Leadership in Early Childhood Education

Leadership in Early Childhood Education
Leadership in Early Childhood Education

Critically examine effective leadership in Early Childhood Education


The relevance of effective leadership in enhancing the quality of pedagogy continues to gain significant importance in the field of early childhood, as stakeholders seek to achieve greater professionalism and enhanced outcomes as illustrated by children’s performance (Heikka, 2014). “The field of early childhood education and care has had a growing interest in pedagogical leadership rising from the need to increase quality and influence organisational change (Alameen, Male & Palaiologou, 2015).”  In this regard, there is greater focus on building relationships, mentorship, diversity and inclusiveness. Individuals in leadership work in partnership with others, providing leadership opportunities to other staff, students and others in the education community. This insinuates that leadership as traditionally defined does not always apply to early education realms. It is because while business and other sectors may observe leadership from a hierarchical perspective, effective early years leadership is mostly more collaborative or transformational in nature. The traditional way of envisioning a leader as the one on top of the hierarchy is a just incomplete definition of how leadership is. Leadership is a process that is influenced by the shared vision and purpose by individuals or teams in connecting with each other. Effective leadership while being guided by the principal who provides direction goes beyond this by recognising the role played by all stakeholders as defined in shared values, visions and expectations. Leadership in early childhood education is an in-depth human quality that does not follow the conventional rule of authority.

Children are purely innocent to what this society gives to them in early childhood. If the society provides them with effective skills of leadership then that is what they are going to get regardless of gender or sect. If children are exposed to negative traits from the society then this would only end up in criminal activities. Children tend to strive hard to learn the way of living which society provides them. The importance of early childhood education can be imagined from Siraj-Blatchford and Hallet’s (2014) idea of leadership, which states that “Effective and caring leadership is an evolving area of importance in developing quality provision for young children and families (p. 9).” Early childhood leadership is not only about the business of academics but it involves everyday routine of children’s services. 

In recognition of the growing importance placed on leadership in early childhood education, this paper explores the concept of leadership in the context of early education and how it influences the quality of education. In this relation, it will focus on what leadership means in the context of early childhood education, leadership styles in ECE, effective pedagogy in the early years, effective leadership in the early years and challenges and issues in early childhood leadership.


The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) project changed the education landscape in Europe, and can be considered an influential study in the emerging importance of leadership in early childhood education (Siraj‐Blatchford, et al., 2008). The longitudinal study was the first of its kind and consisted of a young children’s development sample with the objective of investigating the impact of preschool education among three and four year children. Information for the study was collected from 3000 children and also involved interaction with their parents, home environment and school settings (Sylva, et al., 2004) Through the research which as conducted between 1997 and 2004, it was established that education quality made a significant impact in the development of children (Sylva, et al., 2004). This is a function of leadership, which the study also established as being instrumental in ensuring quality and better outcomes among children.

Based on the study results, it was established that high performing centres included in the study had resilient leadership and a strong shared philosophy, and that managers ensured a strong lead in planning and curriculum development. In addition, leaders in these centres encouraged staff development, education focus, child-adult interaction, all essential aspects of leadership in early childhood education. Therefore this study illuminated the importance of effective leadership in preschool in a bid to enhance outcomes and it remains a point of reference in the realms of ECE.

Effective Leadership in the Early Years Sector (ELEYS) and Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years (REPEY) also played an imperative role in illuminating leadership as an important issue in early education. The ELEYS research demonstrated the ideal setting for early year schools, noting that adult-child interaction, good curriculum knowledge among practitioners, parent involvement, formative feedback and behaviour policies influenced good outcomes for children Siraj-Blatchford et al (2007). REPEY on the other hand argues for the provision of leadership for learning as a fundamental requirement in early learning. This can be done through social context considerations, collective working and a focus on children’s learning outcomes. This research is based on the passing of the Children Act of 2004 in England and the commitment of the government to reform children services through the ‘Every Child Matters’ campaign (Siraj-Blatchford, I & Manni, 2007). These two studies have influenced commitment towards leadership in ECE and are a good source of reference for leadership literature.

