WHAT IS EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP IN EARLY YEARS EDUCATION AT KIDS COLLEGE CHILDCARE?
Educational Leadership is important at Kids College. We have a team of early childhood professionals lead by our Educational Leader (sometime referred to as Pedagogical leader). We view our role as professional educators as, being the best we can be every day. We have a strong leadership structure that promotes our ongoing cycle of continual development and a sustained commitment to excellent professional practices at Kids College. We advocate for the importance of early years education and ensure we are providing our precious children with the best quality education and care.
‘Studies show that leadership can positively impact on the quality of the centre as a workplace, the quality of education provided and the developmental outcomes achieved by children over time’ (Waniganayake et al., 2017). Our quality practices lead our journey and resulted in us achieving the highest rating of Exceeding the National Standards in 2015. We use this as our springboard and motivation for increasing our quality every day and constantly striving to do better and be better each and every day.
We have a strong team and work collaboratively together supporting our diverse strengths and experiences to share professional knowledge, understanding and skills. Heading up our education team is our Educational Leader who motivates and inspires our team to reach our goals and live our philosophy vision each day. ‘Effective leaders motivate, inspire and aspire others to realise shared goals (Rodd, 2013, p. 36). Our educational leader provides guidance on educators’ pedagogy and professional practice, by supporting educators to build and nurture secure respectful relationshipswith children and families, and assisting educators to articulate how and why they make decisions about the curriculum/program.
Jennifer Scafidas is Kids College Childcare’s Manager, Educational Leader, Early Childhood Teacher and Nominated Supervisory Officer.
Why does Kids College have an Educational Leader?
The National Regulations expect that the approved provider of a children’s education and care service ‘must designate, in writing, a suitably qualified and experienced educator, co-ordinator or other individual as educational leader at the service to lead the development and implementation of educational programs in the service’ (Regulation 118).
Although the role of educational leader is specifically articulated in Quality Area 7, it is important to recognise the interrelationship between Quality Area 7 and Quality Area 1.
Analysis of the assessment and rating process to date has confirmed a fundamental link between the effectiveness of leadership and service management and the effectiveness of the educational program and practice, especially in support of the development and implementation of the education program, and assessment and planning cycle.
The Guide to the National Quality Framework (ACECQA, 2018, p. 303) outlines that the primary requirements of the educational leader role are ‘to:
- collaborate with educators and provide curriculum direction and guidance
- support educators to effectively implement the cycle of planning to enhance programs and practices
- lead the development and implementation of an effective educational program in the service
- ensure that children’s learning and development are guided by the learning outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework and/or the Framework for School Age Care or other approved learning frameworks’.
Why is the role of our education Leader important?
Research and an examination of some of the emergent literature highlights the following key points:
- Strong leadership is a key characteristic of effective early childhood settings, with trained ‘curriculum leader’ teachers having the greatest impact on setting quality and children’s educational outcomes (Sylva, Melhuish, Sammons, Siraj-Blatchford & Taggart, 2004).
- Analysis of the most effective of these settings identified key characteristicsof effective early years leadership practice (Siraj-Blatchford & Manni, 2007).
- Educational leaders require an understanding of children’s learning and how to promote that learning. They also benefit from understanding how adults learn and develop in the workplace (Ord et al., 2013).
- Educational leadershipis best understood as a practice ‘concerned with the actions and the processes of constructing or deconstructing knowledge according to the context of the learning groups and individuals (ecology of the community), and recognising the set of social axes’ (Male & Palaiologou, 2015). These ‘social axes’ include values, beliefs, culture and external influences such as mass media and technologies.
What makes a suitable educational leader?
Qualifications, experience, well-developed knowledge, skills and attributes are all important factors when selecting a suitable educational leader. While the NQS and National Regulations are not prescriptive about the qualifications that educational leaders must hold, educational leaders need to demonstrate that they can undertake the role effectively. Education and care qualifications;knowledge of theories, learning and development; and knowledge of curriculum approachesare essential for success in this role. Assessment and rating data indicates a correlation between the educational leader element and NQS Quality Area 1, that is, services that meet the requirements for an educational leader, generally do better in the elements and standards related to educational programs and practices. Our Kids College Educational Leader has a; Cert lll Children’s services; Diploma in Children’s services; Advanced Diploma in Children’s Services, TAE Certificate in Training and Assessment; Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood) and over twenty years experience
Ideally, educational leaders should demonstrate:
- an understanding of the expectations of the sector and, specifically, the National Regulations, NQF, NQS, approved learning frameworks, child development, theory and philosophy
- contemporary understanding of evidence-based best practice approaches to teaching and learning
- a strong interest and demonstrated practice in acquiring knowledge (for example, reading widely and taking up opportunities to learn more about working with children and families)
- a good knowledge of the children’s education and care sector, the setting they will be working in, and a willingness to learn
- a capacity to share with others the knowledge they acquire
- a commitment to upholding professional standards such as the ECA Code of Ethics (ECA, 2016).
