What does leadership in early childhood look like?

Life would be boring if we all had the same opinions and agreed on everything. In my approach to leadership, a big part of me seeks to create harmony to support positive experiences and outcomes for all, aligning with an affiliative leadership style. But positive experiences and outcomes for all cannot always co-exist in leadership – we cannot always make everyone happy all the time.

Leadership in early childhood is supported by a shared vision of our “why.” Key to this is the environment we are seeking to create for the children, families, teachers and educators who are a part of our learning communities, as well as the wider communities which they are a part of.

In preparation for this blog reflection, I reflected upon my why, reading my past blogs (What will be in 2023? and Reflecting, Connecting and Practising) as a reminder for my purpose.

“Early childhood services provide space and time to wonder, create, innovate for all – children, families and teachers as citizens of these communities, connecting and sharing ideas for individuals as they ‘come into being‘ with each other.” What will be in 2023?

Daniel Goleman’s article (Leadership that gets results, Daniel Goleman, 2000, Harvard Business Review) was recently shared with me (thank you Catharine Hydon,) prompting me to reflect on my style of leadership. Reading this brought me to an ‘Aha’ moment. Reflecting on my experience, I can see that in early childhood, the affiliative leadership style has been my dominant approach and that I needed to increase the frequency of using other styles.

The affiliative style is very effective, for example when working through Covid, relationship building, and support were key to providing a sense of security in an unpredictable environment. Relationships are important, however there is not always going to be harmony and agreement. The affiliative leadership style should be used along with other styles which can include pacesetting, coaching, authoritative and democratic.

For example, combining pacesetting with the affiliative style of leadership could further support quality practices and outcomes by facilitating the setting of a shared vision (our why) for improved quality standards and self directed team members.

The Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics provides a solid ethical leadership framework for our ‘why’ and supports the consideration of multiple perspectives, as is seen in the core principles and responsibilities.

Professionals who adhere to this Code of Ethics act in the best interests of all children and work collectively to ensure that every child is thriving and learning.” (ECA Code of Ethics, Vision)

“In relation to the profession I will take responsibility for articulating my professional values, knowledge and practice and the positive contribution our profession makes to society…..In relation to colleagues I will, use constructive processes to address differences of opinion in order to negotiate shared perspectives and actions.” (ECA Code of Ethics, Commitments to Action)

As I write this post, I am halfway through the CELA Micro credential Leadership Training which is supported through Mentor workshops also provided by CELA. This experience has highlighted the importance for a focus on leadership in early childhood for our future leaders in the sector. Historically, leadership training in early childhood has been sparse and unclear. A focus on the development of our future leaders and what leadership in early childhood looks like, will support positive outcomes for all.

Within teams, there will be differences of opinion. Key to leadership in early childhood is the shared vision, supported through professional and respectful discussions about responsibilities and quality improvement. This can be supported through the adoption of a combination leadership styles which may be based on a combination of affiliative, pacesetting, coaching, authoritative and democratic styles.

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