The leadership situation which I am aware of in the context of early childhood education (ECE) is an organization antibias education. The teacher was faced with the difficult task of creating approaches and activities which could integrate socially and culturally sensitive matters into children’s education. In particular, the greatest attention needed to be paid to creating an inclusive and equal environment for all members of the community. This experience is most relevant for New Zealand, which is a multicultural country and needs to preserve traditional values.
As part of this challenge, the ECE teacher took on the role of a transformational leader, working with colleagues to develop a series of workshops in which teachers, children, and their families could participate. The organization of workshops required the teacher to be actively involved in learning about the needs of children and the community, as well as cooperation with colleagues and parents. Moreover, the creation of workshops also meant communicating with members of ethnic minorities to provide children with the most complete information about the culture and traditions of New Zealand. Thus, the teacher played a leadership role to motivate and coordinate a team of colleagues, acquire information about the community, and also research the educational needs of children.
The educational context is an important aspect of the formation of ideas about the social structure of children. Kelly-Ware (2019) underlines that “ECE settings are often the first contact that families have with education settings, making them important social spaces for children learning about the world” (p. 56). Thus, changes in favor of inclusive and unbiased education are essential for modern ECE. Te Whāriki contains principles and standards according to which social and cultural context are important aspects of children’s education (Ministry of Education, 2017). The curriculum promotes principles of empowerment, holistic development, family and community, as well as relationships, which form “foundations of curriculum decision making and a guide for every aspect of pedagogy and practice” (Ministry of Education, 2017, p. 17). Within ECE, children are perceived as active learners, which encourages their participation in the educational environment and their own education.
First and foremost, transformational leadership involves the constant search for opportunities for improvement and change. Often more emphasis is placed on developing leadership skills among directors and administration than among those working directly with children (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2005). Leadership in the ECE setting can play a crucial role in quality improvement (Sims et al., 2015). Therefore, a leadership attitude and activities of teachers can contribute to the overall well-being and development of children (Douglass, 2018). Therefore, pedagogical leadership is the core responsibility of ECE teachers. It includes “taking care of children’s learning, but also promoting professional development and influencing educational values and beliefs in the community” (Kahila, Heikka & Sajaniemip, 2020, p. 28). The situation described is an example of how the teacher seeks to shape learning according to the social and cultural needs of children, families, and community, demonstrating transformative leadership skills.
A curriculum that is socially fair and inclusive involves taking into account the interests of both children and the community. Lin, Lake & Rice (2008) emphasize that teachers need to constantly consider issues of social justice and include them in the curriculum so that they become a subject of interest to children. The formation of changes depends on the activities within which “negative attitudes towards difference and diversity are countered with new understandings and knowledge” (Gordon-Burns et al., 2012, p. 7). Thus, in order to transform ECE in accordance with antibias education, all children’s concerns and questions about sensitive matters need to be addressed. The situation considered is consistent in this respect with leadership principles since the teacher strives to organize activities that can make positive changes in the creation of an environment of inclusiveness and equality.
The ability to participate in experimental practices is the foundation of transformational leadership, which is especially relevant in relation to antibias education. Before taking action to bring about change, the leader needs to critically assess the situation and the needs of the people involved. Leadership needs to take into account the different contexts, including political, social, and cultural, within which new approaches need to be applied (Heikka et al., 2019). Moreover, the teacher’s actions should be related to broader cultural issues, local regulations, and curricula (Bøe & Hognestad, 2017). Thus, the situation described reflects the desire of the teacher to use new techniques within the existing context. The trainer first looked at the issues presented in the community, paying particular attention to the needs of the participants. Further, the teacher developed practices that would most effectively affect the situation. In particular, the creation of workshops made it possible to provide children, parents, and teachers with a new method for communication and research on the socio-cultural characteristics of the community.
The transformational leader takes responsibility for his or her activities and bases his or her actions on knowledge and expertise. Within the framework of ECE, the teacher needs to critically assess their initiatives and activities, reflecting on their own habits and identity. It is important since these aspects affect how and what children will learn (Education Council, 2017). In the described situation, the teacher ensured the interaction of teachers, parents, and children to create the most objective environment. The active role of the teacher in the created workshops is presented as a manifestation of a leadership role, in which the leader strives to provide support and guidance to the followers. The researchers note that reluctance and lack of motivation to take on leadership responsibilities are often observed among ECE educators (Li, 2015; Waniganayake, 2014). These circumstances can be associated with a number of working conditions, as well as a lack of opportunities for development (Klevering & McNae, 2019). However, in the situation described, the teacher organized both the cooperation of parents and teachers and their active participation in the creation of workshops. In particular, the participants were motivated by the common goal of creating a more inclusive and equal environment for children. This circumstance characterizes the teacher’s activity as transformational not only in relation to the educational process but also in the life of the team and community.
The teacher’s initiative was based on community values rather than personal ambition and ideas, which characterizes the professional as a responsible leader. Dana & Yendol-Hoppey (2005) emphasize that teacher leaders are considered as advocating children’s development and growth, as well as actively working for the change. Thus, teachers purposefully develop pedagogical strategies to change the educational environment in accordance with a specific goal. Change is based on expertise and knowledge of the interests, needs, and skills of children, which provides ECE teachers with an effective decision-making process (Heikka, 2014). This expertise allows competent professionals to take responsibility for their actions and take a leadership position in the implementation of changes. Thus, the described situation emphasizes that the teacher leader has the necessary knowledge and qualities to critically assess the situation and apply his professional skills to transform the environment.
The teacher’s activity in creating a workshop also implied organizing interaction between teachers, parents, and children. Kivunja (2015) defines the role of the team stakeholder for the leader within the ECE as a key one. This assumes that the teacher leader not only sets the main purpose and distributes tasks among the team members but also takes an active part in achieving the goal. Moreover, the most important aspect of being successful is the self-interest in bringing about change and the ability to motivate other people. The Code of Professional Responsibility also assumes the commitment to society and the teaching profession as integral parts of ECE (Education Council, 2017). The teacher’s activity in the described situation fosters engagement in professional, respectful, and collaborative relationships with colleagues since it involves the joint work of not only other teachers but also parents. The workshops were also developed jointly with colleagues, which allowed them to use the maximum amount of experience and knowledge to create effective activities. The teacher in the described situation relied on the expertise of the whole team, not striving for individualized work. This aspect makes the described activity most valuable as it respects the efforts and values of all members of the educational team.
The teacher in the described situation strove to create workshops that would bring change and help create a more culturally sensitive and inclusive community. This aspect emphasizes the fact that this activity largely reflects the diversity of the heritage, language, identity, and culture of the staff members, families, and, in particular, whānau. Within the framework of the workshops, the greatest attention was paid to the closer acquaintance of children with the concepts traditional for New Zealand. Although culturally responsive learning is mandated by ECE performance standards, the workshops helped organize the learning process in a more exciting way for children (Ministry of Education, 2017). Additionally, they ensured communication between community members, since not only children and teachers but also families could take part in the workshops, which makes this experience the most culturally valuable.
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