Early Childhood Management
Working in the early childhood education requires the development of various skills in an education professional: one needs to become a successful leader, an efficient manager, a professional negotiator, a respected chairperson, a creative teacher, etc. to provide effectively, carefully designed and implemented services. Not only the legal issues and differences can influence the work of educational leadership, but also personal relationships and the understanding of emotions, needs, goals, and abilities has a significant impact on the effectiveness of one’s leadership skills. Undoubtedly, pre-training and professional education must be of utter importance for education leaders (Mitgang 2012).
However, a successful leader also needs to be patient, supporting, organized, either firm or fair depending on the context. Theory and practice are equally important in educational leadership, and the leader must understand how theory can be applied to practice, and how practice influences theory. The present issues in early childhood education management and leadership prove that we, as educational leaders, need to pay more attention to the quality of leadership, the factors that influence it, and the challenges or successes that shape our understanding of effective early education management.
Vital Leader’s Qualities
The early childhood manager I interviewed described the setting in the following manner: “a sports and exercise centered playscheme for children aged 4-12 years, based in a sports center” (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.). According to the interviewee, they are the managing director of the company. When asked about the qualities vital for a leader, the interviewee responded that effective communication, patience, punctuality, and organization were significant for successful leadership (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.).
According to Rodd (2012), leadership is enacted differently and depends on one’s personality, values, visions and beliefs, skills, experience, and other factors. Although the interviewee had not mentioned whether their view of a successful leader developed from their practice or theoretical knowledge, I believe that their experience played a more important role in deciding what qualities are essential for a leader.
As Rodd (2012) states, credible leaders are often described as honest, inspiring, competent, and forward-looking, as well as fair, motivational, responsible, and reliable. The interviewee also mentioned that a leader needs to be supportive and understanding and have a “firm but fair approach” (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.). As can be seen, the interviewee’s view of leadership qualities is in many ways similar to the one expressed in academic literature.
At the same time, there is an ongoing debate in the professional literature where the authors argue which of the approaches is more suitable for early education management: “more distant professional behavior [or] more affectionate, nurturing behavior” (Fuller 2008, p. 218). The latter is capable of making the child-care setting more formal and, therefore, more institutional (Fuller 2008). It appears that the interviewee has found the perfect balance between the two approaches, because, according to them, it is crucial to remain friendly but professional, become a teacher, enforcer, and trainer at the same time (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.).
As can be seen from the interview, the early childhood manager prefers to remain a professional with a friendly or supportive approach when needed. A happy childhood is more likely to be impossible without a friendly and supportive adult, especially in a sports center where the ability to lead and control is as important as the ability to understand and be sensitive. Nevertheless, the researchers also suggest another approach, namely love-based leadership (Uusiautti & Määttä 2013). According to the authors, love, tenderness, and care should be perceived as critical components of early childhood education (Uusiautti & Määttä 2013).
The basics of this approach include mindfulness, benevolence, perseverance, and sound judgment. These attributes are derived from positive psychology or religions such as Buddhism, for example. The leader is expected to be aware of their role and their self-image, as well as understand the significance of positive events and happiness in the workplace. Exhibiting love, trust, and forgiveness is essential, and students often respond with engagement and satisfaction to such an approach, Uusiautti and Määttä (2013) claim.
This approach is different from the one implemented by the interviewee who prefers to remain in professional boundaries in their leadership. On the one hand, professional boundaries are necessary when working in early childhood education because they help maintain adequate power imbalance and help understand teachers what consequences there might be if the teacher decides to engage “in certain behaviors with students” (ATRA 2015, p. 2).
One the other hand, Uusiautti and Määttä (2013, p. 112) argue that using and engaging emotions in education leadership is useful because they help leaders understand other people, see them as “the cause, target, or third-party observer of these emotions”. Thus, there is no “right” way to be a leader because leadership is seen differently depending on the chosen approaches, theoretical basis, and experience. Finding a balance between an emotional and professional approach, avoiding being too firm or too tender, basing one’s decisions both on child-centered and goal-centered leadership is a challenging task. Leaders use their experience, education, personality, views, and beliefs to treat their followers correctly and respectfully but there is no universal way to do it.
