Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Reframing Early Childhood Leadership

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Reframing Early Childhood Leadership

Article excerpt

Introduction

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, within 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 changes 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 again 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 curriculum documentation for all professionals expected to take on leadership roles and make key 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, concerns 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. …

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