneficiaries are the children who these ECD professionals serve. By reducing burnout and improving self-regulation among ECD professionals, we anticipate improvements in the quality of educational and service related outcomes for children. We also believe that this will benefit ECD employers due to the high costs associated with turnover, hiring and training We have a combined 10 years of experience working on early childhood health and development with ECD professionals and caregivers. We have worked on the ground as educators, on policy, in funding roles and in implementation of early childhood programs and policies.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

By summer of 2018, we will launch a pilot of our innovation among a cohort of 20 ECD professionals in the greater Boston area over the course of 8 weeks. We anticipate collecting data on the following domains: 1) participant satisfaction; 2) depression and anxiety levels over time; 3) performance metrics in the workplace, including turnover and feelings of burnout; 4) network strengthening among participants; 5) self-regulation and emotional management in the classroom

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Our theory of change posits that a stronger ECD professional workforce will result in downstream improvements in the quality of educational and interactive experiences between caregivers and children. We aim to strengthen the ECD workforce by providing a powerful mindfulness tool coupled with authentic relationships with ECD peers to reduce stress and burnout, while improving self-regulation and self-care.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

This concept of educators benefitting from stress reduction, mindfulness, and self-care strategies is not new. What is new in our innovation, however, is the particular emphasis on targeting a regular mindfulness-based stress reduction practice and building an authentic community to support ECD professionals who rarely receive these tools for their work and sustainability. The implementation through a community-based network model is also innovative in that it enables this ECD workforce retention strategy to be scaled in an affordable way that also maintains its principles for program fidelity.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

We anticipate that the scalability of this innovation will depend on three factors: organic growth in participants, recruitment of program ambassadors, and lowering the barriers to entry. Our strategy for organic growth will involve working with existing local networks of professionals such as ECE professional coalitions and associations and relying on early adopters to help recruit more members. Recruitment of ambassadors who help organize, and recruit new participants will also play a key role. Here, we envision an incentive model that provides financial rewards to ambassadors for organizing and recruiting members. Finally, we know that lowering the barriers to entry in the program will be critical to allow participation. To lower barriers to entry, we propose integrating ways that ECE professionals can volunteer to support implementation with on-site childcare and ridesharing. We also anticipate setting aside a small amount of program funding for meals, facility rentals (if necessary), and transport.       There are close to 500,000 pre-k teachers and 1.22 million childcare workers in the US. Assuming that 10% of teaching assistants work in an ECE setting, our total market is approximately 2 million.This figure does not capture other peripheral service providers working with young children, such as home visitors, developmental specialists, family support service providers and more. We hope to integrate these peripheral service providers into the innovation.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Our current team is ready to implement a pilot program to test our concepts and incorporate user feedback into the final design. With seed stage funding, we plan on the following next steps: first, we want to decide on a final set of evaluation metrics that we believe our innovation will address, such as stress reduction, reduced turnover, and satisfaction among participants. Next, we hope to pilot our innovation in Massachusetts among a select group of early adopters where we are able to fine tune and conduct rapid cycle quality improvements based on user feedback and engagement. Third, we will test our sales model and value proposition with participants and a broader group of ECD employers or associations. Finally, we will revise the innovation based on the pilot and look at how we can scale the innovation to a broader set of participants. During this pilot, we will also determine feasible price points participants are willing to accept to attend sessions. We will also engage ECE companies, professional associations, and determine interest in sponsoring this innovation as a social or non-profit enterprise and at what price points. The innovation can be quickly tested in the pilot phase with a minimal budget. The pilot phase is important because it will allow us to test and confirm our informed hypothesis based on numerous key informant interviews that there is strong demand for this innovation.  

