When you type ‘leadership’ into Google you are overwhelmed with a wealth of information on leadership styles and techniques. Look up ‘leadership early childhood’ and one of the first references is a wonderful article from Every Child (Volume 18, Number 4, 2012) which outlines the qualities it takes to be a leader in the sector and the understandings we have as to what leadership truly is. Here I draw on my own experience of leading an exceeding service to give some practical tips for new leaders.
1. Have a clear vision
When you go into any service as a leader, particularly a startup, it is important to have a clear vision of what you hope to achieve. Nanus (1992) recognised having a vision as a necessity for setting clear goals for workers. In the case of early childhood, I would suggest building a strong service philosophy which represents your vision. Including educators and families is an important part of ensuring ownership over the vision you are creating.
2. Shared leadership
Early childhood can be a draining sector to work in and wages are not representative of the work and knowledge of the educators. To assist in keeping educators motivated and passionate, allowing them a sense of ownership is fundamental. Shared leadership is one way of doing this, and it also takes some pressure off the Nominated Supervisor or Educational Leader. Having a leadership team that utilises the personal interests and strengths of the educators has endless benefits.
3. Regular educational meetings
One of the most important things we performed at our service was regular educational leader meetings. These were meetings where the leaders of the service could meet weekly to discuss any questions arising as well as current trends and events in the sector. Not only does this help ensure fluidity of the service, but it also helps to keep your leaders motivated and informed which they can take back to their respective rooms.
4. Mentorship—you can’t have one without the other
I firmly believe that leadership and mentorship in early childhood go hand in hand. To be a strong, motivating leader, one must ensure there is a strong mentorship program in place in their service. Every educator should have a mentor that inspires them in the sector—it helps change to be exciting instead of scary. Mentorship keeps people informed and motivated. If it is performed at your service, it should reflect real interests of the staff (avoid tokenism).
5. Strive for innovation
Early childhood is a sector which constantly evolves and changes. New ideas about practice and approach emerge regularly. I believe in encouraging educators to be a part of that. There are different approaches to this, but we found it helpful to participate in pedagogical investigations. We would pose a question, then research and collect data to help answer that question. This encouraged collaboration and innovation.
6. Stay on the same page
Ensuring fluidity in your service is fundamental. Having the above process in place will help to keep your educators on the same page. Another great way of doing this is in-house professional development. Allowing all your educators to get together to participate in the same professional development (as regularly as their busy lives allow) will encourage this fluidity further as well as help to keep your team motivated.
Lewis, J., & Hill, J. (2012). What does leadership look like in early childhood settings? Every Child, 18(4).
Nanus, B. (1992). Visionary leadership: Creating a compelling sense of direction for your organization. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.