For this assignment, you will refer to both 1) the three assigned articles on scholarly writing from this week’s resources and 2) at least three other articles on your chosen topic (which you will locate via the NCU library). Please note that the NCU library offers assistance for your research needs via email and live help. See the library home page for details, and don’t hesitate to reach out for help!
Plan to spend some time on reading this week, as reading scholarly writings at first is neither quick nor easy. You will probably want to read each article more than once to get the hang of this kind of writing. After reading all three articles that you selected from the library, reflect on the process of scholarly writing by answering the following questions:
Length: 3-4 pages, plus reference list and title page
References: Include a full-reference list and in-text citations for at least six scholarly references. Three of the references should be the three assigned articles on academic writing and the other three (or more) articles should be the ones on your chosen topic. Be sure to use this first assignment as a way to refresh your use of accurate APA format.
Your assignment should demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the ideas and concepts that are presented in the course and provide new thoughts and insights relating directly to this topic. Your response should reflect graduate-level writing and APA standards. Be sure to adhere to Northcentral University's Academic Integrity Policy.
Early Childhood Education Journal (2021) 49:669–679 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-020-01107-8
“Everyone Can Be a Leader”: Early Childhood Education Leadership in a Center Serving Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Children and Families
Clarisse Halpern1 · Tunde Szecsi2 · Veronika Mak3
Published online: 18 August 2020 © Springer Nature B.V. 2020
Abstract The aim of this study was to investigate the conceptualizations and early childhood education (ECE) leadership practices among teachers and administrators. A case study was conducted at a community ECE center that mainly serves Hispanic and Haitian immigrant children and families in Southwest Florida. Three administrators and four ECE teachers were interviewed about their views and experiences with ECE leadership. After aggregating the data into clusters, five themes emerged: (1) vision-driven leadership, (2) inclusive leadership (3) practice-focused leadership, (4) freedom and ownership vs. close supervision, and (5) advocacy for ECE. The findings indicated that the participants held a shared vision of collaborative and inclusive ECE leadership, which was expanded to include culturally and linguistically diverse children and families. Also, the teachers highlighted a pedagogical leadership style that directly impacted their everyday classroom practices to facilitate children’s and parents’ leadership experiences. All participants advocated ECE programs in which quality early care and education are ensured through inclusive leadership. Both teachers’ and administrators’ willingness to invest in leadership training and practices indicated their commitment towards a shared and democratic leadership model which is a pathway toward social justice.
Keywords Early childhood education · Leadership · Teachers and administrators · Case study · Immigrant families
The recognition of the long-term impact of early education on a child’s life has fueled the improvements in early child- hood pedagogy. Solid early childhood pedagogy must be nurtured through leadership to create quality early education and care (Hujala 2019). Educational leadership is a sustaina- ble model that uses collaboration to generate positive effects on student achievement and ensures long-lasting outcomes (Burns 2016; Ferdig 2007; Fullan 2005). Emerging from business and management theories, leadership studies were progressively incorporated into educational studies (Hoy and Miskel 2008; Jacobson and Cypres 2012). Nonetheless,
due to significant differences, corporate leadership theories seem incompatible with early childhood education (ECE) practices (Kagan and Hallmark 2001; Mujis et al. 2004). Corporate leadership caters to large, hierarchical, formal, and often product-oriented organizations, typically led by men, whereas ECE leadership tends to be more collaborative and distributive in smaller and more people-oriented institu- tions often led by women (Schein 2004). Current studies of ECE leadership highlighted the critical attributes predomi- nantly valued in the field of early childhood: collaboration, interpersonal relationships, pedagogical practices, and mul- tidisciplinary services to families (Nicholson et al. 2020).
Interest and demand for conceptualizing ECE leader- ship, and the need to provide evidence for research-based ECE leadership training and implementation emerged in the 1990s. Researchers in different countries conceptualized ECE leadership within their cultural context. Heikka and Hujala (2013) emphasized distributed leadership, pedagogi- cal leadership, and teacher leadership as core concepts in ECE leadership in Finland. In the United States, ECE lead- ership was approached by pedagogical and administrative
* Clarisse Halpern [email protected]
1 Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Culture, College of Education, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, USA
2 Department of Teacher Education, College of Education, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, USA
3 Fort Myers, USA
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leadership (Abel et al. 2017). Numerous scholars called attention to the development of emancipatory leadership in early childhood centers, including a range of ECE profes- sionals without limiting leadership roles to administrators (Nicholson et al. 2020).