Educational leaders will need a range of skills to effectively undertake the role. As part of the job requirements, an approved provider must seek, or hope to develop, skills such as:
- educational program planning
- application of the assessment and planning cycle, as applied to each child (jurisdiction-specific) and the program as a whole
- excellent communication skills (both written and oral) and the capacity to convey complex ideas in accessible ways
- offering inspiration and motivation to the team, to encourage exemplary practice and an excitement for change
- delegating responsibility and key tasks to others, as a means of empowerment and capacity building
- the ability to come up with creative and innovative solutions, and work with others to try new ideas and explore alternative ways of practice
- the ability to give and receive feedback, and use it to support growth and improvement
- time management skills and the capacity to prioritise multiple expectations
- leading change and supporting others to shift practice
- mentoring and coaching others.
Many attributes contribute to the effective practice of educational leadership. They are similar to those required in leaders generally, and make engagement with teams considerably easier. Attributes or characteristics that an educational leader is expected to portray include:
- respectfulness—acting with empathy; mindful of the needs and right of others
- honesty and integrity—always being truthful and following through on agreed actions
- confidence—demonstrating willingness to speak up and advocate for best practice
- courage—being prepared to address difficult issues
- enthusiasm—being positive, open-minded and willing to try new approaches
- commitment—showing a level of responsibility to the role and those in the team
- decisiveness—making clear and transparent decisions
- empowerment—sharing the power and decision-making with others
- generocity—being courteous with colleagues and families in the service
- cooperation—showing a commitment to collaboration with all members of the team, especially those who find it difficult to participate.
Key aspects of the educational leader’s role in leading, developing and implementing the educational program
Mentoring and supporting educators’ understanding of educational program and practice, such as:
- how theory supports best practice in all parts of the program
- building relationships and interactions with children to assist their learning through play and leisure-based programs
- intentional teaching strategies and thoughtful, deliberate educator practices that support children’s wellbeing, learning and development
- routines and transitions
- providing for continuity of learning when children transition to ,from or within the service
- developing documentation that is meaningful, relevant and promotes reflection on educators’ pedagogy and practice
- drawing on a range of understandings about learning theories and styles, as well as educators’ strengths, to develop educators’ professional skills and confidence
- encouraging and empowering educators to draw on their creativity, intuition, knowledge of child development, as well as children’s knowledge, identity and culture in their teaching and planning for learning
- liaising with other early childhood education and care professionals (such as therapists, maternal and child health nurses, and early childhood intervention specialists)
- assisting educators to make connections in the community, including with diverse cultures and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Elders or their representatives.
Undertaking the Role: The Educational Leader’s perspective
- Being a leader-manager
- Leading others
- Leading practice
- Identifying and leading practice that exceeds the NQS
- Leading the change
Kids College Educational Leader’s perspective,
Being a Leader –Manager
Leadership is difficult to define and no one definition can be easily picked, as leadership is a complex multifaceted action. Leadership changes over time within the Bronnfenbrenner’s chronosystem. Leading and managing changes over time and the more we explore this topic the more we realize just how much more there is to learn and ponder. The roles and relationships between people and the early childhood settings sets the tone for modern leadership.
Managing was traditionally viewed as just day-to-day running, whereas leading was considered more long term and larger scale. The combination of these words leading and managing lends itself to the every day lives of early childhood professionals in the pursuit of educational leadership. The actions of a leader are prompted from a vision with values and beliefs and represents how the leader thinks and feels and the actions that are taken to not just manage but to lead aswell. Leadership guides an organization and its people and builds its capacity not just to deal with the everyday issues to remain true to the overall vision and taking the actions, big and small to achieve it.
Leadership and management are ‘just different sides to the same coin’ (Waninganyake, Morda & Kapsakalis, 2000. p. 13) Management is seated in the present and leadership is seated in the future. To be an effective leader we need to be open to ideas, willing to listen and share experiences. Leadership encompasses emotional intelligence and is deeply seated in social skills. (McCrea, 2015, p. 29) This leads to a strong social justice framework for all and leads to an advocacy approach. Leaders create a climate of inclusiveness and respect for everyone. Leaderships requires you use ‘moral high ground, your values, strengths, integrity and fairness’. (McCrea, 2015, p. 158) Goleman (1998) pioneered the idea that ‘the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others, was a hallmark of effective leaders.’ (Goleman, 1998, p. 27) Knowing yourself allows you to work from an informed framework of emotional intelligence to be an effective leader.