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

Our business strategy will focus on putting the desires of ECD professionals first and quickly scaling up participants through a organized recruitment program. We think that the combination of recruiting ambassadors and ECD employers will drive most of the initial growth. Keeping the program at a high level of quality and maintaining the identity of the innovation as a welcoming, safe, and inspiring environment is important. We want our brand to be trusted and recognized among ECD professionals. This means that our training program and endorsement of program ambassadors will require care monitoring and engagement. Ambassadors will play a key role in maintaining program quality and scale. We anticipate involving ambassadors in the continual improvement of the curriculum and in testing new ways to more deeply assist and engage ECD professionals.    The innovation requires minimal fixed costs to implement. We forecast these costs to include a training program for prospective program ambassadors to implement the innovation and recruit participants, food for participants, liability insurance for the organization, participant transportation reimbursement on a case-by-case basis, and administrative staff to provide support to the network. We plan to adopt lean principles as we implement the pilot phase of the innovation do not anticipate any major capital expenditures. We will also examine whether there are tech solutions that canhelp improve coordination and consistency.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

To empathize with our users, we interviewed early childhood educators, including one who taught at a Head Start program, a community health psychologist, early childhood trainers and professional development speakers, and experts at an ECD science policy think tank. What we heard from so many of our interviews is that early childhood professionals are yearning for self-care tools and meaningful relationships that sustain them through the daily stressors they experience. In particular, “stress management,” “feeling connected to others”, “authentic relationships,” and “a sense of purpose” were several of the insights that stood out from our interviews with early childhood educators when they were asked about what sustains them and what they need more of. The psychologist and experts we interviewed also cited the larger trends and need for sustainability in the workforce. From our human-centered design perspective, we were able to uncover through interviews and empathy maps the deeper need for connection through community and self-care practices. We incorporated these needs into our point of view statement to design for a stressed-out, under-supported ECD professional who needs a way to build relationships and skills to sustain oneself. When we began ideating, a plethora of ideas emerged, but the ones that stuck centered around simple and inclusive ways to bring people together for a self-care practice. We ultimately decided on a mindfulness-based intervention.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

We are inspired by the teachers and professionals who dedicate their lives to the most formative years of a child’s life. As a former administrator of at an early childhood agency, Joe observed firsthand the important work of early childhood professionals and the passion they had for working with children. In a profession that puts the family at the center of everything, sometimes the needs of those who care for others are overlooked. This was most apparent in many conferences and professional development seminars with ECE professionals, some of which were convened by Joe’s agency. While there was a tremendous need for professional development to understand the latest in educational best practices and scientific literature on child development, what Joe witnessed was thousands of ECE professionals choosing sessions around self-care, compassion fatigue, and stress management over traditional conference topics. The expression that people “vote with their feet” rang true; ECE professionals were reaching out for ways to manage their own personal well-being. Having worked at a local educational non-profit organization in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, Tim saw at the grassroots level the multitude of challenges in establishing an early childhood education system that empowers the ECD workforce and the children they serve. Tim was drawn to Bhutan because of its commitment to Gross National Happiness, a philosophy for holistic sustainable development that accounts for the well-being of people as much as it focuses on economic measures. During his time there, he contributed to the drafting and editing of the country’s first early childhood care and development investment study. Tim also attended and helped coordinate a regular meditation group with educators, students, and people from all walks of life in Bhutan. He saw the power of community and mindfulness to improve people’s mental health and well-being. Tim and Joe met as graduate students at Harvard Kennedy School. We were inspired by one another's experiences and thought about ways to leverage our respective experiences to improve outcomes for young children, a population that we are both deeply passionate about. The early childhood space excites us because it is an area that gets little attention compared to enormous impact it has on the future socioeconomic well-being of our nation. Research consistently shows that rich, nurturing, early childhood educational and interactive settings are key determinants to later adult functioning, health, social mobility, and economic success.  We feel strongly that educators, caregivers, and ECD professionals change the world. They are the DNA of the success in early childhood education, promoting healthy development and transforming outcomes for vulnerable children.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

We are seeking to include ECD professionals on our leadership team.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We are also looking forward to leveraging the resources, leaders, and networks in the greater Boston area that work with ECD professional associations, employers, and key thought leaders to support the implementation of the pilot phase of our project.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc). Page 22 (Joe) and Page 24 (Tim)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Yuanyuan Tan

This idea is really great, which can help childhood professional release their stress also prevent them from depression. Also, children can be beneficiaries.

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