Learning to Lead: Emerging Leaders in ECCE
By Myriam O’Farrell
Module Leader; Leading and Managing Partnerships in the Early Years
‘Encouragement is to give heart to someone’ – Huang 2007.
Considering the caring disposition and positive outlook required to be an effective early years practitioner the value of giving your colleagues ‘heart’ and cultivating a positive environment in the workplace cannot be underestimated. Being an effective leader involves providing encouragement, reassurance and support to allow ECCE practitioners to flourish and achieve their full potential. Supporting your team members to develop and maintain professional practices involves many roles, such as, collaborating with your team by having a shared vision for your service, managing change effectively (communication is key!) and being a role model for best practice.
Have a vision … be a visionary
Having a vision means you know the goals and values of your service i.e. what you are striving to achieve – it’s your philosophy! A leader with a clear vision and philosophy for the early years setting is a source of inspiration for their colleagues. The value of adopting a visionary style of leadership is in the ability of the leader to positively influence staff towards sharing the vision and values of the setting. It creates a team ethos where it is possible to intervene promptly and decisively when standards are below the expected quality levels. Equally it affords practitioners the opportunity to improve practice and have best practice acknowledged and expanded. Failing to cultivate a shared vision can contribute to a lack of ambition within the service and lead to difficulties when it comes to decision making.
Sometimes changes are required – sometimes on a local level or sometimes at a national scale. ECCE in Ireland has experienced many significant changes over the past two decades, the sector has evolved from a predominately unrecognised sector which lacked government funding to a professional early care and education sector which is constantly evolving. Some of the changes this sector has experienced include; the introduction and development of child protection measures and EYS regulations; introduction of ECCE scheme; the move from primarily care to a focus on care and education; an increase in cultural diversity; the development of Siolta and Aistear and a major increase in the volume of research being carried out about the value of quality ECCE in young children’s formative years.
In order to effectively implement change open, honest communication is required. If team members do not fully understand the benefits of the change it can cause resistance. Resistance to change can take the form of resistant feelings, thoughts or behaviour. Managing change is a complex process which requires ongoing commitment from ECCE leaders. Once all team members fully understand the benefits/ need for the change the leader still needs to encourage open communication and recognise the commitment to the change in order to sustain the motivation levels and create a new shared vision. As leadership happens in a social context the relationships between the leader and the followers are pivotal. A key role for the leader in ECCE is to communicate clearly to team members what is expected from them and always lead by example. Where possible team members should be included in the change management process i.e. help with goal setting, share ideas and develop short term plans.
Be a good role model!
The common idiom ‘a bad apple spoils the barrel’ has been used numerous times to describe the impact a negative team member can have on the culture within a service. To combat such situations, it so important to model professional standards each and every day. Many common idioms also spring to mind when I think about what it means to be a good role model, in simple terms as an effective role model for your service you should strive to ‘practice what you preach!’. This involves living the change or the standards you want to see in your service or room. As a role model for best practice in ECCE you should inspire confidence in your team members – participate in regular CPD, be interested in the best approach, make resources available for your team, share best practice knowledge, encourage and recognise skilled practices. Along with this the truly professional leader should have the capacity to recognise strengths and weaknesses of their service and their team. Both current and potential strengths need to be assessed in order to identify possible areas for growth and development.
The power of enthusiastically leading contributes to success in facilitating and developing professional practices. The powerful yet simple strategy of utilising encouragement in practice is invaluable, yet is not without its complexities. It involves being a visionary, being a skilled communicator and a professional role model for practitioners. Success comes from aiming high with a clear vision.
Interested on more on this topic? I recommend the following resources:
Cook, J. (2013). Leadership and management in the early years: a practical guide to developing confident leadership skills. London: Practical Pre-School Books.
Moyles J. (2006). Effective leadership and management in the early years. Maidenhead: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill Education.
Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Manni, L. (2006). Effective Leadership in the Early Years Sector (ELEYS) Study. London: Institute of Education. [online], available: Google Scholar [accessed 26 July 2018].