For any team to thrive, effective leadership is essential. This is true for early childhood education too. But what does leadership mean and what exactly are we referring to when we talk about leadership being effective?
Having leadership qualities is frequently listed as a prerequisite for jobs, but many have difficulties when it comes to breaking down what this really means.
Not only is it important to know what leadership is in practice, but also how it can impact the way a workplace operates. In early childhood education, leadership is crucial to ensure the best start for children as well as creating a positive workplace environment for educators.
Understanding what effective leadership really is
Effective leadership brings people together and sustains and inspires teams. It supports people to find common purpose within the workplace and work in harmony to achieve a shared vision. It empowers people to reach their full potential while also showing them how to empower others to do the same.
Part of being an effective leader is to also be an ethical leader. Ethical leadership is the process of influencing people and systems through principles, values and beliefs, that embrace what we define as the ‘right behaviour’. Using an ethical leadership approach helps shape a workplace with a strong sense of their core values. They will help create employees who not only recognise right from wrong, but can understand actions that are good versus actions that are potentially better, and make decisions accordingly.
Leadership’s crucial role in early childhood education
Unsurprisingly, effective leadership has a meaningful impact on the success of early childhood education settings, including for children, families and staff. Further, it helps to shape and sustain a high standard of learning environment for children during those crucial first five years of development.
Quality Area 7 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) outlines three key areas for the optimal running of an early childhood education service that centre around leadership and management. Specifically highlighting the importance of leadership is Standard 7.1, which states:
Effective leadership promotes a positive organisational culture and builds a professional learning community. This standard focuses on the way service leadership fosters a positive workplace culture where professional learning and continuous improvement are valued. In services that value professional learning, educators, coordinators and staff members are motivated and supported to ‘build their professional knowledge, reflect on their practice and generate new ideas’. They openly discuss issues relating to service quality. In this way, a service’s organisational culture enables educators, coordinators and staff members to learn from each other and pursue continuous quality improvement that contributes to improved outcomes for children. This standard includes the requirement for an educational leader to lead the development of the curriculum.
Further to this, ACECQA developed The Educational Leader Resource, which explains how leaders in early childhood education are instrumental when it comes to establishing, maintaining and improving quality education and care for children.
The qualities of a great leader
Many of us associate leadership with a particular job title or position in the workplace, but being an effective leader means so much more. Rather than a position of authority, being an effective leader comprises a collection of qualities that an individual, or perhaps even a group, possesses.
For some, qualities that contribute to making someone a great leader may be in-built, but for others they can be learned and developed over time. There are many leadership qualities you can hone to elevate your ability to be a valuable leader in early childhood education, including:
- Empower others: Believing in others can help them to realise just how much they are truly capable of. Delegate based on their strengths and show them how important they are to the team.
- Have a clear vision: Knowing what you want to achieve with your team is vital to reaching your goals. Share the vision with the team too, and communicate what expectations are in the journey to making it a reality.
- Being available: Show each individual in your team that they are valued. Give them your time, let them know how and when to contact you and keep that communication flowing.
- Encouraging continual learning: Learning is an ongoing journey and where possible it’s worth taking on opportunities to learn something new. Encourage the team around you to do the same. Share sector news and articles, support upskilling and be open to learning always.
- Contributing to a positive environment: Use empathy, time management and reflection to create a working environment that minimises stress and maximises enjoyment and fun in the workplace.
Creating a pathway to leadership in your career
While you can utilise leadership skills without being in a leadership position, you might feel that your future involves leadership in early childhood education. If so, it’s worth exploring how you can create a pathway into a leadership role in the early childhood workplace.
With the courses offered at Practical Outcomes, such as the CHC50121 Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care, educators can work towards becoming valuable educational leaders. They will develop vital soft skills that lend themselves to flourishing as a leader in early childhood education. Problem solving, management and communication are just a few of the interpersonal qualities that we focus on throughout courses, along with equipping learners with the highest quality early childhood education training.
With upskilling opportunities combined with a working understanding of how important leadership is for the early childhood education sector, educators can work to enhance outcomes for their careers, for centres, and most importantly, for children.
As seen in Child Care Australia magazine.