What does leadership look like in child care?
Running a successful child care operation relies on teamwork, but what role does leadership play in early learning?
Forbes magazine contributor Kevin Kruse defines leadership as “a process of social influence which maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal”.
Many people define leadership by job titles and salaries. But as Kruse argues, just because someone is a senior executive, it doesn’t mmeanthey can deliver strong leadership.
The truth is, leadership means different things to different people and it can be hard to define.
In the early learning sector, it is vital to have the most effective leaders in place to guide the future leaders of tomorrow. Our children’s minds are undoubtedly our most important asset. But how do we best shape and guide the leadership capabilities of early childhood educators?
It’s a tricky question to answer, as there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. However, according to global leadership director Michael Fullan, effective child care leadership is achieved when “each and every educator strives to be an effective change agent”.
Why we need leadership in child care
While the context of early childhood education is constantly being redefined, child care leaders strive to provide the best outcomes for children and their families, as well as their own team.
The Australian child care industry needs more skilled child care educators, but just as important is having the ability to lead. This might be in the form of instigating new processes and procedures, or supporting children and their families with a range of complex issues that may arise.
Early Childhood Australia’s set of leadership capabilities can be used to guide childhood educators with professional leadership plans.
These capabilities encourage child care operators and educators to make children’s learning, development and wellbeing of their core focus, while simultaneously building respectful and genuine connections with families and communities.
What does great leadership in child care involve?
Early childhood educators are always looking to add to their tool kits – whether browsing a bookshop for resources to develop children’s language skills, or upskilling their use of technology to communicate with children’s families.
Even leading children in play and ensuring they nap when they are supposed to can make a significant difference to the quality of a child’s day, and the associated learning outcomes. Tired minds can easily become overstimulated, limiting a child’s ability to focus and retain new information.
While entertainment is vital to keep children engaged, it is also important to remember child care professionals are not babysitters. Educators are responsible for helping children reach important development milestones, manage business operations and staffing, and deliver an endless array of tasks and duties above and beyond the job description.
Leaders also support their team to instill confidence, encourage uniform learning outcomes and encourage other educators to inspire children to reach their full potential.
But again, just because someone is in a management position, doesn’t mean they are a natural leader. In early childhood education, leadership is about qualities and values rather than position.
How does leadership in child care function efficiently?
With a new Australian Child Care Package due to be implemented from July 2, 2018 there will be several major changes to child care operations, including a new Child Care Subsidy and the introduction of a new Child Care IT System.
All Australian child care centres will be required to use the national system to record enrolments and attendances, and process Child Care Subsidy payments.
In order to ensure everyone is on board with and understands the changes, effective and efficient leadership skills will be required.
As well as learning new systems and processes, there will be plenty of questions to field from families and other stakeholders.
Some children may even have questions about why they are attending childcare on a different day, or why their families may need to pick them up at a different time, as a result of changes brought about by the new Child Care Package.
These questions and concerns will need to be treated with respect and responsible leadership, in line with guidelines for the child care profession which commit to building respectful, trusting, nurturing and equitable relationships in early learning environments.
Leadership in child care functions most efficiently when everyone plays their part: not just the person with the manager’s badge.
Early childhood educators should be encouraged and empowered to deliver high quality early learning experiences.
Positive childhood outcomes can be reached by understanding that leadership is complex and dynamic and what child care leadership looks like can be unique to each and every centre.