Reframing early childhood leadership

Reframing early childhood leadership

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Reframing early childhood leadership
Elizabeth Stamopoulos Edith Cowan University RAPID CHANGES IN AUSTRALIAN education have intensified the role of early childhood leaders and led to unprecedented challenges. The Australian Curriculunn (ACARA, 2011), mandated Australian National Quality Framework {NCif) for Early Childhood Education & Care (DEEWR, 2010b) and the National Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) (DEEWR, 2009) have heightened the need for leaders to guide anc move the profession forward. Leaders need to build professional knowledge, pedagogical capacity and infrastructure in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) workforce in order to deliver reforms and achieve high-quality outconres for children.

Yet research on early childhood leadership remains sparse and inadequately theorised, while the voice of the early childhood profession remains marginalised (Woodrow & Busch, 2008). In this paper I draw on my previous research n leadership and change management which investigated principals’, early childhood teachers’ and teacheraides’ conceptual and behavioural positions on educational changes in work contexts. I present a model of leadership that connects to practice, builds professional capacity and capability, and recognises the importance of relationship building and quality infrastructure. The model calls for robust constructions of leadership anc improved professional icentity that will reposition the profession so that it keeps pace with the critical needs of early childhood professionals. Within this model, tertiary educational institutions and professional organisations will play their ro)e in guiding the profession forward as new paradigms evolve and federal and state initiatives begin to surface.

Recent national educational reforms and accountability measures have imposed responsibilities on early childhood leaders far beyond their professional training and expertise. No longer is their role predominantly to teach children. Rather, it is to lead with intent, mentor and advocate in their work context, in partnership with children and families, vyithin community settings and in response to federal and state educational initiatives targetting children from birth to age eight years. National mandatory reforms that focus on educational practice demand shared visions, reconceptualisations of pedagogy and practice, and vigorous leadership. Leaders need to develop a shared sense of culture, strategic directions and infrastructure to motivate others to accept change. In this paper, ‘leaders’ are defined as early childhood professionals who share a reciprocal process to pursue chances that lead to a desired future. Rost (cited in Daft & Pirola-Merlo, 2009, p. 4) asserts leadership is an ‘influence relationship’ amongst

leaders and followers, who may sometimes be the same people, who are engaged in different roles with varied levels of leadership responsibilities at different times. Leadership is constructed as each person interacts and influences another while contributing to a shared vision. Early childhood professionals who make decisions about educational practice in their work are leaders in their own right. The recent introduction of a new wave of national reforms in 2010 has once agam raised concerns from the early childhood sector on how national and state governments will implement changes in educational contexts and the support structures that will be put in place. Educational reforms such as the Australian Curriculum (AC), mandated Australian National Quality Framework (ANQF) for Early Childhood Education and Care, and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) require specialised professional knowledge of new curriculurr documentation for all professionals expected to take on leadership roles and make key



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decisions about educational practice. This requires pedagogical leaders to reflect on their professional practice, focus on curriculum decision-making, teaching and learning processes and recognise the importance of nurturing relationships that promote children’s learning (DEEWR, 2009). To date in Western Australia (WA), a process has not yet been articulated nor an infrastructure developed to support those involved in change. There is clearly a need for vigorous leadership in such times of uncertainty. This paper draws on data from previous research and the literature to develop a model of leadership with the capacity to build professional knowledge and apply it to practice through interpretation, ongoing dialogue and relational trust. Leadership is reframed as a shared responsibility for all early childhood professionals who must tackle educational change. This leadership model challenges those involved in change to build on their pedagogical and professional knowledge and maintain their professional identity. It recognises the fragmented nature of Australian ECEC contexts and the diverse qualifications that exist across the workforce (Ortlipp, Arthur & Woodrow, 2011 ). The model acknowledges that leaders’ conduct is situated in their workplace and conditions of employment, and best understood in this context (Hewitt, 1976; Wood, 1982). Its theoretical basis. Symbolic Interaction Theory, concems the ‘self and the interpretative and interactive process within the social system (Mead, 1927). This theory views the ‘self as the core from which behaviours, judgements and goals are constructed (Stamopoulos, 2001). Symbolic interactionism captures the ways individuals construct a stance towards change and provides a framework for exploring their perspectives. The stance of pedagogical leaders in respect of changes in their ECEC workplace is important because, as indispensable agents of change, they are capable of enhancing or obstructing its success. The term ‘stance’ in this paper refers to the conceptual and behavioural position adopted by leaders, specifically their beliefs about the change process and their intended mode of accommodating to those changes. This paper draws on two research studies from the past and reframes the future through the application of an interpretive lens, professional knowledge, professional identity and relational trust. It supports the notion that educational reforms challenge leaders to reconceptualise their practice and follow a radical point of departure from present thoughts and practices (Nelson & Hammerman, 1996). The model prioritises the voice of pedagogical leaders, draws on the cumulative strengths of the early childhood profession, its members and associates to deliver reforms in ways which retain their professional identity and move the profession forward.

