Leadership and collaboration

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  Published on Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Leadership and collaboration

Library Home  >  Leadership & Service Management
  Published on Tuesday, 17 March 2020

The dictionary definition of leadership is “the action of leading a group of people or an organisation”. But, as all early childhood managers will understand, it’s more complicated than this. Good leadership embraces many qualities and there are as many definitions of leadership as there are leaders. 

In early childhood education, an Educational Leader is required to develop, support, encourage and motivate their team, as well as modelling a high standard of practice, knowledge and care. Embedded in the National Quality Standard, the educational leader is also responsible for leading the development of the curriculum at the service. 

To do this effectively the educational leader should encourage educators to collaborate and ensure the establishment of clear goals for teaching and learning. They will create a culture where educators reflect, affirm and challenge each other to deliver high quality educational programs.

Being a leader in early childhood education is complex and challenging. Each individual has their own unique style and strategy, which is likely influenced by personality and circumstances. However, there are some commonalities among great leaders, and Early Childhood Australia conducted an analysis of existing research, to come up with the following list:

  • Leadership is about identity—it starts from within.
  • Leadership is about influence (both directly and indirectly) and responsibility, and is therefore potentially open to everyone.
  • Leadership demonstrates respect as an enactment of ethical commitments.
  • Leadership is about qualities and values rather than position.
  • There are several ways to enact leadership—it is complex, dynamic and varies from situation to situation and from culture to culture.
  • Leadership is about purpose.
  • Leadership capabilities can be professionally developed.

Three key qualities for leadership

Associate Professor, Dr Kate Thornton, from the Victoria University of Wellington draws on her research into the field of leadership to describe three capabilities for effective leadership for supporting learning among children:

1. Authenticity

“You have to be yourself, you have to know your own values, you have to know what’s important to you and so you have to be an authentic leader in order to be effective and that takes a lot of reflection and it takes self-awareness,” said Dr Thornton.

“So we can link that to emotional intelligence, particularly the intrapersonal intelligence. It’s about knowing what you are good at, but also knowing what you aren’t good at, and what you need to work with other people to achieve.”

2. Skill in mentoring

Describing this as the ability work with others, being an effective communicator and mentor, Dr Thornton explains, “You help provide the culture and the environment that will allow others to lead, and you do that by acting in that coaching and mentoring mode as a leader.

“You don’t have to know all the answers but you do actually have to know all the good questions to ask.”

3. Ability to hold and share a vision

This is about working with others to develop a vision that helps other people in the team focus on what matters most for your early education centre. Dr Thornton uses the analogy of a jigsaw to communicate this idea.

“You’ve got a team of teachers, parents … working together to achieve the vision, what you can do as the positional leader, you’re the one who has got the box the jigsaw comes in with the picture on it, so you know what they’re aiming for. And you are sort of reminding them and helping them put the bits together to achieve what you want to achieve.”

Shared leadership to mentor, motivate and empower

While individual characteristics are important, educational and developmental psychologist, Jillian Rodd, has described a distributed model that enables whole teams to take up leadership tasks in collaborative ways. 

More recent publications build on this model to imagine leadership as a transformational process that engages hearts and minds to orientate teams towards a deep commitment to change for the better (Waniganayake et al., 2017). 

Shared or distributed leadership involves creating a collaborative leadership culture where leadership is not just positional but about drawing on each team members’ strengths and expertise. 

This approach shifts the process away from its traditional formal delivery of "top-down." A positional leader still has overall responsibility for keeping the team focused and on track in implementing best practice through the service’s policies, procedures, practice, values and philosophy. 

Shared leadership allows a team to share a sense of purpose and responsibility to ensure the learning and wellbeing of children is upheld as the key purpose at all times.

In education and care services, a shared leadership model can result in a team of educators who are committed to a culture of learning, respect and teamwork (Waniganayake, Rodd & Gibbs, 2015). 

Benefits of shared leadership

Encouraging collaboration, communication and effective teamwork among the leadership team and staff has proven benefits for stability in education and care services.

  • It promotes a collaborative and trusting professional way of leading and working between educators, managers and other staff.
  • The many talents, skills, expertise, interests, perspectives and ideas of educators can be utilised and drawn upon for developing common goals, problem solving and finding solutions.
  • It can create a sense of belonging and inclusion for the early childhood team.
  • It can make the complex and often difficult role of a manager more achievable with less likelihood of stress and burnout.
  • It allows educators and other staff to develop and use their own leadership skills either on an ongoing basis or for one-off projects or tasks.
  • It can create a more engaged and motivated team of professionals working together to provide high quality education and care.
  • It allows opportunities for emerging leaders to be trained and mentored in a supportive environment as they take on leading roles at the appropriate time.
  • It can aid in creating a team environment where a sense of shared purpose exists and is practiced.

Supporting professional development 

Leadership is about lifelong learning. There are always new things to learn in early childhood education and care so it is important for you and your team to develop your strengths and skills. Promote knowledge by providing opportunities to attend conferences, mentoring and professional development training. 

Ensure access to online resource material via subscriptions, magazines and journals to keep abreast of new information and tools that can inform and be shared within your team and with families.

Thanks to Excellence Matters and ACECQA for their insights on Educational Leadership, which helped, write this article

Resources and further reading

The Spoke: Inspiring leadership in early childhood

 ACECQA: The Educational Leader Resource 

The empowered educator: The Role of Educational Leader 

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Thursday, 12 March 2020