Leadership in Child Care Centres: Is It Just Another Job?

Article excerpt

This paper explores staff perceptions of leadership and its meaning and growth in everyday work within child care centres. A review of contemporary research on leadership in early childhood undertaken by Waniganayake (1998) revealed that no studies have so far grappled with the questions of meaning and significance of leadership, opting instead to explore attributional dimensions of leadership growth.

Led by those such as Rodd (1996) and Hayden (1996), the majority of studies which have examined leadership in early childhood in Australia have relied exclusively on evidence provided by centre directors. By including teachers and assistants together with directors, this study will expand the orientation to include multiple voices from within the same organisational context, that of a child care centre. As discussed by Kagan and Bowman (1997, p. 6-7) by adopting a more broadly-based notion of leadership it would be possible to allow more than one type of leader to emerge from within a single organisational unit such as a child care centre. Accordingly, this paper will examine leadership within child care centres by addressing the question is leadership in early childhood a positional or situational phenomenon? That is, is it just another job?

Management and leadership

Indicative of the newness and developing nature of the theoretical discourse in leadership in early childhood, the search for the meaning of leadership has been plagued with lack of clarity (see Hujala & Puroila, 1998; Kagan & Bowman, 1997). One of the most important and recurrent conceptual debates has centred on the separation of management and leadership functions of child care centre directors. Rodd (1996) has led the debate by steadfastly arguing that management is present oriented, concerned with implementing the centre's mission or day-to-day work. She argues that leadership, in contrast, is future oriented, linked with the articulation and realisation of visions. Jorde Bloom (1997) states that the separation of management and leadership in the everyday work of child care centres is rare and difficult to achieve. Instead, both aspects are integrated into one role, perceived as `... just different sides of the same coin. One is not necessarily subordinate to or less important than the other; both are essential for optimum program functioning' (p. 34).

It is easy to follow the logic of the argument being presented here by both Rodd and Jorde Bloom. The difficulty is that the link between leadership and management is often lost in the discussions which usually follow. For example, Jorde Bloom (1997), in presenting her hierarchy of leadership and management, contradicts her earlier remarks by stating `the task performance areas at the lower levels of the hierarchy are typically those associated with management functions. Those at the upper levels are those that are more often associated with leadership functions' (p. 36). Hierarchical models, such as these with upper and lower levels, inject a notion of inequality, and this is directly linked with the distribution of power and authority within the organisation. It then becomes necessary to address issues of order and status such as which comes first--management or leadership? Why? Is this important? Findings of this study show that leadership requires something more, as discussed below.

This paper is based on interviews with directors (code = D1 etc.), teachers (code = T1 etc.) and assistants (code = A1 etc.) in three child care centres in Melbourne. Open-ended questions, presented during structured interviews allowed each participant (n = 9) to reflect and comment on leadership in general, and its operationalisation at her child care centre. Each centre was taken as a single organisational unit representing a microenvironment within which leadership in early childhood can be explored. The aim was to explore the impact of the organisational environment (that is the structure) on staff (that is the actors) leadership potential. …