Reflecting on the past
History reveals that knowledge drawn from the past can be reflected upon in the present to generate new knowledge that informs the future. In this section of the paper I draw on two previous WA research studies (1992-1995; 1996-2001) that sought to better understand the complexities of leadership and change management along with the stance of individuals towards change. The studies offer a lens through which current educational reforms can be reflected upon to find innovative ways of initiating change outcomes. Anecdotal comments from the early childhood profession suggest that the government mandate to include early childhood teachers in birth-five ECEC contexts may, in its transition phase, challenge pedagogical leaders to seek professional knowledge, reconceptualise their practice, demand quality support structures, and seek guidance from within and beyond the profession. Calls for the upskilling of qualified and unqualified workers in birth-five ECEC contexts have already begun in order to keep pace with educational reforms. How these changes will be re-enacted in practice has yet to be articulated. Research study 1 (1992-1995) In the first research study (1992-1995) I examined the professional background and perceptions of principals on their leadership role in pre-primar/. This was in response to the swift implementation of full-day fiveyear-old pre-primary programs in schools without support or consultation with the profession. During the implementation process there was growing resistance to change from early childhood professionals, parents and the WA community whose voices were marginalised. Data from this study (Stamopoulos, 1995) concluded that all principals drawn from one metropolitan district of the Education Department of Western Australia (EDWA) perceived they lacked the necessary knowledge and experience to provide adequate leadership in pre-primary; they felt preprimary was specialised and different from the primary school, and revealed they had not been provided with adequate professional development to implement a leadership role. Examination of the conceptual and behavioural stance of pedagogical leaders towards current educational reforms will be important in determining their success or demise. This process may help minimise the resistance to change that emerged in WA schools in 1994 and culminated in the Western Australian Govemment releasing a ministerial statement acknowledging that ‘the hurried introduction of full-time preprimary education for only one-third of the children of the state along with the poorly coordinated provision for four year olds is unsatisfactory’ (Moore, 1994, n. p.). V o l u m e 37 N u m b e r 2 J u n e 2012

Resistance flared again in 1995 with the Government’s intended changes to the school entry age and its implementation of ‘Good Start”. Professional organisations expressed concerns that changes were based on administrative and economic reasons rather than educational (Ewing, 1997). Once again, the voices of the profession were marginalised, and a culture of mistrust emerged. Concerns were raised that government had not kept pace with the critical needs of staff and the pace of change (Corrie, 1999b). Data from this study was reported in The West Australian, July 12, 1995 (TanVan Baren, 1995) amidst community concern about the quality of learning for pre-priman/ children. Education Minister Norman Moore once again acceded to public pressure and modified ‘Good Start’. Premier Richard Court admitted there had been insufficient consultation with early childhood professionals and parents and that there would be no changes to the school entry age until the year 2000. Once again, a government decision was reversed as a result of the stance of those involved in change. Clearly there was the need for a collaborative process that would re-build a sense of trust. Research study 2 (1996-2001) In the second WA research study (1996-2001 ) I examined the stance of school staffs in three independent and three government school settings to understand the beliefs and responses of those involved in change. Symbolic interaction theory was used asa basis of this study because of its primary concern with the ‘self and the interpretative and interactive process within the social system (Mead, 1927). The theory maintains that individuals are proactive, in control of their lives, responsible for their actions, and a critical part of the success or demise of any change process (Van den Hoonaard, 1997; Wood, 1982; Woods, 1992). Symbolic interaction provides a methodological tool by which we can examine how ECEC professionals interpret leadership and the ways they reflect upon the social and cultural factors within their work contexts (Hard, 2006). This methodology can assist in applying an interpretive lens to current educational reforms and monitoring their progress (Stamopoulos, 2010). In 1995, WA’s Education Minister Norman Moore’s promise to the community for local access signalled the beginnings of P1^ combination classes in WA schools, based on economic reasons. Problems emerged during the implementation process when it was not possible to include all children in pre-primary classes. EDWA directed principals to include multi-grade classes when there were insufficient classrooms. The expectation

