5 questions you should ask to improve your ECEC centre leadership
The National Quality Standards (NQS) recognise that effective leadership plays a pivotal role in guiding and supporting educators, co-ordinators and other staff members to deliver quality education and care programs. So it is important that those in early childhood education and care (ECEC) leadership positions understand how to get the most out of their staff.
Leaders are those in education and care programs who set strategic directions, foster professional values, and determine the daily operations of the service. In some situations, these leaders may be educational leaders, centre managers, owners, area managers, or directors.
Whilst leaders have a huge role to play within the service – crafting positive working environments, and supporting staff in continuous improvement and reflective practice – they also have a role within the broader sector and community. The most effective education and care leaders extend their practice beyond the boundaries of their service, into the local community, establishing links with other education and care services to form professional networks of practice.
With the Australian Children’s Education and Care Authority (ACECQA) recognising the complexities of services meeting and exceeding the NQS in Quality Area 7 – Leadership and Management – there is opportunity for approved providers, and leaders themselves, to reflect on how they meet the documented areas of challenge ACEQCA identifies, namely:
- Staff evaluations
- Individual development plans
- The role of the educational leader
- Large providers offering system wide benefits to their services
- Small providers or single service sites obtaining additional guidance around leadership and service management.
The Guide to the NQS notes that “effective leadership creates a positive organisational culture that values openness and trust, where people are motivated to ask questions, debate issues and contribute to each other’s ongoing learning inquiry”.
In the spirit of effective leadership, the following are offered as reflective questions, to support those who are not involved in day-to-day leadership of services (such as owners, area managers, and small and large providers) in their role to build and maintain a positive organisational culture, and strong leadership within sites and services.
1. Are there opportunities for those in your service to form professional networks of practice?
Consider here Walter Lippmann’s perspective: “when all think alike, no one thinks very much”. What opportunities exist for those who lead the service day-to-day to explore what other service providers are offering to address these common challenges?
Possible action: Reach out to another large or small service provider in your community. Invite their leaders in to explore your learning spaces, and host a networking meeting. You may focus this on a topic such as embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into the curriculum, or how risky play is managed.
2. Are there opportunities for your ‘shining stars’ to share their wisdom system wide?
For many service providers with more than one location, there are people in one location with an innovative solution for a day to day problem. Whilst that is of great benefit to the service they are in, what opportunities exist for them to share that learning? Is there a bank of knowledge which everyone can draw from? This might be an intranet – but how does that support busy educators, or those who are not so comfortable with technology? Can people find what they need, when they need it?
Possible action: Have your ‘shining star’ produce a guide on the skill or area where they do well. This could be a photo journal, a checklist, a video, written instructions – allow the staff member to share their solutions in whatever way suits them best.
3. How are educational leaders supported?
Educational leaders have influential roles within services. They are tasked with motivating, affirming, challenging and extending the practice and pedagogy of educators, and educational leadership is a role which can significantly impact the important work educators do with children and families. Are the educational leaders in your service/s people who are in the position by choice, or by default? How are they supported in their roles? What opportunities to they have to explore and develop within this role, and do they have sufficient time to meet the demands of their position?
Possible action: Reach out to your educational leader/s regularly to check int. How do they feel about their role? What’s working? What’s not? What do they want and need?
4. What supports growth and develops capacity in your service/s?
Programs that stand out are not only focused on checklists of quality indicators and best practices, but they have their eye on the prize – a clear vision of where they want to be (Carter 2003). Does your service have a collective vision of where they want to be as a whole? Do the individuals within your team/s have an understanding of their role in reaching this destination? How are the individual members of your team/s consulted about their learning and development, and what support is provided to help get them there? Remember – not all individuals learn in the same way. Some may learn best through conversations, others through lecture-style learning, and others through hands-on experiences. Whilst it’s easy to “tick a box” by offering online training to all employees, is this the best way to help them develop?
Possible action: Work with your team/s to complete this quick 7 question quiz, and tailor your offerings to the bulk of learning styles. For example, if the bulk of your team are kinaesthetic (hands-on) learners, visiting another centre to view their play environments will have a greater impact than reviewing a slideshow.
5. How are staff evaluations conducted?
Appropriate evaluations and performance management systems recognise the existing skills of educators and staff members, confirm that they are fulfilling their duties, and identify training and development needs. Evaluations and appraisals that are implemented well generally result in improved performance, communication, workplace practices and attitudes, self-esteem and team spirt.
What is the current staff appraisal system used in your service/s? Is this process valued by staff, or simply another thing to do? What changes do you implement based on their feedback? Is there a strengths-based approach used, recognising the value of the staff member, or is this a punitive space?
Possible action: Review the current staff appraisal process. Chose five people at differing levels of your service/s, and seek their feedback about the process. What would they like to see added or removed? What are the feelings about this process within the team? How many of their previously identified goals have they reached since their evaluation – if they do not know what goals they identified, or have not made any progress, this is a clear indication that the process is not working.
Leadership within the ECEC sector can be a complex space to navigate. However, with care, attention, and a collaborative drive towards continuous improvement by those at all levels of decision making, it need not be.
A range of resources and supports for leaders can be accessed through Early Childhood Australia’s Leadership Program.
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