Other researchers described the impact of collaboration and team support at the organizational level (Muñoz et al. 2015) and described the need for developing a holistic model that describes the administration’s responsibilities for using leadership to foster organizational integration (Haslip and Gullo 2018; Myers and Palmer 2015). Although shared char- acteristics of ECE leadership seem to emerge across cul- tures, Hujala et al. (2016) emphasized that ECE’s unique cultural contexts, guiding principles, and core values deter- mine the content of leadership tasks and responsibilities, and might differ in ECE schools and centers. Leadership is required to respond to challenges brought about by the changing demographics of student populations and diverse family structures and cultures in the United States (Krieg et al. 2014). Thus, the micro and macro-environments in which the early childhood centers operate play an essential role in the leadership culture and discourse.
Although theories of ECE leadership have been preva- lent during the past three decades, research-based knowledge is still needed. Hujala (2019) emphasized that producing research-based evidence on leadership is the prerequisite for developing a sustainable ECE leadership model. The percep- tion that leadership affects the quality of ECE practices is becoming widespread, thus, there is a pressing need to study ECE professionals’ perspectives on leadership, exploring the extent to which they hold shared values, vision, and views on the key factors that affect the leadership structure (Fonsén and Soukainin 2020; Heikka and Hujala 2013). Therefore, this case study explores ECE leadership’s views among administrators and teachers in a center in Southwest Flor- ida that serves immigrant children and families from Latin America and Haiti. First, we provide an overview of the literature on the conceptualization of ECE leadership. Then, we describe the context of the case setting, data collection and analysis, and discuss the five major themes responding to the research question, followed by recommendations.
ECE Leadership Conceptualization and Practices
Early studies on ECE leadership focused on its multi-dimen- sional nature, roles, and responsibilities, thus, suggesting that ECE settings required a more situational, socially con- structed, and interpretive approach (Hujala 2002, 2004). ECE leadership, grounded on pedagogical, curricular, and instructional goals, focuses on educational purposes, rather than leadership applied to managerial and business settings.
Hence, ECE leadership places a heavier emphasis on learn- ing processes, not only those experienced by children, but also by the entire educational team (Robinson et al. 2009).
Previous research found that ECE leadership fosters a col- laborative, teamwork culture and learning community cre- ated through periodic training, discussions and professional development (Chan 2018; Ueda 2014, 2015). Nonetheless, despite the importance of gaining leadership competencies for their practice and career progression, ECE teachers often lack the experience and mentoring opportunities to do so (Ebbeck et al. 2014). Thus, the primary goal of an ECE leaders must be to offer professional development programs to instill leadership attitudes, skills, and knowledge for their daily practices (Henderson 2017; LaRocco et al. 2014), and to develop “their staff to enhance children’s learning” (Nut- tall et al. 2018, p. 80). Other studies have explored the devel- opment of ECE leadership through mentoring and coaching, emphasizing the benefits of combining both strategies for highly effective learning of leadership roles, responsibilities, skills, and the assimilation of knowledge created between coaches and leaders on shared tasks and objectives (Carroll- Lind et al. 2016; Robertson 2011; Rodd 2013; Waniganay- ake et al. 2012; Wong and Waniganayake 2013). Regardless of the hierarchical level, ECE leaders’ essential competen- cies are effective leadership, shared responsibility, and pro- fessional learning (Bruns et al. 2017).
ECE leadership is aligned with a holistic model that describes the responsibilities and actions of ECE cent- ers’ directors while promoting more integration, shared knowledge, and visibility of the organization (Myers and Palmer 2015). ECE leadership should be principle-centered, grounded in humanistic, transformational, and value-based attributes (Carr et al. 2009), and should not be restricted to the administrative/managerial level, but must also include the teachers. Despite limited opportunities, Armstrong et al. (2009) found that teachers want to expand their leadership potential. Leadership opportunities must emerge from the school’s organizational structure, mainly from the princi- pal–teacher relationship. Leadership must occur at different levels to promote a supportive environment for school staff and children’s families and to benefit the children’s develop- ment and success. In this regard, Cheung et al. (2018) found that effective teacher leadership was comprised of different dimensions, including the classroom, teachers, and school levels at the ECE organization.