Leading-managing requires emotional intelligence, a knowledge of yourself and the ability to work together cooperatively to guide and inspire each other, acting from a moral values standpoint to create a social ethical space both in everyday tasks and long term goals.
Leadership begins with you … It is unlikely that you will be able to inspire, arouse, excite and motivate others unless you can show who you are, what you stand for, and what you can and cannot do (Goffee & Jones, 2006).
As Educational Leaders we believe in:
- upholding the rights and best interests of the child
- viewing children as successful, competent and capable learners
- ensuring equity, inclusion and diversity underpins our work
- valuing Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures
- ensuring the role of families is respected and supported
- demonstrating best practice in the provision of education and care services.
Kids College Educational Leader’s perspective,
Building relationships with colleagues
An essential part of becoming and being an educational leader is building respectful and supportive relationships with the team. This includes getting to know the team members personally and monitoring their progress in relation to the expectations of the education and care program, and assessment and planning cycle.
Communicating with staffing team
Communicating in effective and compelling ways is an essential skill for educational leaders. It is crucial to ensure that all educators and staff members understand expectations and are informed about any changes in direction, as this helps build a shared understanding of educational program and practice.
Meeting with the team
Engaging with educators and other service staff to discuss matters related to teaching, learning and child wellbeing is an essential function of educational leader practice. Meetings provide the opportunity to determine shared understandings, identify issues and challenges, and agree on practice strategies that enhance quality and support outcomes for children and their families.
Responding to challenging people
Dealing with challenging people is not about winning or getting the upper hand; it is about finding useful and shared approaches that enable both parties to move forward. For leaders, this could sometimes require compromising and, at other times, standing firm on agreed ways of practice. A helpful rule of thumb is to share the decision-making as much as possible. A power ‘with’ rather than a power ‘over’ approach—in which leaders share the decision-making and come to agreed ways forward—is always preferable and far more inclusive. This approach might help find new, previously unthought-of solution.
Being a mentor to individual members of the educator team can be a key feature of effective educational leadership. It is an extension of building supportive relationships with teams and is based on trust and a shared goal of improving practice. Besides offering mentoring to the educator team, educational leaders might consider sourcing a mentor for themselves. These formal arrangements ensure that everyone is offered time for critical self-reflection.
Observing each other’s practice and learning from one another is a useful practice-improvement strategy. Educational leaders must consider building peer observations into their practice repertoire, where they observe educators’ practice and educators observe theirs. This is particularly useful when issues in program delivery arise, or there are complexities in children’s participation in the service. Peer observations should be supportive and positive, and kept separate from any performance or management issues.
Supporting professional learning
Well-planned, well-resourced professional learning is an essential part of quality and continuous improvement. And educational leaders are uniquely placed to support as well as shape the provision of professional learning at their service. This is because they have an ongoing connection with the educators, the challenges their team faces and the new ideas it would like to explore.
Communicating with families
The educational leader can implement processes to regularly communicate with families about the scope of their work and the various ways in which they support continuous improvement.
Kids College Educational Leader’s perspective,
1.Using approved framework
The approved learning frameworks support the work of the educational leader. Referencing the frameworks in meaningful and contextual ways can build confidence and capacity of the educator teams, and help families develop a greater understanding of children’s learning and the purpose of children’s services
- Fostering reflection
Another key responsibility of the educational leader is to nurture a culture of critical reflection among the team (Quality Area 1.3.2: Critical reflection [ACECQA, 2018, p. 90]). Critical reflection is also embedded in the Exceeding NQS themes, and it holds the key to practices that respond to the diverse contexts and experiences of children and their families.
While educators may be willing to explore opportunities to think more deeply about their practice, they may be uncertain about how to choose content, what processes to apply and how to make records. Educational leaders can offer tangible and practical support to assist the team in developing the habit of critical reflection, and impart the skills to make the process meaningful.
3.Supporting the assessment and planning cycle
A central responsibility of the educational leader is to help educators understand, implement and share the assessment and planning cycle. This process underpins the quality of the decisions made by educators and helps ensure that children’s education and care services enrich and enable children’s learning and wellbeing. The Guide to the National Quality Framework (ACECQA, 2018, p. 96) suggests that ‘With guidance from the educational leader, educators:
- use an approved learning framework to underpin their everyday practice. The framework guides interactions with children and families and provides the basis for educators’ pedagogical decision-making, including the experiences that are planned for children and the teaching and learning that occurs
- develop the educational program based on their knowledge of each child so that the interactions, experiences, routines and events that each child engages in are relevant to them, respectful of their background and recognise and build on their current strengths, abilities and interests
- ensure that the interactions, experiences, routines and events included in the educational program maximise opportunities for children’s learning’.