A Leader or a Manager?
During the interview, the interviewee and I also touched upon the issue of management in early education. I asked them whether they classified their role to be either a leader or a manager. The early childhood manager responded they saw those roles as similar, although managers had more responsibilities such as administrative ones, board meetings, etc. (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.). They also acknowledged that leaders could partake in the role if the manager was absent.
The research shows that the approach to education leaders and managers is different. Some of the researchers point out that it is more important to focus on leadership work instead of administrative duties (within the concept of shared leadership) (Heikka, Waniganayake & Hujala 2012). The authors notice that “accidental leaders are appointed to management positions simply by allocating the top job… to the most highly qualified person employed” with no regard to their leadership skills and capacity to lead (Heikka, Waniganayake & Hujala 2012, p. 39).
Thus, although the manager’s and leader’s experience and duties might be entirely different, they are frequently blended into one position, which does not necessarily provide more effective leadership and management. The danger of such a combined position is the person’s possible inability to control these two sides and ultimately failing in one (or both) areas. Such a failure has the potential to adversely influence not only the leader themselves but also employees and children/students.
At the same time, strictly distinguishing the roles of the leader and the manager also does not contribute to the motivation of employees. Nutbrown (2012) points out that management should not prevail over leadership because staffing, planning, and budgeting are essential, but some of the qualified and talented practitioners notice they spend the majority of their time in the office and not with the children.
Thus, being too focused on managerial duties or completely distinguishing management and leadership can be undesirable for educational professionals who are mainly interested in direct communication and work with children. The interviewee changes their roles, as certain situations demand them to; if necessary, they substitute one another if the interviewee aims to differentiate their position from other employees (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.).
Another issue in leader-manager relations is the fact that most of the existing research on effective leadership consists of qualitative studies that rely on self-reports, Aubrey, Godfrey, and Harris (2012) argue. At the same time, it was proven by numerous researches that leadership and leaders have a direct influence on organizational outcomes, and the efficiency of a leader relates to overall job effectiveness (Aubrey, Godfrey & Harris 2012; Mendels 2012).
Therefore, not only cognitive and interpersonal skills are of utter importance but administrate capabilities as well. A variety of leadership strategies is suggested: transformational leadership that focuses on the teamwork with subordinates or visionary leadership with its focus on the future of the organization. However, these models do not apply to the knowledge-oriented economy (Aubrey, Godfrey & Harris 2012). As a solution, distributed early childhood leadership is proposed. It includes “organizational learning at the center” and allows engaging multiple leaders, “each with expertise in a particular domain of operation” (Aubrey, Godfrey & Harris 2012, p. 8).
The model implies the leaders will work in a team, and the approach will be decentralized. A decentralized approach allows distributing the duties and tasks and ensuring the efficient performance of all leaders that are not responsible for all domains at once anymore. The interviewee, however, manages alone, shifting from leadership to management when necessary. Although such an approach does require being more responsible and reliable, it also guarantees a stable, unified approach based on the leader’s experience.
Multiple leaders can have various views on early education, while a single leader has a particular approach to it. While leadership is a process of influence, management is focused on maintenance, and they are used in different settings and times (Bush 2008). As can be seen, the interviewee has a similar approach towards management and leadership, choosing the time and situation suitable for leadership and managerial skills. Acknowledging the burden of responsibility, they prefer to control and manage themselves.
Manager-Staff Relationships and Challenges in Delivery Service
The importance of efficient, open, and trust-based relationships between the leader and the staff is obvious; it does not only influence the efficiency of the organization but also directly affects the performance of students (Mendels 2012). According to the interviewee, a solid relationship with the staff is vital (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.). Team meetings and bonding sessions are the keys; the interviewee maintains a warm and friendly attitude if the service is run professionally and effectively (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.).
