Leadership in Early Childhood
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Leadership in Early Childhood

The pathway to professionalism

Jillian Rodd

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eBook - ePub

Leadership in Early Childhood

The pathway to professionalism

Jillian Rodd

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Widely used as a student textbook and professional reference in Australia, NZ and the UK: over 17, 000 copies sold across the worldAuthor used to lecture at University of Melbourne and maintains Australian connectionsFully revised and updated, with a new chapter summarising the key factors to effective leadership

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Considerable research has established leadership as a critical issue for every organisation in today’s challenging and constantly changing world. Leadership is a broad term that is used to describe a vast range of activity in relation to organisational administration and management. Contemporary leadership is acknowledged as being essentially holistic, subtle, complex, multi-faceted, sometimes invisible and therefore difficult to pinpoint, identify and observe in context.
While it is useful to deconstruct leadership into various component parts—especially for those who are unfamiliar with what it encompasses—it is also important to keep in mind that effective leadership comes from integrated sophisticated thinking, genuine understanding and skilled action. Effective leadership creates synergy and is more than the sum of its parts.
This section introduces the concept of leadership and aims to illuminate some of its intricacies in the early childhood context.
Chapter 1 discusses the challenge of defining leadership, contrasts it with management and briefly outlines some key concepts that have influenced the development of current understandings of leadership in early childhood.
Chapter 2 identifies some of the personal qualities, attributes and characteristics associated with effective leadership and examines their influence on followers in early childhood.
Chapter 3 presents some current theories and models of leadership and explores their relationship to career development in early childhood.


Leadership is best defined as a process of engagement: the leader engages fellow professionals in best meeting the needs of children and families 
 in early childhood there is an expectation that leaders will be consultative in their approach.


  • the challenge of defining leadership
  • key concepts related to leadership
  • differences between leadership and management
  • why leadership works in some situations and not others
  • leadership applied to the early childhood context
Despite the leadership role being addressed to at least some degree in pre- and in-service training programs, early childhood educators in many countries reluctantly identify with the concept of leadership as part of their professional responsibilities. This disinclination to see themselves as leaders is an interesting phenomenon because, historically, traditionally and currently, they are trained to demonstrate high levels of autonomy and independence in practice and policy. This requirement for independent decision-making and problem-solving skills stems from the physical isolation of early childhood services. With little access to immediate support and backup, early childhood educators develop autonomous styles and skills for meeting the demands of their situation, which in other work environments are referred to as leadership. The lack of an agreed and accepted definition of leadership in early childhood has contributed to an observed unwillingness to connect with this role, and it needs to be addressed.