4. Establishing systems
It is essential to establish service-wide systems that will allow the educational leader to know how the education program is being delivered and what strategies are being used to support improvements.
5. Community of practice
A Community of Practice is a useful model for an educational leader to consider. This approach is about drawing together:
… a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. This definition reflects the fundamentally social nature of human learning. It is very broad. It applies to a street gang, whose members learn how to survive in a hostile world, as well as a group of engineers who learn how to design better devices or a group of civil servants who seek to improve service to citizens (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2011).
Kids College Educational Leader’s perspective, Identifying and leading practices that exceed the NQS
‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea’ (Antoine de Saint-Exupery).
At its most aspirational, the role of an educational leader is a key enabling factor in the delivery of quality teaching and learning experiences for children in education and care services around the country. As the above quote suggests, asserting the role as that of an advocate for work with children—an opportunity to harness the extraordinary joy and enormous privilegethat comes from being connected with children’s learning and wellbeing—will help drive the commitment to continuous improvement.
Educational leaders play a central role in supporting a culture of continuous improvement, empowering their staff to strive towards practice that consistently delivers the best outcomes in terms of children’s learning and wellbeing, and communication with families and the community. As a champion for quality, the leader pursues excellence in all aspects of the educational program and practice, and inspires others to do the same. A shared commitment to continuous improvement by all educators is a mark of exemplary practice.
The educational leader must become a highly valued part of any children’s education and care service that aims to uphold the rights and wellbeing of children. The role of the educational leader, as described by the National Regulations (New South Wales Government, 2018) and the National Quality Standard (NQS) (ACECQA, 2017), is of an effective leader, rather than a monitor or compliance officer. The aimof the educational leader is to support educators with technical practice, compliance and procedure; and lift their gaze to refocus their energy on understanding the limitless potential, and upholding the rights and wellbeing of children.
Leading practice includes considering how the Exceeding NQS themes(ACECQA, 2018, p. 331) are reflected in the service’s programs, practices and policies. These themes were introduced in 2018, in response to requests from the sector to provide additional guidance on practice that exceeds the NQS. Kids College was rated as Exceeding the National Standards in 2015.
While it is important to recognise that educational leaders are not solely responsible for the demonstration of Exceeding NQS themes, they do play a role in building an understandingof the expectations of the Exceeding NQS benchmark. This includes understanding how the themes relate to everyday practice, supporting educators to identify practice that reflects the themes and planning for continual improvements.
The three Exceeding NQS themes are:
- Theme 1: Practice is embedded in service operations
- Theme 2: Practice is informed by critical reflection
- Theme 3: Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community.
Using the Exceeding NQS themes for improvement
To ensure continuous improvement, educational leaders could consider developing specific processes that focus on the Exceeding NQS themes. For example, educational leaders might:
- support educators in undertaking a self-reflection process that identifies practice strengths and challenges
- select a specific Quality Area or Standard of the NQS that the team is working on, and use the Exceeding NQS themes to identify further considerations and action
- explorean identified issue or achievement using an Exceeding NQS theme—for example, using:
» a parent’s concern about the nappy-changing process to invite educators to reconsider how to generate a meaningful engagement with families
» a family’s question about how their child’s home work will be managed afterschool as an opportunity to communicate these ideas to the whole-school community
- choose one of the Exceeding NQS themes and invite educators to think of work examples that demonstrate this approach—for instance, family day care educators might work together to identify shared practice approaches for taking children out into the community, or collecting children from school, or preparing for meal times
- discuss and demonstrate how the service’s leadership team supports collaboration with educators, to effectively lead the development of the curriculum and set high expectations for teaching and learning
- encourage educators to discuss and demonstrate how they:
- » feel supported to learn and grow in their professional practice
» work with the educational leader to consistently deliver an educational program that sets high expectations for each child’s learning.
Kids College Educational Leader’s perspective,
Leading change 8 steps and action research
A likely part of the educational leader’s role is to lead change. This change process is articulated as ‘continuous improvement’ in the NQS. There are many resources available to help professionals understand and lead change. One of the most famous and well-used is John Kotter’s (2018) eight-step process for leading change.
These steps can be implemented by educational leaders to inspire reflective questions about existing practices and to support the process of change where it is required.
