Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

"Not the Same Kind of Leaders": Four Young Children's Unique Ways of Influencing Others

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

"Not the Same Kind of Leaders": Four Young Children's Unique Ways of Influencing Others

Article excerpt

Abstract. This qualitative multi-case study explored four young leaders' idiosyncratic leadership styles manifested within the context of their classrooms (toddler and preschool). In order to gain a deeper understanding of the complexity and variety of early childhood leadership and provide holistic descriptions of young leaders' emerging leadership behaviors, the data were collected through teacher interviews and two kinds of observations (natural observations and videotaped observations) in a university-affiliated child care center. Although there were some common characteristics across all four young leaders, each of the young leaders was quite unique in his or her leadership characteristics and ways of enacting leadership in the classroom. Interestingly, each of them also was quite powerful in his or her particular way. Findings also suggested that differences in age group and classroom dynamics influenced children's enactment of leadership and responses from others in their respective classrooms. Recognizing individual differences in young children's leadership styles and strengths, this study encourages educators and researchers to broaden their perspectives and assumptions about early childhood leadership and young leaders, and to create classroom environments that support the emergence of different leadership styles.

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An increasing number of young children enter group settings at an early age and spend a great deal of time there interacting with their peers and teachers (Kemple, 1991). During these social interactions, particularly peer interactions, young children experience various opportunities to lead and follow (Bisland, 2004). In doing so, one or more salient social leaders naturally emerge in a classroom. Early childhood teachers respond to young leaders in their classrooms every day. They often rely on them as catalysts for the group, and they sometimes find them challenging (Mullarkey, Recchia, Lee, Lee, & Shin, 2005). The topic of young children's leadership has been identified as an area of potential interest and concern for teachers and as a thought provoking phenomenon on the practice level (Trawick-Smith, 1988).

Leadership characteristics as defined in the literature are highly valued in most descriptions of early childhood social competence (Shin, Recchia, Lee, Lee, & Mullarkey, 2004). However, while searching for relevant literature, we surprisingly found that young children's leadership has gained little attention as a theoretical or research subject and remains an under-explored topic (Edwards, 1994; Fu, 1977; Trawick-Smith, 1988). As Kemple (1991) reminds us, although the ample literature and research findings on adult and youth leadership are useful as foundational knowledge, it would be inappropriate to directly apply them to young children. This is not only because young children differ developmentally from adults or older children, but also because the social environment and the activities within which young children's interactions take place differ significantly from those in other age groups. Hence, to learn about early childhood leadership, it is essential to look at young children's lives in their everyday contexts.

Within the sparse literature available, it appears that the topic of early childhood leadership has not been studied fully or holistically. Some researchers have approached early childhood leadership as part of or in relation to other social topics, such as peer acceptance, popularity, aggression, competence, and adjustment, rather than studying it as a specific phenomenon (e.g., Corsaro, 1981; Fukada, Fukada, & Hicks, 1997; Kemple, 1991, 1992; McClellan & Katz, 2001; Nath & Seriven, 1981; Roopnarine & Honig, 1985; Vandell & Hembree, 1994). Some studies identify particular leadership characteristics in young children, resulting in limited definitions of early childhood leadership that focus on individual traits, such as social and cognitive capabilities (Feldhusen & Pleiss, 1994; Fu, 1979), verbal language proficiency (Fu, Canaday, & Fu, 1982; Kemple, 1991; Perez, Chassin, Ellington, & Smith, 1982), dramatic skills (Feldhusen & Pleiss, 1994), imagination (Hensel, 1991), independence (Parten, 1933; Perez et al. …

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