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The case study will look at the impact the employment an Educational Leader has had on the pedagogical practice at the centre. This role is integral in overseeing curriculum planning, supporting reflective practice and professional learning, guiding educators in their documentation in relation to the ‘learning encounters involving children and their families. Leading learning in collaborative ways can, not only enhance children’s learning, it can also strengthen teamwork (Waniganayake & Semann, 2011).’ The Educational Leader’s role requires the trust and respect of the team they are leading and a positive organisational culture that values openness and trust where people are motivated to ask questions, debate issues and contribute to each other’s ongoing learning and inquiry.’ (Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority, 2012, p.171)
The centre program operates 49 weeks of the year and caters for a combined number of children of 69 aged from six weeks to school age. The centre sits within an Independent Girls’ school on Sydney’s Upper North Shore and draws from a broad and holistic base. Valuing and nurturing thinking is at the heart of the Early Learning Centre’s curriculum which is underpinned not only by the Early Years Learning Framework but by the school’s new learning (PreK- Year 12) framework. This framework has been created to provide a new lens; a reimagining of learning and education to develop ‘learners who can thrive in turbulent and complex times, apply thinking to new situations and change the world (Michael Fullan, Quinn, & McEachen, 2018). The school’s framework emphasises the value of thinking over the right answer and harnessing this thinking to empower learning that is powerful and lifelong. The aim is to cultivate pathways of thinking to move beyond surface learning to learning that is deeper and more reflective with a focus on developing understanding through more active and constructive processes. With this in mind, providing quality early childhood education requires educational leaders who are courageous and able to articulate clearly their decisions based on the context of their setting thereby challenging neoliberalism which emphasises compliance to a pre-determined standard of quality.
The key players at the time this change occurred, were the newly appointed centre Director, the Headmistress, the Head of Junior School and the Deputy Head of Junior school, who had held the Educational Leadership role in a ‘caretaker’ capacity for a period of the 2013 school year.
- Case description:
Since 2012, with the implementation of the National Quality Framework and in accordance with Regulation 118 it has been a requirement for an approved provider to designate, in writing, a suitably qualified and experienced educator, coordinator or other individual as educational leader of a service, to lead the development and implementation of educational programs in the service. When selecting a suitably qualified person for the role neither the National Quality Standard nor the legislative requirements are prescriptive about the qualifications, experience or required skills for the person chosen to be an educational leader. The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority defined the role as being developed to ‘oversee the development and implementation of the educational programme (or curriculum) in the service and the person in this role must be able to guide other educators in their planning and reflection and mentor colleagues in the implementation practices (ACECQA, 2011a: 85 from Sims, Waniganayake, & Hadley, 2018)
The centre opened in April 2010 and initially the centre Director had a dual role both as administrator and Educational Leader. She was employed to work 8:00am-6:30pm which was unrealistic and unsustainable. Majority of the educators had been employed since the centre’s opening when in March 2013 the Director went on maternity leave and a temporary Director was employed from within the ranks of the Early Learning Centre and the Deputy Head of Junior School became the ‘caretaker’ Educational Leader. With the centre, undergoing an osmotic change, it provided the opportunity to restructure the leadership.
The Director’s role became permanent in December 2013 and with this change, an educational leader was to be appointed in January 2014. As the incumbent Director, it was my belief that one person could not do it all. The task was to search for a suitably qualified teacher to drive the pedagogical practice at the centre and through critical reflection strive to improve and refine. When selecting an educational leader, the following skills, knowledge and attributes were considered:
- communication and interpersonal skills
- comprehensive knowledge of theory relating to childhood education and care (for example, child development, attachment, learning), professional standards and approved learning frameworks, and contemporary understanding of evidence-based best practice approaches to teaching and learning
- knowledge of leadership theory and the use of a range of leadership styles
- critical thinking skills, including the ability to analyse and challenge conventional practice and ideas
- a sense of purpose and direction, and the ability to influence
- a willingness to mentor and support educators from diverse backgrounds and with varying levels of knowledge and experience
- a commitment to learning and participating in professional learning opportunities.’
More importantly the centre required an educational leader who would fit the culture and share the Director’s vision of the direction in which the centre was building towards. The vision was to view documentation as a means to analyse the learning through pedagogical processes spanning across the entire process and making the learning visible. This meant the educational leader ‘engaging in a dialogue with the teachers about the relationship between the thesis of a project and the way it is realised in experiences and articulated by images, choosing together the most effective media for reflecting and demonstrating the complexity and value of the research being carried out by the children and adults’ (Edwards Ed., Gandini Ed., & Forman Ed., 2011) rather than being prescriptive in the number of observations required based on children’s attendance patterns.
Although there is a lack of clarity across the sector regarding the responsibilities, the school leadership deemed it necessary to employ an early childhood teacher with a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement to create an environment that was conducive to impact significantly upon children’s learning outcomes and create a culture of inquiry. The role was to be transformative with the educational leader provoking educators to delve more deeply into their current practice, to challenge their current thinking and document in a more meaningful way, including a deep reflective analysis of the learning. The school leadership in consultation with the centre Director brainstormed their vision of the educational leadership role and how it would look within our centre context, including expectations and responsibilities. It was the belief that the Educational leader, act as a ‘change agent,’ so to speak, with the opportunity to work alongside other educators exploring the infinite possibilities within the learning environment as well as working side by side promoting inquiry and challenging educators to reflect upon their current practice as well as advocating best practice to the broader early childhood community.