Leadership in Early Childhood Education

Early childhood is a sensitive stage where all leadership efforts should be directed towards ensuring the best outcome for the children. Leadership in early childhood education has been considered a pacesetter and a major influence of quality, hence the need to effectively understand what really consists of leadership in ECE.

Kagan and Bowman (1997) proposed five faces of leadership that early childhood leaders should seek observe in order to promote the outcome of children in their schools.

Administrative Leadership

The first face of leadership is administrative leadership. This involves the everyday operational activities and management of services (Kagan & Bowman, 1997). In executing administrative leadership, a leader is expected to maintain skills necessary in:

Dealing with people: This involves building effective relationships with staff, children, families, board members and colleagues among others

Structure: This entails the maintenance of infrastructure, complying with regulations, security issues and fire procedures among others

Processes: This includes the development of policies and procedures for governing school activities, including interaction of children and families.

Culture: this involved possessing knowledge on resource and referral agencies as well as changes in legislation.

Outcome: This includes maintenance of occupancy rates, fees, wages, budgets, petty cash and resources among others.

Environment: This involves awareness of the health and safety issues related to the occupation as well as the legislative requirements and aesthetics.

Pedagogical Leadership

Pedagogy is understanding how learning process takes place which is supported by philosophy and practice.Pedagogical leadership entails the recognition of the best approaches in ensuring quality of early childhood care and education (Heikka, 2014). At the core of early childhood education lies the need to ensure that the quality of children’s lives is improved through enhanced growth, learning and development (Cheng, 2013; Kivunja, 2015). In this relation, leadership in ECE is about identifying how best the children can learn. It is associated with the philosophy of the program, its goals and everyday practices that are advocated for in the managing the organisation (Murray & Clary, 2013). A leader is also expected to stay informed about issues and trends in early childhood education and care, and propagate the same information to staff. Leaders are expected to work closely with families and the community and ensure that all their actions demonstrate their knowledge of pedagogical leadership in everything they do (Sullivan, 2010).

Community Leadership

Leaders is early education have an obligation to disseminate the importance of early childhood education to the community. This means that leaders must promote advocacy for best practices in early childhood education in order to influence the community and the overall outcome of ECE in the community (2008). It involved being increasingly visible in the community where one operates, developing community partnerships and participating in the education and training of ECE professionals through mentorship and networking. An early childhood leader is required to collaborate with community members and play a vital role in influencing policy making within the community.

Conceptual Leadership

Conceptual leadership is about being actively involved in the creation of new ideas with the aim of advancing the profession. This means that a leader should be capable of contributing to the ECE profession through innovative and futuristic thinking that leads to the development of pioneering ideas to influence early childhood education success (Kagan & Bowman, 1997; Rodd, 2013). This is equated to visionary leadership and is best achieved if one has a social conscience. This means that ideas are based on what leaders believe is the best for the advancement of children in early years.

Advocacy Leadership

Leaders in early childhood are expected to actively advocate for early childhood issues in order to improve the welfare of children and their families (Kagan & Bowman, 1997; Woodrow, C & Busch, 2008). Leadership involves taking a lead in looking out for better education quality and advocating for issues affecting early childhood education such as licensing requirements, affordable childcare, teacher salaries and other important issues (Rodd, 2013). Leadership in ECE is not only about working with individuals and organisations within their immediate sector but rather collaborating with others beyond their environment to create better outcomes in the early childhood sector.

Efficiency in Early Childhood Leadership

Effective leadership in early childhood is defined by the ability of the leadership to effect high quality, through involvement of different stakeholders and upholding professionalism. This can be demonstrated in the following illustration, which demonstrates the importance of well set goals, high quality educators, professionalism in leadership, programming quality, and the involvement of families in ensuring outcomes for children.

Oval: Involved families and communities
Oval: Clear Philosophy

Pedagogical Leadership

Pedagogical Leadership tells us to reconsider the way we learn and work alongside with other adults. It is a common observation that development and growth take time and the best way children learn is by the interest and engagement with adults. Characteristics like curiosity, purposefulness and openness create an environment of learning both for the child and for the adult.