The importance of developing leadership skills at different hierarchical levels is justified by the need to take it as a process that influences “change to improve early care and education, and not reserved just for those with a formal leadership posi- tion” (Douglass 2018, p. 387). When educators are developed as leaders, they become empowered to lead change, improv- ing themselves and their students’ development. Similarly, Cheung et al. (2018) highlighted that children’s whole-child
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development is directly benefitted by the development of teachers’ leadership. Consequently, leadership must not be associated with a formal job title or job description; instead, ECE leadership must be a relational process that aims to influ- ence and impact change (Douglass 2018).
Whole Leadership Framework
The Whole Leadership Framework (WLF) was developed in the United States to address the conceptualization of ECE leadership at the program level for formal and informal lead- ership roles and program structures (Abel 2019; Abel et al. 2017; Kagan and Bowman 1997). This framework offered essential insights into the conceptualizations of ECE leader- ship and guided our investigation of ECE leadership percep- tions among teachers and administrators, particularly in a case about an ECE center that offers programs to culturally and linguistically diverse children and families in Southwest Florida.
Considering the WLF and the multifaceted nature of ECE, ECE program leadership encompasses three funda- mental and interdependent domains: administrative lead- ership, pedagogical leadership, and leadership essentials (Abel et al. 2017). The administrative leadership addresses the need to qualify, empower, and coordinate a team that develops and sustains the organization, including its opera- tions and strategic goals, offering programs that advocate for the needs of the children, families, and communities served. Pedagogical leadership entails providing high-qual- ity education based on the curricular philosophy, learning environment, and developmentally appropriate assessments, promoting family leadership through family engagement programs. Finally, the leadership essentials include critical personal attributes, skills, styles, and dispositions, such as adaptability, creativity, authenticity, empathy, self-efficacy, humility, and transparency (Abel et al. 2017).
Based on the literature review and guided by the WLF, we identified a need for empirical research to investigate ECE teachers’ and administrators’ perceptions of ECE leadership in a center that offers programs to culturally and linguisti- cally diverse families in Southwest Florida. We aimed to answer the following research question: What are the per- ceptions of ECE leadership among the teachers and admin- istrators? The results may inform stakeholders about ECE leadership, resulting in better practices that benefit children’s education.
A case study (Stake 2005; Yin 2005) was applied to exam- ine a real-life, intrinsic system (Creswell and Poth 2018) of ECE leadership practices. The case described ECE
administrators’ and teachers’ views of ECE leadership prac- tices in the context of an ECE center located in Southwest Florida, offering in-depth and contextualized perspectives (Merriam 1998) of the phenomenon under investigation. The case was selected based on a partnership between the university of the authors’ affiliation and the ECE center that offers preservice teachers’ internships and opportunities to practice strategies for English for Speakers of Other Lan- guages (ESOL) before graduation. The ECE center’s mis- sion is to serve underprivileged Latino and Haitian families using leadership practices that attend to the needs of these immigrant families. The researchers took a social construc- tivist epistemological standpoint to capture the participants’ perceptions of ECE leadership, understanding that reality is constructed in a meaning-making process based on their social interactions and experiences (Berger and Luckman 1985) with leadership practices.
The setting was a community ECE center in Southwest Flor- ida serving immigrant children and their families. Accord- ing to the center’s website, 85% of the families served live at-or-below the Federal Poverty Threshold, with the lowest income and highest poverty and unemployment rates com- pared to other parts of Florida. The per capita income is $16.670, 50% of the elementary age children are English language learners, and 31% of the population over 25 years of age have less than a high school education, 60% of parents have not graduated from high school, of which 24% have achieved less than a ninth-grade education, and 97% speak a primary language other than English in the home (i.e., pre- dominantly Spanish and Haitian Creole). Therefore, the ECE center, established in 2004, serves the most disadvantaged families in this community.