was that PI would fit into the school structure. Early childhood specialists, school staff and parents responded to the emergence of PI combination classes with strong concerns about the rationale behind this change, limited evidence that this approach would provide quality education, and doubts that principals had the capacity to provide early childhood pedagogical leadership. Data from the study gave voice to staff and identified explicit links between their beliefs and the ways they responded to change. In the opinion of staff, change impacted in some way on job success, job security, job satisfaction and/or job status, and the welibeing of their students. Most staff who defined change as positive were in schools where there was some kind of leadership, guidance, support structures and/or resources. Those who lacked such supports tended to hold a different view. A clear majority of staff criticised the level of leadership and guidance provided, claiming there was a lack of external and internal support for schools. It became apparent that the work of leaders was determined by the conduct of those around them and best understood in this context. Their stance was dynamic, complex, multi-faceted, and continuously evolving as the pressures of change forced them to re-evaluate their definition of change and focus on the projected costs and benefits to themselves and their students. The different kinds of relationships they had with others also became the basis for different responses to the same situation. School staff saw themselves as having varying degrees of power within their work contexts, which impacted on the way they behaved. The more positively they regarded their situation, the more they adopted a supportive stance. The more dissatisfied they were, the more they adopted an oppositional stance. In between these extremes were the passive dissenters who quietly withdrew, predicting the change would soon disappear; and the pragmatists who tried to negotiate for better conditions. Ultimately, approximately two-thirds of staff leaned towards opposing PI as a change because of the absence of educational leadership; trained early childhood staff; differences in philosophy, power and relationships; and the absence of curriculum guidelines and support structures. In addition to the dominant view, two strong minority views were representative of approximately ohe-third of staff. One minority view was supportive of this change, endorsing its continuation in its current form, while the other was not convinced that multi-age strategies could be applied only in vertical groupings. School staff reported their stance was ‘situated’ in their workplace

‘ Good Start was initiated to provide quality, developmental programs for all five-year-olds in their pre-primary year by the end of 1998. There was to be a transfer of kindergarten programs from the Department of Family and Children’s Services to EDWA and an adjustment of the entry age for kindergarten children. ‘ School staff refers to principals, early childhood teachers and teacher-aides who lead or work in PI classes. ^ PI classes in this paper refers to pre-primary (non-compulsory year of schooling) and Year 1 children (compulsory year of schooling) who are combined in the one class for administrative benefits.

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and employment conditions, and best understood in this context. Once again there were also strong concerns that government and curriculum expertise had not kept pace with the critical needs of staff and the pace of change (Corrie, 1999a; Stamopoulos 2003a; Tayler, 1998). Current educational reforms Rapid changes in Australia have intensified the role of ECEC professionals creating new pathways for pedagogical leadership to be reconceptualised and ultimately reframed to deliver reforms that achieve highquality outcomes for children. The transition of early childhood teachers in birth to five contexts, along with the push for pedagogical leadership amongst all professionals who work with young children, will require monitoring so that current reforms meet their intended outcomes. The EYLF clearly stipulates that ever/one who works with young children will take on a pedagogical leadership role, foster secure relationships with children and families, and generate curriculum decisions in teaching and learning (DEEWR, 2009). The professional judgement of leaders is considered central to the application of new reforms and the promotion of positive educational outcomes for children (DEEWR, 2010a). Data from both studies across a 10-year period reported inadequate leadership, professional knowledge, support structures and consultative processes which led to an erosion of trust. Hardy and Palmer (1999) remind us of the limits of individual action and how individuals can become entrapped in webs from the past. The need for governments to understand the conceptual and behavioural positions of those involved in change, and to develop infrastructures that support them, is critical if reforms are to achieve their intended outcomes.