The Pedagogical Leader has an important role in creating a setting that supports values and vision for a healthy and quality learning environment. In this kind of environment, habits like organising time, spending money and supporting others come from the vision for growing child. In this way, children are nourished to produce leadership qualities and sense of responsibility. (Coughlin & Baird, 200)

It has been recognised that effective leadership is the key to the growth of education and care. Teaching, learning and sustaining high-quality learning environment cannot be shaped without the skilled and committed leaders. There are minimal chances for effective leadership in early childhood without these skilled pedagogical leaders. According to a research, leadership comes only second when teaching has an influence on learning. Leadership is essential to an improved outcome and equality in education. (Leithwood et al., 2006: 4)

Leadership Styles for ECE

The style of leadership that is adopted within the organisation to a great extent determines the organisation’s performance. In this respect, the leadership style adopted should match the objective of the organisation in order to ensure that set goals are met. In early childhood, it has been established that leadership is more about inclusiveness and that the traditional idea of leadership, demonstrated through hierarchical outlook is considered outdated. Leadership is seen as a practice that is socially constructed and where the need to promote the quality of education and outcomes for children determines the leadership style adopted. The following leadership styles consist of some of the leadership styles adopted among early education institutions.

Directive leadership: In directive leadership, leaders are required to guide followers by spending as much time as possible with learners who are learning new tasks. The leader is expected to observe the learner provide feedback and develop suggestions for improving performance (Wieczorek-Ghisso, 2014). Directive leadership in ECE is seen as a means to ensure that the learner acquires the best knowledge possible to enhance the quality of education.

Facilitative leadership: This style seeks to empower group members by providing them with the resources necessary to execute their work. This style is aimed at ensuring that the needs of group members are met and that the outcome is satisfactory to the children and their families. While it may be directive at times, facilitative style is never authoritarian.

Participative leadership: This is where the leader promotes a collaborative atmosphere with teachers, such that everyone has an opportunity to participate in decision making. Ideas from followers are held in high regard and each view is considered important. Leaders are open with teachers and communication ensures that they can contribute to the everyday running of the school (Aubrey, et al, 2013). Participative leadership enhances motivation and is considered effective in advancing performance due to its ability to identify new ideas that would otherwise go unutilised.

Transformational leadership: Leaders depicting transformational leadership lead by showing concern to personal development of followers, such that they are committed to ensuring that they can discover their potential by acting as their role models. Through providing them with the required knowledge and resources, transformational leaders develop their followers into leaders and moral leaders through inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, idealised influence and individualise consideration (Hughes, 2014). In ECE, this plays a role in enhancing motivation and thus high performance of teachers; consequently contributing to changes in school education. Transformational leadership is such that both the leaders and followers learn from each other and is therefore not about power holding.

Situational leadership: A commonly used leadership style is situational leadership, where leaders tend to apply different approaches in dealing with different issues. This according to Wieczorek-Ghisso (2014) is an approach which in the early years education context is based in levels of competency, such that continuous professional development is enabled. This is evidenced through the Blanchard model which provides four different leadership styles for four competence levels identified. Blanchard’s quadrant, consists of four leadership styles namely directing, coaching, supporting and delegating. Each style is useful for different competency levels through which staff go through before they can be considered highly effective to work without much support.

Blanchard’s first competence level consists of staff portraying high commitment and low competence. These are members who are probably new in context and therefore lack the necessary skills to carry out required activities. This group may display high enthusiasm and willingness to learn but lack the skills to perform effectively. The suggested leadership style is the ‘directing’ approach, aimed at providing them with guidance to undertake activities through providing specific instructions and making follow up. An employee who effectively succeeds in this quadrant such that they no longer require close supervision then moves to the second quadrant, representing low or some competence and low commitment. This group requires ‘coaching’ as the leadership approach. This requires leaders to explain the importance of task completion and monitoring of progress while providing encouragement and support.