The mission and vision of this community ECE center target specific educational, socio-emotional, and linguistic needs of the local population, providing pathways out of poverty through educating children and families. The core values that guide the day-to-day work and interaction in the center include: (1) education for transformation, (2) high expectations toward excellence, (3) integrity and account- ability, (4) value of diversity, morals, and faith, (5) power of community and volunteerism, and (6) innovative and sustainable practices. The center offers a wide range of pro- grams, including ECE programs, after school programs for middle and high school students, adult education, English language courses, financial literacy courses, and family literacy activities. Recently, the community center’s cam- pus has been significantly expanded with new buildings to offer modern, comfortable, and well-equipped classrooms, offices, and meeting rooms. The ECE center has eight class- rooms with modern child-sized furniture decorated in an
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age, culturally, and developmentally appropriate way. All classrooms have learning centers with a reading corner, a socio-dramatic play area, a building area, and a sand and water table. Besides, the classrooms reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of children and families through bilingual books, multilingual signs, visuals and artifacts from the His- panic and Haitian cultures.
Last year, 223 children attended different types of ECE programs: (1) 71 children in a 5-days/week programs, (2) 42 children in 2-days/week programs, and (3) 110 children in 1-day/week programs. Through Creative Curriculum and assessment (Dodge et al. 2002), the teachers pursue a holis- tic approach to development to promote social-emotional skills, language and literacy development, cognition, general knowledge, physical well-being, and motor development. Through rich exposure to the English language, children are engaged in developmentally appropriate activities and interactions that encourage independence, critical thinking, and confidence. One of the unique components of the ECE programs is the Parent and Child Together (PACT) program, which promotes family literacy activities for parents and children. The goal is to empower parents to take on a proac- tive leadership role in their children’s lives and education and become their child’s teacher. Given the characteristics of the local community and their needs, the ECE center imple- mented leadership practices to infuse leadership attitudes and skills into its educational and family literacy programs and activities. These leadership practices are built upon the Leader in Me, part of the 7 Habits for Highly Effective Peo- ple (Covey 2013).
A purposive sample of seven volunteer participants was selected. Four participants were teachers, and three were administrators at the ECE center. The participants signed
an Informed Consent Form (Protocol ID #2018-04) before the interview, ensuring confidentiality of their names and information and the use of codes to protect their identities (Creswell 2014). Table 1 depicts the participants’ demo- graphic information.
Data Collection Process and Analysis
The data collection process consisted of semi-structured individual interviews and field notes taken during the inter- views and visits to the ECE center (Yin 2005). The inter- views explored the participants’ feelings, opinions, and atti- tudes towards ECE leadership at the ECE center (Creswell 2014). The field notes comprised information gathered about the ECE center’s leadership practices and the participants’ behaviors and reactions to the theme under investigation. The combination of data ensured a detailed description of the participants’ perceptions (Yin 2005) and increased the findings’ trustworthiness and credibility (Creswell and Poth 2018).
The interviews were conducted at the ECE center and lasted approximately 45 min each. First, the authors tran- scribed the audio-recorded interviews verbatim, then organ- ized and coded the data using iterative readings. Later, the authors aggregated the data into clusters (Stake 2005) that supported the five emerging themes that will be described at length next (Creswell 2014). The authors adopted additional measures to increase the study’s credibility and trustworthi- ness by analyzing the data separately and comparing it to identify any irregularities and reduce bias (Patton 2002). The authors used external audits to ensure the consistency and accuracy of the findings (Fraenkel et al. 2015). Finally, the authors sought to develop naturalistic generalizations that would allow people to learn from the case and, consequently, apply this knowledge to similar contexts, educational set- tings, or populations (Creswell and Poth 2018; Yin 2005).