The educational leader role, since its inception, has evolved over the past five years. In its first iteration the educational leader spent the majority of her time on the floor dividing her time between the five rooms. This account will mainly focus on the role as it stands currently. The educational leader now divides her time supporting educators in most need of mentoring on the floor as well as a good proportion of her time overseeing each of the five team leaders, all of whom are Early Childhood Teachers, whilst they have their scheduled programming time but also ensuring the co-educators have access as well. This programming support is invaluable as it provides the opportunity for meaningful engagement, creating a positive culture that values the collaborative process through open dialogue and trust.
- Case Analysis
Policy reform in the early childhood sector began in 2009 with the emergence of the Educational Leader role. The role was established to drive the quality improvement requirements with the implementation of the National Quality Framework in 2012. Although the Educational Leadership role is mandated by the National Quality Framework and the National Law; the role lacks clarity and authority, making it difficult for those in the role to fulfil their obligations and role descriptions differ from setting to setting. There is no State or National consensus as to what this role might contain and this in effect contributes to uncertainty and confusion.
From a structural perspective to fulfil this role, the Educational Leader needs to have the capacity ‘to make sense of the practices in the legislation, policy and curriculum documents before they can model, assist with and insist upon compliance from their colleagues at their centres.’ (Sims et al., 2018) Therefore, it is critical that the organisation selects the right person for the role with the capacity to foster positive relationships. There is little information out there for this complex role, however, registered training organisations, like Semann and Slattery have addressed this void by offering professional learning for Educational Leaders.
What was evident when the Director’s role and Educational Leader’s role was split there was a necessity to design a structure that enabled the allocation of work as well as having clearly designed responsibilities. More importantly, this needed to be articulated clearly to the staff body. ‘Formal structure enhances morale if it helps get our work done.’ (Boleman, Lee & Deal, Terence, 2017)
In its first iteration, the initial restructuring was too loose and ad hoc in its approach. Educators felt unsupported and therefore needed more scaffolding to make them feel less isolated. The current Educational Leader has reimagined the role. She was initially employed as a Room leader so understood the structural design required in integrating the role and being more available to all educators. This was a necessity as the Educational Leader was very aware of the tensions felt by the other team members and made a conscious effort in ensuring that responsibilities were clearly articulated and that all educators had a voice. ‘Conscious attention to lines of authority, communication, responsibilities and relationships can make a huge difference in group performance.’(Boleman, Lee & Deal, Terence, 2017)
Upon reflection, we misjudged the culture and the emotional attachment the educators had with the previous Director and therefore met resistance, which impeded our ability to manage ‘facilitating emergence’ of change effectively in the short term. The new Director had underestimated the relational depth required for a shift to occur as well as the amount of scaffolding required to shift educators thinking and promote a growth mindset. (Clayton et al., n.d.). The educators felt vulnerable and as Kets de Vries, (2004) suggests organisations can be ‘prisoners of the past’. It was therefore necessary for the leadership to go through the motions and understand this knee jerk reaction to change. It was essential to promote a commitment to building and strengthening relationships through the effective establishment of a collective identity.
Previously there had been an unquestioning faith in the Director and although this contributed to a perceived cohesiveness it denied staff the capacity for critical reflection nor did it promote initiative. There was a reliance on the leadership to offer protection thereby promoting a lack of personal accountability. The educators were used to a more vertical structure of leadership with a reliance on a top-down control and the centre was now attempting to shift to a less hierarchical structure promoting a distributed leadership model with deeper levels of engagement from educators working on shared goals.
The restructure could have been perceived superficially as the creation of two roles however the centre in fact needed to re-culture (M Fullan, 2001). Beatty (2007) explains ‘The shift from political structures of hegemonic bureaucratic hierarchy to something far more egalitarian, democratic and openly discursive can be challenging and discomforting to all concerned’ (p.328). (Beatty, 2007)
Most of the conflict and tension was levelled at the new Director who at times was the target of mistrust and cynicism and often felt overwhelmed by the negativity levelled against her. Resilience was a necessary ingredient as well as a dogged determination to persevere with the vision to drive towards deeper pedagogical practice in shaping the educators work. Collegial work is integral and generates enrichment fostering professionalism. The children’s identity is shaped through this shared common work with children’s voice as an essential ingredient.
To further complicate the Educational Leader role there is the growing desire for the early childhood sector to become professionalised. Professionalisation requires a suitably qualified Educational Leader to have the ability to not only have the self-efficacy and confidence to articulate exemplary practice they also need to have the depth of knowledge to determine what they will accept as best practice.