When a staff is ready to move to the next quadrant, this means that they no longer need coaching but rather ‘supporting’. These are staff with high competence but with variable commitment. While they may have adequate experience, such teachers may lack confidence, motivation or initiative to undertake independent tasks. By supporting their daily activities, a leader can ensure that staff effectively accomplish tasks and that they develop high commitment. This means that they are ready to graduate to the next quadrant, consisting of staff with high commitment and high competence. These are individuals who have mastered their roles and who are confident in their ability, experienced, knowledgeable and self-motivated, such that they do not require much supervision. In this situation, the leader employs ‘delegating’ approach, such that these individuals may be trusted with responsibilities without the need for monitoring or direction.

The model is considered effective because it aims at gradually developing staff capabilities to ensure that they can effectively respond to delegated tasks. It considers the different needs of staff and the required form of support needed to enhance competency and is thus considered an effective approach to leadership.

Qualities of effective childhood leaders

Leadership is an undertaking that requires individuals to demonstrate their ability to influence processes and other people for the attainment of set goals, such that leaders are expected to possess certain qualities that differentiate them from others (Ang, 2012). It is not any different in early childhood and the following qualities of a leader ensure enhanced outcomes. Teachers with early childhood development degree give them the right skills to help every child learn. Practically speaking, teachers of early education of children must possess certain qualities that will enable them to motivate children along with finding joy every day (Aubrey, 2011).

When it comes to young children, leaders having the confidence of working with the children require enthusiasm and dedication to the work. Only this way, they could think of achieving the successful completion of their leadership duties. Teachers should have the enthusiasm to unlock each child’s door to learning. In addition, every child is different which makes the job even more challenging; thus requiring a patient nature along with good sense of humour to help the teacher to face this sloping path of ups and downs every day.

Every child has a different learning style and personality when he comes to school for early education. Each child would have his or her own style of doing anything. Due to this reason, teacher must always respect the differences and mange to teach in each child’s style rather than imposing on the child to adapt another style. Furthermore, each day teaching young children and at the same time educating them requires creativity. Adapting to the style of learning that each child possess is flexibility. Regardless, the planning a teacher has done for each day, there should be flexibility to handle all the glitches that can throw off the day. A successful early childhood teacher would be the one who is always creative and flexible to make each day a positive one.

An effective leader takes approaches that are unique and whose execution ensure that organisational goals and objectives are met. This skill requires critical thinking to ensure that ideas and strategies set the organisation apart from competitors through quality outcomes. Additionally, an inspirational leader motivates followers to perform by helping them discover their strengths. He or she should be capable of influencing followers to perform by helping them discover their potential, providing them with the needed guidance and rewarding good performance (Murray & Clary, 2013).

Contemporary leadership literature indicates that active involvement of employees and other stakeholders in leadership decisions and undertakings can have an influential role on organisational outcomes (Grant, 2016). In early education, there is need to involve teachers, boards, students and the community in leadership, thus ensuring that the management can understand what the needs of others are. When leadership considers the input of others, the likelihood of success is enhanced through diversity in ideas. In a world where leadership entails greater involvement of stakeholders in leadership and decision making, having a leader who is open and accommodating can have a considerable impact on the organisation. In early education, being open can encourage contribution from followers and thereby improve the outcome of schools.

Every leader’s mandate is to achieve the organisation’s goals and objectives and thus contribute to the overall performance of the organisation. In this relation, a leader must not lose focus on the main goals that the organisation seeks to achieve (Grant, 2016). This ensures that he or she can effectively lead others in achieving the goals, correct deviations, mentor and encourage others to achieve. In doing so, the ability to influence others through endowing them with the power to perform is considered a major leadership quality. Leaders in early childhood should not only provide teachers with the necessary skills to perform tasks but they should also build their capacity to perform roles that are considered as being beyond their level, including independent decision making (David, 2012).

A leader should be concerned about the welfare of others, such that their decisions should be considerate about the feelings of others. This is essential in ensuring that followers feel appreciated, which promotes their productivity and willingness to contribute in organisational activities (Cheng, 2013). Being collegial involves recognising every individual as being important and avoiding self-exalting behaviour. An effective leader sees themselves as part of the team and thus encourages others to work to work together towards achieving the organisation’s goals (David, 2011). This demonstrates the adoption of a give-and-take approach, such that the leader can learn from followers, just as followers learn from them.

