Leading the future of early childhood education

LEANNE GIBBS is widely known and respected for her clarity and insights on leadership in early childhood. Her masterclass—Growing great leadership—was held on day zero of the 2019 ECA National Conference. It explored some of the pressing issues, including the future of leadership in early childhood education and care (ECEC) and the complexities educators face when leading in this unique context. Here, Leanne shares with The Spoke some of her ideas.

What the future holds for early childhood education and care (ECEC) in Australia is anyone’s guess … or is it?

A productive and focused future for ECEC can be driven by the sector itself with strong leadership. However, leading in early childhood education is complex and challenging. Challenges for ECEC leadership include a lack of preparation and adequate theorisation for the role, and insufficient confidence to take on positional leadership roles (Waniganayake, Cheeseman, Fenech, Hadley, & Shepherd, 2017). Educators can unexpectedly find themselves in positions of leadership and can flounder. To add to the complexity, over the years, the neoliberal agenda has changed the role and leaders find themselves not just leading a team on a project of education and care for young children but also on a project of compliance for government, a project of profit for providers, and a project of children’s individual achievement for parents.

How is it possible for all of these projects to be adequately combined and fulfilled while the origins of ECEC are upheld—that being, the project of social justice and of high quality education and care? How can educators effectively prepare for the role of positional leadership while maintaining their professional identity and their original goals? Can educators learn the confidence to exercise agency and professional identity in their role so as to maintain the integrity of early childhood education delivered for the well-being of children, educators and the community? What preparation do educators need to fulfil the role of positional leader and also to advocate for their own needs in the role?

Well, that depends.

The future of ECEC in Australia is dependent upon leadership that has been nurtured and developed in every early childhood setting. There’s nothing else comparable to the complexity of the work done in early childhood settings by educators, early childhood teachers and directors and this is where the distinctive and sophisticated practice of effective ECEC leadership begins. ECEC commands its own unique pedagogy of leading and leadership and subsequently new ways to recognise and cultivate the emergence of that leadership. It is vital for ECEC organisations to understand the conditions and practices that make the cultivation and enactment of effective leadership possible.

The 2019 Leadership Masterclass Growing Great Leadership was held at the 2019 ECA National Conference. It was a collaborative, exciting encounter where we thought together on the potential of a sector-led leadership agenda and on how leading and leadership can be cultivated in the complex environments of early childhood education and care settings. We will be our own ECEC leadership futurists! 

Waniganayake, M., Cheeseman, S., Fenech, M., Hadley, F., & Shepherd, W. (2017). Leadership: contexts and complexities in early childhood education (Second ed.). Sydney.

[1] The masterclass built knowledge on the ECA Leadership Capability Framework’s Leadership Capability 3—Builds respectful, trusting, nurturing and equitable professional relationships and share knowledge from the new ECA Leadership Provocations.

ECA Recommends

Early Childhood Australia Leadership Program

Founded on solid expert research and five years of sector consultation, this essential leadership framework has been designed by early childhood experts and quality assured by early childhood practising leaders. Our Leadership Program was specifically created as a strengths-based, self-directed, short-term program for both current and aspiring early childhood leaders in diverse settings. You can find out more here.

Leanne Gibbs

Leanne Gibbs’ experience in early childhood education spans the roles of teacher, centre director, adviser and manager roles with local, state and federal government and lecturer/teacher at universities and TAFE. Leanne was a manager of professional development programs for major early childhood education providers and was previously the CEO of the sector peak Community Child Care Co-operative New South Wales. Leanne is a non-executive Director on boards and co-host of the podcast The Early Education Show. She is a doctoral candidate at Charles Sturt University researching leadership in early childhood education.

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