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Leader Accreditation Yesterday ... Today ... Tomorrow?

Nancy Spahr, LAD Director
LLLI Leader Accreditation Department
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 36 No. 4, August-September 2000, p. 75

In the early days of La Leche League, mothers who wanted to be Leaders wrote to the Founders and received permission to begin new LLL Groups. Then in 1962, in order to "maintain quality," LLL appointed Leader Mary Jane Brizzolara to "qualify" new Leaders. The first Leader Applicants completed a questionnaire designed to reveal any "weak areas" in LLL philosophy or breastfeeding knowledge. By 1964, the "mail application course" had evolved to a longer questionnaire and a request for a "resume"; Applicants generally took between six and twelve months to complete it. By 1972, LLL was growing so rapidly that the Director of New Groups had appointed New Group Chairmen in all states in the USA and in several other countries. Their job was to work with Leader Applicants and "interpret philosophy" for them.

Over the years, the department changed names - from Chairman of Leader Applications (CLA) and Leader Applications Department (LAD) to Coordinator of Leader Applicants (CLA) and Leader Applicant Department (LAD) to Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (CLA) and Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) and continued to expand. In 1976, when the Leader Department organized into four divisions, it was decided to keep the CLA Department as an international department to maintain uniform accreditation standards throughout the world. As Director, Mary Ann Cahill developed the Leader Application Packet, which contained a request for personal history, a reading guide, and sections for the Leader. The Leader began to assume an important role in helping the Applicant prepare for LLL leadership.

LLL has grown from the "kitchen table" organization of the 1950s to a respected international organization which reaches over 200,000 mothers per month with information and encouragement. We have learned a lot over the years about breastfeeding and helping mothers in one- to-one and group situations. Today's Leader, while maintaining a mother-to- mother approach, has access to the latest breastfeeding information via her published resources and support system and is expected to be knowledgeable about breastfeeding management, child development, and parenting, and be skilled in the areas of problem-solving, communication, and facilitating discussion. Leader accreditation has grown along with LLL, having evolved to meet LLL's requirements that Leaders:

  • will have met prerequisites regarding breastfeeding, mothering, and organizational experience and personal traits;
  • have nursed a baby about a year;
  • demonstrate understanding of LLLI philosophy;
  • be able to convey knowledge of basic breastfeeding management; and
  • demonstrate specific leadership skills and attitudes.
  • have completed the Leader Accreditation Process.
  • have signed the Statement of Commitment.
Today's Leader Applicant is someone who already knows a good deal about LLL and what Leaders do. She has nursed her baby at least nine months and experienced mothering through breastfeeding. She has attended at least one series of meetings (where available) and demonstrated her commitment to LLL by becoming a member and helping within the Group setting (when possible). She is familiar with LLL published material such as NEW BEGINNINGS (or the member publication in her language) and THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, which she owns, if available in her language.

Before an interested mother applies for LLL leadership, she has the recommendation of a Leader who has observed or corresponded with her and determined that she is a strong candidate. She has discussed with the Leader the five responsibilities of leadership, LLL philosophy, and the LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership and Criteria for Leader Accreditation. Together, the Leader and interested mother have decided that an application is appropriate. With this solid groundwork in place, we can assume that the application can and will proceed to accreditation.

The LLL leadership application is a partnership effort. The Leader Applicant has the benefit of working with both an "on site" mentor (her sponsoring Leader) and a resource person whose specialty is Leader accreditation (the LAD representative). The Leader helps the Applicant develop her knowledge and skills by meeting to discuss relevant topics and to practice pertinent skills. The LAD representative brings a broader focus from her knowledge of LLL's universal accreditation standards to the preparation work. She offers information and ideas to both the Applicant and Leader and ensures that all of the application and accreditation requirements are met. Frequent communication between all partners is an essential element of this unique working relationship.

The focus of the application is preparation for leadership. Knowing that an application is appropriate has moved the LAD representative's work to affirming the Applicant's strengths and helping her develop the understanding, skills, and information base she will need as a Leader During her application, a Leader Applicant can expect letters from her LAD representative that relate her personal experiences, thoughts, and ideas to what Leaders do. These letters will provide pertinent information and ideas, refer her to appropriate LLL resources, and offer suggestions for further work. They will also invite her participation in a dialogue about various aspects of leadership. The Leader can expect letters that keep her informed about the topics the LAD representative is discussing with the Applicant, offer suggestions for the Leader and Applicant to work on together, and invite the Leader's ongoing perspectives and suggestions.

Leader Applicants have flexibility in how they fulfill many of the basic requirements for accreditation. Our goal is to accredit new Leaders who have the experience, knowledge, and skills they will need to do their job with confidence and pleasure. Each Applicant brings unique experiences, talents, and skills to her application; these provide a rich base to which she'll add new information, insights, and skills. One Applicant may need to do more or less work or practice in one or another area than will another. With her Leader and LAD representative as resources, she can determine what kind of preparation will best help her and when and how to do it. For example, a Leader Applicant may choose to work on the Breastfeeding Resource Guide (BRG) early or later in her application, on her own or with others, and by writing out or discussing answers or role playing situations based on the topics. She may decide to write her personal history all at once or break it up into parts. She may do most of her learning by reading, observing, discussing, or practicing.

What will Leader accreditation be like in the future? We can't be sure. We do expect to keep learning more about how to facilitate learning, responding to any changes in LLL, and developing new materials as appropriate. "Stay tuned" by reading LAD articles and attending LAD workshop sessions, even when there isn't a Leader Applicant in your Group; you don't want to be left in the past! Let the Leader Accreditation Department and other Leaders know about your successes and good ideas, so that we can all benefit. We are part of a dynamic organization that has placed learning at the center of its approach to helping. We can expect that learning all aspects of a Leader's work will continue to be a key emphasis in leadership preparation well into the future.

Note: Historical information is from "A Promise Kept" by Mary Gisch, 1983.

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