that best suits their needs. According to Sumsion, Cheeseman, Harrison, Kennedy and Stonehouse (2009), early childhood professionals should be entrusted to make sound judgements and initiate change. A brief overview of each aspect is presented here to stimulate future discussion. Professional knowledge Leaders who pursue change within their work contexts require knowledge of research, leadership and early childhood pedagogy. Responding to new reforms requires pedagogical leaders to reach consensus and, where warranted, apply change in their work context. Educational reforms such as the EYLF support a culture of professional inquiry where pedagogical leaders come together to examine current practice, review outcomes, generate new ways of thinking, build on professional knowledge and develop confidence (DEEWR, 2009). The model proposed here is conducive to the notion of having integrated services that will draw in a wider group of professional leaders from diverse specialisations. The early childhood leader’s role in developing nurturing relationships within and beyond work contexts, and applying a strong early years’ knowledge base to integrated service delivery, is important. Mandated educational reforms such as the AC, ANOF and the EYLF require pedagogical leadership from all professionals who work in early childhood education. The mandatory inclusion of four-year-trained early childhood teachers in child care,, along with the growing trend for the admission of younger children, will challenge existing pedagogical practice and call for new constructions of leadership. Shared leadership where all personnel interact and influence one another will be important in making decisions about educational practice. The EYLF articulates the need for pedagogical leadership from all professionals who work with young children. However, a sound understanding of new curriculum reforms is required to achieve this task, along with the identification of those who require new knowledge to perform such tasks. Support structures and ongoing professional learning will be essential. Relationship building and trust will be critical in avoiding the resistance to change that appears to emerge when new reforms are implemented (Stamopoulos, 2003b). However, it should be noted that leaders’ support for change is not always warranted, especially when change is not in the best interests of children, their families, staff and the early childhood profession. Professional identity Developing professional identity requires early childhood professionals to think in alternative ways, to reconstruct or reshape who they are, what they stand for and what they want to achieve. ‘If we know who to be, then what

Reframing early childhood leadership: In search of a leadership model
Leaders with vision have the skills and capacity to draw on the best from the past, and to move with clear purpose into the future (Woodrow, 2008). Shared leadership that is inclusive of all those who work with young children will provide multiple perspectives to better understand the change process. Leadership is reframed as a shared responsibility amongst all professionals, tertiary educational institutions, professional organisations and those who work and interact with young children and their families. This section of the paper targets four aspects of leadership that early childhood leaders need to know, understand and apply in their work: 1) professional knowledge; 2) professional identity; 3) the application of interpretive lenses; and 4) relational trust. Each of these aspects is interrelated and builds capacity in leaders and the early childhood profession to find a model of leadership


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to do falls into place’ (Cunliffe, 2009 cited by Carroll, 2010). No one person holds the key to understanding the complexities of leadership, nor a template for finding the correct answers. Instead, leaders need to create a space in which professional identity can be crafted through ongoing dialogue and reflection. Competence breeds confidence and the knowledge to lead in a successful manner Overton’s (2009) research examines the personal and professional identity of teachers to ascertain the implications of ongoing educational change and power relationships on teachers. Disempowerment emerged through the lack of appreciation of teachers’ work; the lack of resources and funding; and lack of support from system management. In research conducted by Stamopoulos (2001), power, relationships, pressure and different definitions of the change process were important factors in determining principals’, early childhood teachers’ and teacher-aides’ responses to change. In numerous instances they moved from empowerment to disempowerment as a consequence of leadership, infrastructure, philosophical difference, power, relationships and pressure from system management. Overton (2009) reveals empowerment was evident through involvement in professional associations, professional development, decision-making processes and length of teaching experience, and warns that the goodwills shared by employers and teachers in the past is in need of repair. The importance of professional identity is critical in the sustainability of the early childhood profession. Professional identity is supported through the construction of our own Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics (Early Childhood Australia, 2006). Interpretive lens There is a need to build a leadership culture that is inclusive of key stakeholders such as government, policymakers, leaders, early childhood professionals, families and communities. An infrastructure that links policy to practice is required. Such an infrastructure needs to be regularly assessed to ensure that quality leadership drives change, reflects sound pedagogical practice, and connects to the needs of children, their family, community and the early childhood profession. Past reflections reveal that resistance to change tends to emerge when reforms do not keep pace with the critical needs of professionals and an interpretive lens has not been applied to the challenges that emerge. Reforms require the support and leadership of those involved in change. The EYLF signals a need for pedagogical leadership, intentional teaching and professionals who are critically reflective (Sumsion et al., 2009). Leaders who nurture reflective capacity in staff have been effective in constructing a shared culture of learning that meets the needs of organisations (Colmer, 2008). The importance of reflection and self-inquiry is seen as an essential component of leadership and change management

(Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2005; Deakins, 2007). Leaders who apply an interpretive lens are more likely to interpret cause and effect, generate solutions and support others in achieving their goals (Forrest, 2010). In so doing, they build a professional culture that applies reflection and analysis in order to build leadership capacity. Relational trust Relational theories explore how leaders and followers relate to and influence each other (Daft & Pirola-Merlo, 2009). Interpersonal relationships are integral to leadership effectiveness because they entice followers to contribute to the change process. Motivation and empowerment, team leadership, and strong communication skills become the basis on which relationships are built. Early childhood leaders respond to the challenges of reforms through their capacity to lead colleagues, families, community and the profession through shared vision, purpose and identity. Evans and Stone-Johnson (2010) highlight the importance of effective networks that promote sharing of professional knowledge, empower teacher leadership and address the agency of teachers. However, they reveal this is often fraught with difficulties when teachers resist surrendering their professional identities to others (Little, 1995, cited in Evans & Stone-Johnson, 2010). The importance of robust leadership in promoting networking during the change process is critical because networking is fragile and complex to sustain. Initiating and sustaining change requires leaders to challenge others to reconceptualise their beliefs and respond in new ways. Alliances formed on the basis of consensus and perceived advantage enable leaders to connect in diverse ways with others that provides greater resilience when faced with challenges.

Connecting with the profession
Current reforms call for stronger constructions of leadership across diverse early years’ settings. Leadership that is both pedagogically focused on young children and sociologically focused on family and the community must interconnect with integrated services for children, families and communities. Nolan, Macfarlane and Cartmel (2010) highlight the need for early childhood professionals to lead integrated service delivery using a strong early years’ knowledge base. Pedagogical leadership can be strengthened through strategies and skills along with interprofessional practice. A critical aspect of leading change is a strong basis of professionalism that supports risk taking. Yet no Australian studies have been located which examine early childhood practitioners’ perspectives of themselves as professionals (Ortlipp et al., 2011). Avenues through which leadership can be promoted and nurtured are important. My recent participation in Roundtable Discussions specific to early childhood leadership focused on the importance of leadership and research, and discussed how leadership can be


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developed within the early childhood profession in ways which give voice to the profession (Semann & Slattery, Macquarie University & Children’s Services Central, 2010). Relationships between leadership, pedagogy and professional identity will also be strengthened with close connections to educational institutions and early childhood professional organisations. A professional culture that connects with early childhood professionals and leaders will assist in developing proactive professionals who face the challenges of the future (Nupponen, 2006). Tertiary educational Institutions Educational institutions responsible for the preparation of early childhood professionals must play their part in developing pedagogical leaders with knowledge of leadership theory and change management, and a commitment to evidence-based research. The topic of leadership should be embedded in undergraduate coursework and early childhood postgraduate leadership specialisations, and grounded in theory, research and practice. Exit pathways that improve the capacity of professionals to gain promotion, enhance their status, draw financial rewards and match the professional aspirations of individuals are more likely to stimulate graduates to take on leadership roles and entice others to access graduate leadership courses. Graduate leadership units can link theory to practice and promote a sense of community between educational institutions and the general community. Internships with mentoring from leaders are important in the training of new leaders (Couse & Russo, 2006). Early childhood professional organisations The role of early childhood professional organisations in guiding the profession forward is crucial. Peak organisations such as Early Childhood Australia (ECA) currently provide support across Australia in order to guide professionals in the implementation of the EYLF The construction of the ECA e-forum, e-Newsletter and Facebook site (EYLF PLP, 2011), as well as the recent release of a range of publications that focus on the EYLF, is reflective of the work of ECA as a professional organisation to support its members and move the profession forward.

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