Leadership in Early Childhood Education

12th March 2021

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A Critical Examination by Marian Adejokun

Defining Leadership in Early Years

Leadership has been an ongoing debate within the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). Defining leadership remains a complex issue and many researchers have argued in this area (Robbins, Millet, & Waters-Marsh, 2004). Leadership has been defined in Nutbrown’s Review, DfE (2012) as the following statement ‘Leadership is inclusive and the accountability of all who work in schools, settings and children’s centres’; another researcher defines leadership as a process for personal and professional learning and growth; organisational transformation and enhancement (Siraj & Hallet, 2014:17).

Leadership involves having a mature understanding of children, families and communities. Whereas effective leadership consists of higher knowledge, skills which vary in those who are needed for the provision of education and care (Moyles & Yates, 2004). In the ECEC (Early Childhood Education and Care) settings leadership “is a journey of joint inquiry, exploration and reflection that can involve everyone who believes in making a difference for children” (Waniganayake & Semann, 2011:24) and Siraiji (2014).

Overall, it is important for young children of all abilities to achieve and enhance their learning and development in a fun and rich learning environment, which also considers the leadership’s role.

What is leadership in Early Years

In England, leadership has occurred in various early childhood settings such as nurseries, schools and children’s centres. Leadership is also about purpose and for ECEC settings that purpose is embodied in pedagogical leadership.

Effective leadership consist of skills, knowledge, commitment, creativity and support to shape teaching and learning. Effective leaders undertake a vast range of tasks such as organising, managing resources and time, hiring, managing staff and making genuine connections with children, families, staff, communities and multi-agencies (Waniganayake & Semann, 2011).

Relationship between leadership & management

Leadership and management are sometimes characterised as having the same meaning. In the early years sector, there is a difference between being a manager and the role of being a leader. Leadership is acknowledged by strategic planning which expands further, management is distinguished by active involvement in pedagogy, positive relationships, effective communication and high expectations for increasing professionalism (Solly, 2003 cited in Rodd 2006:21).

Leadership and management also consist of involving the young children’s parent’s ensuring their voices are being heard and the children’s needs are being met. Leaders and managers also need to be strong communicators with parents and liaise with various organisations (Mitchell, 1989; Atkinson et al, 2001 and 2002).

Leadership styles in Early Childhood Education

leadership styles are created to “monitor, guide, coach, direct and evaluate the work of others”. All leaders have different leadership styles that correspond with their “values and beliefs about how people (children and adults) develop and change” (Sullivan, 2010:14). There is no right or wrong leadership style.

Models of Leadership

The concept of leadership has developed from educational models of leadership found in schools, a hierarchical concept of leadership being associated with a sole owner, a single person with authority to lead, undertake and carry out tasks alone (Rodd, 2013) being a charismatic leader who others follow resonates with this view.

A large body of researchers’ (Vander Ven’s, 1991; Katz’s, 1995; Collins, 2001; Ebbeck & Waniganayake, 2003; Moyles, 2006 and Maxwell, 2011a) have various models of leadership; several have been specifically related to early childhood, with the other aspect of career-stage development.

Distributed leadership & shared leadership workforce

Distributed leadership has been discussed about in various literature based on school leadership in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Research by Fasoli et al, suggests that in early childhood leadership should be thought of in a more distributed model, in order for everyone in the service to have shared responsibilities for leading change through the decisions they make in their own early years provision.

Distributed leadership ‘this form of leadership has a political dimension, one that seeks a socially just and ethical way of proceeding, taking into account different perspectives of all people involved.’  (Fasoli et al, 2007: 244).

Other researchers, have emphasised on their thoughts regarding leadership in early years and they have recognised leadership may come from anywhere within the organisation, especially if the setting is a ‘leadership community’ (Raelin, 2003:44) of shared and distributed leadership (McDowall Clark &Murray, 2012).

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