What we see at present is a Neoliberal emphasis on top-down compliance checking, in order to obtain and maximise a centre’s accreditation. The effect this has on the majority of services is that it sidelines critical thinking. Professionalisation requires critical thinking from leaders whom are discretionary in their decision making in order for them determine what is best practice within their context. These leaders are the experts and best practice cannot be pre-determined in a one size fits all approach.
Although the Educational Leader role was developed to drive and improve pedagogical practice in Early Learning Centres there is increasing pressure for them to ensure that a high rating is achieved during the Assessment and Rating process. Our centre recently underwent its second Assessment and Rating and succeeded in receiving a rating of Exceeding in all seven standards as well as in all forty elements for the second time. There is more literature being written that questions ‘the efficacy of this neoliberal approach as it is applied in education.’ (Sims et al., 2018) That being said we were determined to focus on our centre’s strengths and present what we determined as best practice, through our interpretation from a policy level and devising a curriculum that fits the centre’s context and endorsing it, what Weick and colleagues called ‘sense-making’ (Weick, 1976). ‘This is achieved is through a willingness to linger with questions; a commitment to constructing knowledge with others through dialogue, disagreement, and challenge; and, through attentive observation. When we put inquiry at the heart of our programs, we organise our curriculum for children and for teachers around observation, study, and responsive planning’ (Pelo, 2006). In essence, it is necessary of Educational Leaders to challenge the status quo and demonstrate that quality can be measured in diverse ways.
The journey which commenced in 2014 is now at a point where active, participative shared learning with a focus on commitment and flexibility is evident. The current educational leader has a preference ‘for the soft elements of human resource management with staff through empowerment and efficacy and a focus on the individual and their role within the organisation’ (Waniganayake, Cheeseman, Fenech, Hadley, & Shepherd, 2012). She works to educators’ strengths as a means to improving their practice and promoting advocacy. This practice seeks to develop each educator. Many more of the centre’s educators are wishing to share their practice at conferences. This year alone educators are sharing their knowledge at Macquarie University’s Infant and Toddler Conference in July as well as at Early Childhood Australia’s conference in Hobart in October. Through this advocacy work, the centre recently received a request from ‘Indi Kindi’ to visit in an effort to support their educators to increase their understanding of high-quality practice to take back to their remote community. ‘Indi Kindi’ is located at Borroloola in the Northern Territory, near the Gulf of Carpentaria. We also view it as an opportunity for reciprocal learning as the ‘Indi Kindi’ model is designed to be delivered outdoors, enabling movement, freedom and creative expression well suited to Aboriginal children.
As part of the wider school community, we join the ‘Reflect, Connect, Grow’ program developed as a growth model valuing teachers working alongside each other in a collaborative learning community, with the belief that teacher self-efficacy and the ability to flourish professionally and personally are intrinsically linked. The professional learning model is designed to combine reflective practice and a coaching approach to learning and leading with a focus on building trust and strong relationships between colleagues.
In conclusion, the Educational leadership role is multi-dimensional and forever shifting with an essential ingredient being the ability to reframe. How this role will look in five years will very much be dependent on the Educational Leader’s ability to ‘ride the waves of change’ and view possibilities as a means to create opportunities through flexibility and divergent thinking but honouring the core values and beliefs of the school.
- Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority, (ACECQA). (2012). The Educational Leaders Role. Retrieved from http://files.acecqa.gov.au/files/Information_Sheets/TheRoleOfTheEducationalLeader.pdf
- Beatty, B. (2007). Going Through the Emotions: Leadership that gets to the heart of school renewal. Australian Journal of Education, 51(3), 328–340.
- Boleman, Lee, G., & Deal, Terence, D. (2017). Artistry, Choice and Leadership Reframing Organizations (6th Editio). New Jersey: Josey-Bass.
- Clayton, B., Fisher, T., Harris, R., Bateman Bateman, A., Ltd, G. P., & Brown, M. (n.d.). SUPPORT DOCUMENT Structures and cultures: A review of the literature Support document 2. Retrieved from http://www.ncver.edu.au
- Edwards Ed., C., Gandini Ed., L., & Forman Ed., G. (2011). The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation. Third Edition.
- Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a Culture of Change. San Franscico: Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint.
- Fullan, Michael, Quinn, J., & McEachen, J. (2018). Deep Learning.(Deep Learning: Engage the World Change the World)(Brief article). California Bookwatch.
- Kets de Vries, M. (2004). Organizations on the Couch:: A Clinical Perspective on Organizational Dynamics. European Management Journal, 22(2), 183–200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.emj.2004.01.008
- Pelo, A. (2006). Growing a Culture of Inquiry: Observation as Professional Development. Exchange, (November/December), 50–53.
- Sims, M., Waniganayake, M., & Hadley, D. F. (2018). Educational leadership: An evolving role in Australian early childhood settings. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 46(6), 960–979. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143217714254
- Waniganayake, M., Cheeseman, S., Fenech, M., Hadley, F., & Shepherd, W. (2012). Leadership Contexts and Complexities in Early Childhood Education. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
- Waniganayake, M., & Semann, A. (2011). Being and Becoming Leaders. Rattler, 100(Summer), 24.
- Weick, K. E. (1976). Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21(1), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.2307/2391875
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