Developing skills of Pedagogical Leadership:

Developing skills necessary to enhance the performance of early education institutions is imperative in enhancing pedagogical leadership. Waniganayake (2014) notes that while a majority of institutions have ECE graduates, most of these individuals are not equipped with the leadership strategies necessary to enhance performance. Waniganayake (2014) further notes that given the budding nature of ECE, the number of schools has grown significantly, leading to the demand for managers and principals.  This means that more ECE teachers find themselves in positions of leadership when they are fresh graduates with minimal knowledge and skills on leadership. In order for them to successfully execute the mandate given to them, such teachers require training to help them acquire the necessary leadership skills and qualities. This may be enhanced through different approaches as discussed below.

Learning communities

Group of individuals when come together to share passion and interest in collaborative learning is known as professional learning communities. Individuals participating in this learning communities build up knowledge through their interactions. There is a need of facilitator who helps them to start a dialogue of ideas that could enhance the connection to values and perspective. The professional learning communities is a powerful staff development strategies to help shift the focus from teaching to learning. (Coughlin & Baid, 2013)

Giving Time to absorb

Time is very precious and a necessity for any skill or development to be fully absorbed by both children and adults in the early learning environment. It is often practiced that learning communities make quick fixes and single training session to introduce change. However, to make changes sustainable, educators must be given time to share their complexities and practice growth in collaborative work.

Selection of Pedagogical Leaders for preschools

The building of strong leadership in the field, teacher’s education serves as an important role for building new resources and learning environment for the children. Student teachers should be selected on the merit of their experience that includes teamwork, engagement with kid and reviews from their pedagogical courses. These pedagogical leaders are also asked to provide a reflection of their leadership journey and opinions for life-changing experiences.

Issues relating to early years leadership

While the above discussion demonstrates approaches to developing pedagogical leadership skills, it is notable that there are various issues related to early years leadership that could affect such processes. Some of the challenges witnessed in early years leadership are discussed as follows.


Like in any other profession, the issue of age in leadership is prominent and the question of the age at which an individual can take up leadership is of concern. In ECE, a high number of young professionals are increasingly joining leadership, more so with the increase in the number of institutions and the consequent demand for managers and principals. Whether these individuals, some who are fresh from college have the requires skills and capabilities is what makes it challenging for them to pursue their careers. This is more so where there the individual needs to manage older staff who may not appreciate their position as leaders.


A significant issue in early education is that individuals in leadership are not as adequately remunerated as their counterparts in other sectors. Given the significantly low pay among early childhood education professionals, taking up a position of leadership is not as motivating as it would be in other sectors where it would come with attractive perks. As a result, individuals are more likely to be adamant to take up leadership positions because the amount of work involved may not be adequately compensated.

Gender and Feminisation of early years workforce

Early childhood education for a considerable portion of its history mostly constituted of a female workforce. According to Siraj and Hallett (2014), early education workforce could comprise up to 98-99% women. This can be attributed to the fact that women were considered more caring and motherly to children, and as playing the nurturing role which they did best (Kelleher, 2011). Mistry and Sood (2013) also note that stereotyping of men who work in early childhood education as either paedophiles or homosexuals has led to slow growth in the number of men in the sector. This feminisation has an impact on leadership in that men who have since joined early childhood education still find it difficult to settle into the female dominated career. As a result, leadership roles among men tend to be few in the sector. According to Mistry and Sood (2013), the gendered perception about men in the early education profession may lead to leadership prejudice because men still tend to be treated with suspicion when handling children. This could deny men an equal chance at being in leadership positions despite being qualified.