According to Bhatti et al. (2012), teachers of both public and private schools tend to prefer a free work environment where sharing ideas and exchanging opinions is nourished and supported by employees and the leader(s). If employees are allowed to notify their leader about any adverse events or disagree with some of the propositions/statements made by the leader or other employees, the satisfaction with their job grows (Bhatti et al. 2012).
The interviewee had also admitted that they valued the ideas expressed by the staff, and provided support or one-to-one conversations if it was necessary (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.). Research also indicates that employees value the leader’s wisdom (Zacher et al. 2014). Some of the researchers also propose integrating transformational leadership more deeply and ensuring that school leaders (e.g. principals) are appointed for their posts only for their qualities and skills and not due to some political manipulations (Balyer 2012; Tourish 2013). At the same time, early childhood managers and leaders can face various challenges, as, for example, inequity or injustice.
Capper and Young (2012) point out that practicing social just leadership implies being inclusive, accepting marginalized, underrepresented, stigmatized, disabled, etc. individuals. Supporting culture shift in education and reviewing inclusive education is essential for leaders and employees who aim to change and improve educational practice (Florian 2013). Addressing the possible inappropriate behavior of teachers or staff is necessary since there is evidence that not all teachers understand the importance of maintaining a respectful approach towards diversity and diverse needs in a community (Santamaría & Santamaría 2013).
Although we did not discuss the issues of injustice particularity, the interviewee pointed out that the staff needed to remember their responsibilities and focus on effective service delivery (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.). Since children and their safety is the primary concern for the interviewee, it seems logical to conclude that they address both physical and emotional barriers that might create challenges in the setting.
Policies and Early Education
Policy regulations and various legislations have to be considered by all managers and leaders who work as early childhood education professionals. The setting is constructed according to various factors such as health and safety concerns, EYFS, child protection, safeguarding, risk assessments, and others (Anonymous 2017, pers. comm., n.d.). Since the interviewee manages a sports center that is visited by 4 to 12-year-olds, they also have to follow the guidelines specific to the safety of multi-age groups (Robertson 2015).
For example, the setting should be modified in such a way that it is suitable for the capabilities of the youngest children in the group (Robertson 2015). Of course, such precautions only create additional challenges for the manager, but they are crucial for child safety, even if they cause frustration in older children. In this case, role modeling can be used to explain the safety concerns and improve their understanding of older children.
Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a statutory framework that refers to the Childcare Act 2006 and covers all early years providers in England (Department of Education 2017; Chitty 2014). Some of the requirements include safeguarding children, promoting good health, ensuring the suitability of adults who contact children, and managing behavior (Department of Education 2017). The requirements have to be considered in all settings of the provider; although some of them might appear challenging or costly, their main aim is to guarantee the safety of children and address any concerns linked to child health and development.
The leader and staff members as well need to be aware of these requirements and follow them precisely. Furthermore, the responsibility of the leader is also in their ability to stay aware of any changes in legislation and legal frameworks and capacity to implement the required changes in their setting or practice. Although the requirements might appear as limitations at first, they contribute to the efficiency of child safety control in the state.
As it can be seen, early education leadership and management are a multilayered domain that focuses on internal and external factors, such as leader’s qualities and competence, staff motivation and knowledge, the ability of the leader to maintain trustful relationships with the staff, legal frameworks, policies, and legislation. Managers should not ignore any challenges that arise in the setting, such as physical barriers, inadequate care, unjust attitude, neglect, emotional or physical pressure, etc. Working with children implies that the manager possesses particular features, can assess risks, build relationships with followers, understand human psychology, and perform complex decision-making.
Effective managers value the contribution of their staff, understand the needs of children, focus on health and safety requirements, cultivate the culture of understanding, foster education, and remain professional but friendly both during day-to-day routines and emergencies. Early childhood managers understand the importance of research in their practice and implement research-based strategies.
Creating a culture that nurtures education, fosters positivity, and encourages leadership in employees is crucial for successful management within early childhood and education. The leader should not be focused on administrative tasks and requirements only since their primary aim is to work with children and use their experience, beliefs, and wisdom to ensure the successful performance of children in a given area.
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