The eight-step process for leading change (adapted from Kotter, 2018) and related questions that may help in its implementation
- Create urgency: Develop a sense of urgency around the need for change.
- Form a guiding coalition: Building momentum for change requires strong leadership
- Develop a vision and strategy:A drive for change needs a clear vision.
- Communicate the vision: Constantly communicate about the new vision.
- Enable action and remove obstacles: Take practical action to put supportive structures in place and empower and encourage smooth transition.
- Generate short-term wins: Success breeds success
- Hold the gains and build on change: Continuous improvement and seeing each success [and failure] as an opportunity
- Anchor changes in the culture:Become embedded in the ‘new way we do things around here’.
Undertaking action research Reflect, plan, act and observe
Action research is a deeper form of professional learning that supports educators in thinking deeply about their work with children, and about their understanding of pedagogy. It is a process of local research activity that seeks to identify an issue or question and take action to improve practice. It differs from inquiry processes that are used with children in that it aims to help educators (rather than children) learn more and think differently. This process connects to, and can be understood as, practitioner research or educator research.
[Educator] research is important because it repositions the meaning of [educator] from one who simply performs or acts to someone who generates and contributes to the knowledge on which [our] practice is based and how decisions are made. [Educator] research is liberating and empowering inquiry that allows … [educators] to take their lives as teachers seriously, to generate knowledge and understanding that can improve teaching and potentially create a more democratic and equitable learning community (Stremmel, 2012, p. 114).
Action research can be used to think about what needs to change, come up with plans and try out new ideas. It is practical and should explore new concepts, help solve problems or improve practice. Educational leaders might consider applying action research (as explained in Figure 1.5 on p. 52) to extend and develop the education program and practice.
Kids College action research to measure our success with the RULER approach
To measure our previous quality position and to measure any changes experienced by implementing the RULER approach we have used the Respect, Reflect and Relate (RRR) resource to guide us in attaining an actual measure of difference as a before and after picture. The Observation scales in RRR comprise of two predictor variables – Relationships and Active learning, and two outcomes variables – Wellbeing and Involvement. In other words, the quality of the relationship between educator and children and the level of educators engagement in children’s learning are predictors of quality, while the level of the children’s wellbeing and involvement in their learning are seen as outcomes of quality.
The observation scales are designed to assess the overall quality of relationships and the learning environment and overall levels of children’s involvement and wellbeing rather than serving as an assessment of individual children or educators.This gives us the perfect way of actually measuring the quality of our early childhood setting. We measured our predictor variable, Relationships with the outcome variable, wellbeing. We saw an improved connection between the children and their educators and we saw an improvement in the wellbeing of the children. This really highlighted to us the truth of Bronnfenbrenner’s beliefs involving ‘how a child requires progressively more complex joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational, emotional, relationship with the child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid.That’s number one. First, last and always’ (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004, p. 12) We were also clearly able to see the level of children’s wellbeing that indicated how well our environment is succeeding in helping children develop trust and confidence, a sense of belonging, self-knowledge, and good emotional health, freeing children to participate in their curriculum learning with vitality and enjoyment. It is as simple as saying the more the children are loved the more they develop their sense of wellbeing and their capacity for learning explodes. At Kids College we are very proud and feel very privileged to be able to work with children during the most important time in their lives and to help create a stable base for their future learning.
Continuously seeking your input to share in our Kids College vision
We are continuously working on our service and wanted to let you know that we are going to be writing regular articles and seeking your engagement to build a shared vision for who the Kids College family are. We are currently working on our digital presence and have already set up our website, advertised proudly at Westfield Whitfords Event Cinemas and enhanced our facebook presence. Make sure to follow Kids College Childcare on facebook, watch for our regular emails and keep an eye on our Kids College website. Please join the Kids College family community and share in our vision of creating the very best childcare where children experience love, laughter and learning every day. You can reach us on Jennifer@kidscollege.com.au
Kids College Philosophy
“We pride ourselves on our team of enthusiastic and dedicated early childhood educators who participate in a lively culture of professional inquiry and value being life long learners with ongoing professional development in order to build shared professional knowledge, understanding and skills. We have a positive workplace culture that values and supports our professionalism as early childhood educators”. (Kids College Philosophy)
7.2.2 Educational Leadership. The educational leader is supported and leads the development and implementation of the educational program and assessment and planning cycle.
1.1.1 Approved learning Framework. Curriculum decision-making contributes to each child’s learning and development outcomes in relation to their identity, connection with community, wellbeing, confidence as learners and effectiveness as communicators