My experience in the Early Childhood (EC) sector has been over many decades working for small to large sized organizations. In February this year, I made the move to Gumnut Gardens a stand-alone 46 place long day program in Paddington. What follows is a discussion of my experience of moving in to a leadership role with a new team. I commenced the new role in February and it is now the beginning of May.
Any new person to a team or group of staff will bring fresh eyes to the work place. I define fresh eyes as the perspective, view or lens the individual applies to the operation of the centre. An individual’s perspective is formed by their experience and knowledge in and of the sector. When new to a centre, the individual tends to apply their perspective to the existing operation of the setting resulting in forming an image or impression of the current practices and procedures.
As well as the application of ‘fresh eyes’ to a setting, I was mindful of Rodd’s (2006) commentary around team development. The stages identified in team development are described as: forming, storming, and norming, performing and adjourning. In addition to a team working through the developmental stages a new staff member to any role in a centre, has the potential to change the dynamic of a team. The impact of this change to the team will vary and may be beneficial to the operation of the centre or conversely detrimental. Hence, in the early stages I was mindful of my actions and words and the impact on the team, as well as wanting to be respectful of current staff practices.
For the first few weeks, I observed and reflected on the practices and procedures. Regardless of the context of the setting, I am always curious as to ‘what informs practice’, which provided a basis from which to discuss and ponder how and why specific practices and aspects of the day occurred as they did. In addition to my curiosity I was enormously inspired and excited about many aspects of the program and provision of learning environments including the strong music program and the welcoming atmosphere of the centre. The centre embraces an out of the gate philosophy, and the preschool aged children participate in a ‘bush kindy’ program. On Tuesday and Thursday the children walk to Centennial Park which is on our doorstep, where they explore, run, and engage their learning dispositions against the backdrop of this wonderful environment. The educator’s documentation of the bush kindy is a skillful presentation of children’s learning and understanding whilst reflecting the children’s wonder and enjoyment of this natural setting.
So, where to start? In my consideration of a relevant and appropriate starting point I wrote some reflections, listened to staff and gradually introduced a process to support staff’s thinking and discussion around the National Quality Standards (NQS) QA 1. Educational program and practice. In my previous centre I had established a weekly pedagogical room meeting as a forum to discuss, curriculum and the provision and implementation, of the learning program.
Our pedagogical meetings were now established and gradually we were working through QA 1. I had been at the centre for nine weeks when we received notice of our Assessment and Rating (A&R) visit in May. The intended calm and measured process of reflecting on practice against the NQS standards took on a different turn. The impending A&R visit would influence and impact on a leisurely consideration of the NQS.
From the notification of the A&R visit till now (5 weeks), as a team, we have managed the following:
- Reviewed and re written the QIP
- Developed a number of improvement plans.
- Commenced work on the improvement plans.
- Reviewed the centre philosophy
- Established a leadership group
- Established a WH&S group.
In the NQS document, leadership is addressed in QA 7. The specific standards identify and prioritise elements or aspects of a centre’s operation and management that are influenced by leadership. For example, Standard 7.1 Effective leadership promotes a positive organizational culture and builds a professional learning community.
How has my leadership promoted a positive organizational culture?
Deal and Kennedy (1982) identify organizational culture as “the way we do things around here”(cited in Bolman & Deal, 2008,p.269). Organizational culture states what the team values and believes. As a new leader to the centre, it is expected the culture (what we believe and value) is changing as we work though the NQS as well as moving through the different stages of team development.
As for the learning community, this has commenced with the introduction of the pedagogical meetings. In addition, a reading program has been planned and will be introduced as a means of strengthening and building the learning community. The reading program will have different prompts and guides to support and assist staff in being successful. A culture and practice of reflective writing has commenced. The reflective writing is intended to support and guide educators’ in developing analytical thinking and associated skills.
From a leadership perspective the A&R visit has occurred at a beneficial time. Although the process of evaluating current practices against the NQS has been hastened and could not be undertaken at the intended leisurely pace it has identified and shown the team:
- To be knowledgeable and informed regarding children’s learning and the provision of learning environments.
- To be keen and enthusiastic in working towards the A&R visit
- To enthusiastically position and showcase the centre and its unique qualities.
- To work collaboratively and cohesively in the interest of the centre and children.
- To be open to suggestions and make change accordingly that reflect the NQS
- To be supportive of a new leader.
For now we sit and wait for our visit. The resulting A&R report will identify, assist and guide the team in our future endeavors. From a leadership viewpoint I will plan to integrate the report findings to reaffirm the vision for the centre. The vision is intended to capture all aspects of the centre’s operation, but as the leader, I need to consider the following: priortising the different operational aspects; supporting, guiding and assisting my colleagues in this process whilst ensuring all educators contribute to the vision so their input is acknowledged and respected.
The introduction of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) encouraged educators to think about ‘intention,’ I have applied this concept to my role as a leader which makes me reflect on the authenticity of my position.
Waniganayake and Semann (2011) challenge leaders to identify the characteristics they bring to the leadership role and how these qualities will influence, impact and support your leadership, as well as questioning – what is your leadership for? These questions act as a great prompt for reflections at different times and stages in my leadership journey.
For now, my intention as a leader in the context at Gumnut Gardens:
- To empower staff in their advocacy for children and their learning.
- To embed a learning community.
- To grow the pedagogical practice.
As the team progresses through these tasks it will also provide us with the opportunity to be working through the different stages of team development. The organizational culture and what we value and believe as a group will also become apparent as we address these tasks.
To sum up my experience as a leader thus far in this setting: interesting, challenging, rewarding and enjoyable. It is a great opportunity to work with new colleagues and reflect on my leadership within this context.
Bolman, L., & Deal, T. (2008). Reframing Organisations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
Rodd, J., (2006). Leadership in Early Childhood. (3rd Ed.) Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Waniganayake, M., & Semann, A. (2011). Being and becoming leaders. Rattler, 100 (4), 22-24.