By Guest Blogger, Jennifer Carsen
Chief Chickie, Daycare in Demand
It is no surprise that most ECE professionals are drawn to the work because of the children—the ability to positively influence young minds and lives during those first few crucial years. A strong affinity for working with children, however, doesn’t always (or even often) translate into innate leadership skills.
While some ECE professionals relish the opportunity to develop their capacity for assured, effective leadership, others walk the path more reluctantly. But whether you’re enthusiastically skipping along or reluctantly dragging your feet, developing your leadership skills is a mandate rather than a choice. Your early childhood program is only as strong as the person at the helm.
In the corporate world, the idea of “leadership” is much more clearly laid out—there is a corporate ladder that must be climbed, with organized reporting relationships, project teams, and earnings targets. In the world of ECE, of course, things are much more fluid. Being a leader in an early childhood setting happens in the classroom, the lounge, the planning room, as well as the main office. When it comes time to hire new Assistant Directors, Site Directors, specialists, and other management positions, the candidates rarely have formal business or leadership training. So, you might find yourself asking, “What does it mean to be an effective early childhood leader?”
Laura Henry, an award-winning UK-based early childhood trainer and consultant, recently explored this issue on her blog in a post that outlines the concept of continuous improvement. Here are a few of her thoughts as to what this means:
- “Clarity about your values and how they mirror in practice
- Doing your best for every child
- Staff form meaningful, personal and positive relationships with children
- Environment challenges and supports children’s development
- Teaching clearly supports children’s current development and their next stages
- High standards in place, which staff are committed to
- Robust leadership, which is different from managing
- Rigorous auditing of practice not only completed by management, but by the whole staff team
- Moderation meetings to discuss children’s learning and development
- Stakeholder involvement and consultation
- Meaningful and regular two-way communication between home and setting
- Self-evaluation is a team effort
- Full understanding of reflective practice and use as a catalyst to improve
- Regular reflective professional development that impacts on practice
- Child’s voice and opinions are heard”
To me, her list embodies the idea of successful ECE leadership. I particularly like the focus on high standards to which everyone is committed , as well as the distinction between leadership and management. You can learn more in Laura’s webinar for Early Childhood Investigations on June 10, 2015.
A lot of management is the nuts-and-bolts everyday stuff—making sure that people are in the right places at the right times, doing the right things. It’s supervision and evaluation and, when necessary, discipline and performance improvement processes.
While “management” tends to be in the here-and-now, “leadership” is forward-looking. It’s your big-picture, North Star vision of where your program is headed and what you’re looking to achieve. Not only do you need to have a dream, but you need to be able to convey it in such a way that your team can picture it, too—and get excited about working to achieve it.
It’s a tall order, to be sure. But, as a teacher or administrator, you’ve actually got one great advantage over your corporate counterparts: Every day, you shape the future in your work with young children. Strong leadership is just a matter of expanding that vision to encompass your program as well.
Jennifer Carsen, author of this post will present a webinar, Snagging Talented ECE Teachers: Attract, Engage, and Retain the Best Teachers Who are in for the Long Haul, on August 5, 2015 at 2 PM. Join us!
Laura Henry, whose blog was referenced in this post, will present a webinar, ECE Program Quality: Your Leadership Role in Pushing the Boundaries, on June 10, at 2 PM. Register now!