Defining the challenge of leadership

Leadership is a process and responsibility that requires attention to multiple roles, functions and people in ways that align with and promote commitment to shared values and vision. The literature reveals that there are many different definitions of leadership. It can be enacted in various ways and takes many forms. However, regardless of definition, the principles and skills underpinning effective leadership are generic—that is, context free. The key concepts in most definitions of leadership are:
  • influence and motivation
  • followers and teams
  • direction, goals and standards, and
  • cooperation and collaboration.
At its most basic, leadership is about how a group of people is influenced (using values and vision) to achieve a common goal.
Leadership is a people-oriented process, role and responsibility where two or more people come together in pursuit of a common goal. It involves the ability to create an environment that values commitment, challenge and growth, in which members of a team are encouraged and supported to realise their potential and give their best.
Leadership resides in the individual who chooses to accept, for whatever reasons, its roles and responsibilities. While social and cultural contexts are important influences on the decisions that leaders make, and sometimes on the style they choose to adopt, how the individual personally embraces, embodies and enacts leadership is the essence of its success. It evolves out of personal capacity of the leader to:
  • understand themselves
  • accept responsibility
  • build and communicate shared values and vision
  • inspire interest by living their values and vision
  • build trust, relationships and cooperation among colleagues, and
  • take action to realise goals of their own and the potential of others.
The priorities of effective leadership are to stimulate connectedness, cooperation, commitment to lifelong learning and change in themselves and others. This requires energy, enjoyment, enthusiasm, motivation and dedication—in other words, effective leaders must believe in their work, develop the trust and respect of others and display personal competence. The most significant contribution effect ive leadership can make is to help both people and organisations to develop, to improve, to adapt and to change.
Leadership is founded on a desire to make a difference to the lives of others by transforming:
  • values into action
  • vision into reality
  • obstacles into innovations
  • challenges into successes
  • separateness into collaboration, and
  • risks into rewards.
However, effective leadership is not a matter of being a hero, but rather entails acting in ways that support the enablement, empowerment and well-being of others and organisations (Sinclair, 2007).
Opportunities to embrace leadership can present themselves at any time, and anybody who recognises an opportunity, is motivated and chooses to take action displays interest in and a capacity for leadership—that is, they show leadership potential. Every early childhood educator can choose to become a leader by demonstrating increasing competence in their work; by becoming a critical friend to colleagues; by supporting the development of others, including children, families and colleagues; and by acting as an ambassador and advocate for their profession.
Leadership is everyone’s business, and everyone can and should share in the leadership process each day. If leadership is confined to positional or formal leadership—that is, official leaders—others who aspire to or display potential for leadership can be excluded. Formal leaders who inhibit or prevent others from aspiring and choosing to embrace leadership are failing in their responsibility to build leadership capacity and plan for succession, thereby abusing their positions of power. Given that all leadership is temporary and transient, wise leaders invest in the future by identifying, developing and supporting leadership aspiration and potential in others.
An example of how not to lead
Leona holds a designated position of senior leadership in a large integrated service. She is acknowledged for her sharp intellect, but she finds pleasure in manipulating others and using humour to mock and put them down. Sometimes she is actively destructive, pitting staff against one another, subtly deriding individual and team efforts and achievements, and taking her anger and frustration out on others. She only collaborates with or mentors others if she believes she will gain personally. Her lack of people skills means she enjoys little credibility, respect and support from staff, and has yet to achieve the top leadership position she so desires.
Early childhood educators who are not formal or positional leaders may display informal leadership. Here, they recognise the need for action to improve a situation and can be acknowledged by team members as authentic and credible leaders, thereby holding considerable influence and power—sometimes more than ineffective formal leaders.
While leadership resides in the leader—that is, the person who chooses to embrace leadership roles and responsibility—it can also be conceived of as an event, process or relationship between leaders and followers, and therefore may be shared. Some theorists view leadership as a conversation and social process where leadership arises out of social relationships—how people act together to make sense of the situation they face. Shared leadership may be a function of people following and being influenced by social exchanges. This concept will be discussed in Chapter 3, on leadership theory.
Poole (2011) proposes that leadership contributes to organisational and people effectiveness because it:
  • addresses values, vision and goals
  • inspires people so they remain motivated
  • provides direction and focus
  • sets a positive working atmosphere and climate
  • seeks the resources required to achieve goals and targets
  • ensures timely decision-making, and
  • recognises and develops a learning community.
Few early childhood educators enter the profession with the ambition to become a leader in the future. Understanding about and recognition of individual potential and capacity for leadership may inspire more educators to see themselves as leaders, which benefits young children and families as well as leading to much-needed advances in community credibility and status.
Leaders are people who have a public face through professional activities 
 who have been mentored by recognised early childhood leaders to assume these roles 
 [the term ‘leader’] does not necessarily mean someone who is a service director, coordinator or manager 

Leadership is a dynamic, holistic activity, rather than a set of static attributes, where leaders draw upon personal qualities and abilities that command respect and promote feelings of trust and security in others. Leaders engage in collaborative activities that help write and drive the future.
There are many contemporary definitions and ways of understanding leadership and its enactment. In deconstructing leadership, this book focuses on leadership for early childhood services because, although leadership resides in individuals, it is understood as a shared or distributed social process where effective leaders draw on a range of collaborative strategies to achieve positive, inclusive and ethical outcomes for all who are associated with early childhood services.
There usually is a defined role of leader—for example, headship—but other roles have an element of leadership which when supported enhances services and allows for effective cooperation between different professionals and services 

Leadership can be undertaken for an hour, a day or a year 

Reflections on a day in the life of a leader
I’m the director of a large childcare service and I begin my day at 8.00 a.m. where I’m at my desk. An educator has called in sick, so I need to organise the staffing ratios. Children and families arrive at 8.00 a.m. and a couple are waiting to discuss their child’s behaviour at home. As I meet with them, the phone rings again. Next, I begin to sort out the mail—for urgent attention, needs attention soon, can be delegated, for the staff room and the rest (meaning I’ll get to it some time). It is 9.30 a.m. and I don’t have on-the-floor responsibilities this morning, so I visit a room to chat with the children and offer support to the educators; this also allows me to observe teaching, learning and individual needs. By 11.00 a.m. I’m back at my desk, with emails to read and respond to. It’s midday; some families arrive to collect children; I’ve got reports to write—but I want to be visible and accessible, so I...

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