Reluctance to lead

Leadership remains a challenging undertaking and some individuals tend to shy away from such responsibility. This means that despite their qualifications, they may be reluctant to lead. According to Mistry and Sood (2012), early years leaders tend to be reluctant on taking on the leadership of whole schools because they believe that it is not given adequate significance. In addition, some leaders are reluctant to take on management roles because they feel that such responsibilities divert their attention from their preferred role as child developers and educators. Mistry and Sood (2012) add that reluctance could also be based on lack of confidence in their level of training on leadership such as adult management and budgeting among others. Reluctance may also be observed among males, mostly due to the desire to remain inconspicuous based on the feminisation issue discussed above.

Leadership hierarchies

A major issue is the existence of the hierarchical leadership mentality in some institutions. Some early childhood schools are still run using the traditional leadership approaches, such that it becomes difficult for an inclusive workplace to be maintained. This may impact leadership effectiveness and consequent leadership outcomes.

Improvement for Effective Leadership in Early Childhood Education

The effectiveness of leadership in ECE can be measured against the learning outcomes of children, such that the key role played by school principals can be recognised based on the performance of their schools. However, leadership issues discussed above must be addressed in order to ensure that leadership is enhanced for better outcomes.

An important aspect to consider is the defeminisation of the profession. Currently, the profession still remains a female dominated field and encouraging men to participate would play a relevant role in enhancing leadership efficiency. To succeed in this, there is need to eliminate the stereotypes surrounding men as early childhood educators and instead advocate for male participation in ECE leadership.

Achieving high level motivation as far as leadership is concerned is a challenging task for this sector, given the low motivation to lead. To achieve this, authorities in ECE must recognise that leadership in ECE is just like leadership in other professions and that there is need to motivate leaders through improved pay and providing opportunities for skill development (Jor’dan, et al, 2013). Mentorship would work effectively in promoting performance of upcoming leaders and ensuring that they remain focused.

It is apparent that individuals in ECE are increasingly taking up leadership positions at a young age, which implies that their leadership skills may not be well developed. In this relation, leadership should be incorporated into graduate programs to ensure that leadership in an ingrained skill among ECE graduates. By preparing graduates for leadership as part of their learning objectives, it is easier for them to fit into leadership positions.

It is important to recognise that children are emotionally bonded to their parents. The workforce in early year education is most comprises of female. The Daycare Trust reports that 97.5% of the workforce for childcare comprises of females. This gender discrimination in child care needs to end. Men should be actively involved in this workforce. Other than this, research also tells that there is a strong need for collaborative leadership training for pedagogical leaders for better future of early childhood education (Siraj-Blatchford & Manni, 2007).

Practical Application: Finding Strength of Children and their Competencies

Bring the educators and parents together with the photos of children with observations of children behaviour when engaged in focused activity. Star the conversation by asking questions like: What appearance can be noticed from child’s face when focused in any activity? What interests him the most? How much child tries to give effort to area of his interest? How child’s point of view can be considered a factor of influence for the thinking of educator?

Importance of Home Learning

Other than preschool learning at early age, EPPE study has found out that children’s intellectual and social development is more influenced through Home Learning Environment (HLE) then by their parent’s education, occupation, and income. Due to this, the study also concludes that children’s learning by their parent’s support is far more important than who the parents are. The study clearly suggests that the parents should opt for giving more time and affection to their children. Children need a healthy environment to get morally stronger. In this fast-moving world, people have generally less time for their children due to work load and professional responsibilities. That is why there is preschool where children are taught in a proper systematic way to nourish their skills and to provide them with the environment which they couldn’t get at home (Siraj-Blatchford & Manni, 2006).


Leadership in the context of early childhood education has recently been illuminated as an important aspect in determining the quality of outcomes among children. Evidently, effective leadership in ECE is directly related to the performance of early years institutions and the need to develop such skills is necessary. This paper discussed the concept of leadership as it applies to early childhood education, with specific attention to the nature and facets of leadership in ECE, the application of leadership styles, qualities of good leadership and the challenges facing effective leadership in ECE. It can be established that leadership in ECE has not effectively matured and that there are certain issues that still require to be addressed in order for institutions to function effectively. However, training and application of effective leadership styles could play an important role in enhancing leadership outcomes in ECE settings.

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