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

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Leanne Gibbs

Leanne Gibbs has worked in the early childhood education and community sector for over 35 years and is currently Senior Manager with Early Start at the University of Wollongong. She has a PhD, along with qualifications in education, public policy, politics, leadership and management, and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Her roles have included teacher and director of long day care and preschool programs, adviser and manager with local state and federal government, teacher and lecturer within early education, management and leadership programs for TAFE and Universities. She has been a manager of professional development programs for major providers and Chief Executive Officer for an Australian sector peak organisation. Leanne is an active member of Boards and advisory groups on ECEC workforce and science within ECEC. She is an author, researcher, and podcaster. Her research interests are leadership, management and governance and their influence upon social justice and ECEC quality.

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