Table 1 Demographic information of participants
F = Female, M = Male. AG = Administrator; TG = Teacher
Code Job title Degree Years of experience in education
AG-1 Chief Executive Officer Ph.D. in Educational Leadership 36 M Caucasian AG-2 ECE Program coordinator BA in Early Childhood Education 18 F Hispanic AG-3 ECE Program Director MA in Education 14 F Caucasian TG-1 Teacher BA in Early Childhood Education 5 F Caucasian TG-2 Teacher AA in Early Childhood Education 15 F Caucasian TG-3 Teacher AA in Early Childhood Education 12 F Caucasian TG-4 Teacher BA in Early Childhood Education 3 F Caucasian
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Five major themes emerged from the discourses of teach- ers’ and administrators’ about their perceptions of ECE leadership: (1) vision-driven leadership, (2) inclusive leadership, (3) practice-focused leadership, (4) freedom and ownership vs. close supervision, and (5) advocacy for ECE. The themes indicated that teachers and administra- tors perceived a collaborative, democratic, and practice- oriented ECE leadership practice in this center, which ultimately contributed to better quality education and life for culturally and linguistically diverse children and their families.
Administrators believed that the vision-driven leader- ship, with a flat hierarchical structure in managerial and operational aspects, facilitates optimal early childhood programs. They (AG-1, AG-2 and AG-3) emphasized a vision and goal-driven leadership, which is interdependent and collaborative rather than a top-down approach. The Chief Executive Officer (AG-1) noted that leaders must have the ability to create a vision, determine clear goals, and ensure the execution of the action plan using their decision-making skills. At the same time, he emphasized that these skills must be put in practice in a collabora- tive environment in which professionals and parents work together. Therefore, he noted, leaders must have qualities that foster this collaboration, “We are very purposeful in our ECE program to make sure we are building those inter- actions in a systematic way” (AG-1). In this ECE center, new staff members become familiar with the organization’s mission, values, strategic plan, and performance evalua- tion system. AG-1 said, “every employee here know[s] what their role is within the organization, their goals from the performance standpoint, and how that supports leader- ship development in their capacities to cooperate.”
Several teachers echoed this vision-driven leadership and stated, “I believe that leaders must have a clear vision to guide others” (TG-1). However, other teachers expressed some distance in terms of shared goals, separating ‘they’ [administrators] and ‘we’ [teachers] saying, “They [admin- istrators] expect that we [teachers] be (sic) leaders in our classrooms. They have goals and objectives that we have to meet” (TG-1). She seemed to distinguish between admin- istrators’ role as goal setters, and the role of teachers as executers of goals. However, in general, both teachers and administrators agreed that this ECE center is driven by the vision of “everybody has capacity to be a leader” (AG-1) which implies an inclusive nature of leadership.
Both teachers and administrators described inclusive leader- ship as the ability to embrace teachers, parents, and children as leaders, with the notion that “everyone can be a leader.” The participants emphasized that when opportunities are provided, teachers, parents, and children can develop lead- ership skills to improve others’ lives. Within this inclusive leadership perspective, participants identified different roles for themselves. The Chief Executive Officer (AG-1) found his role as a provider, noting that, “As a leader of this organi- zation, I’m responsible for developing the capacity of the individuals within the organization to lead. My role is to provide the operational systems needed to accomplish those leadership characteristics within the programs” (AG-1).
Conversely, the director for early childhood programs (AG-3) identified her role as someone who provides oppor- tunities for teachers to become leaders. Specifically, she described the professional development program Leader in Me: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which was implemented at this school. She said,
We encourage the teachers to be leaders. They take on different roles in our bi-weekly meetings. They can lead the meetings, give ideas for curriculums or lesson plans, or extracurricular activities. For me, leadership is helping the leader that everybody has inside. So, leadership means helping everybody to be the leader (AG-3).
Other teachers echoed the notion of inclusive leadership in which teachers are part of the team rather than the ones “being managed.” A recent graduate teacher with an ECE degree said,
I’d like to think that everyone is a leader. Here, you are made to feel like everybody is a team, and we are working together. We are all leaders. In other places, that might be more for the upper-level people to see themselves as leaders, not so much the teachers (TG- 4).
To help young children become leaders, AG-2, the ECE center program coordinator, who works directly with the classroom teachers, described the specific strategies used in everyday activities. She noted,
[Two-year-olds] are going to be the leaders in differ- ent ways: they can hold the doors, be the line leaders, be the ones who are helping the teacher, and be the pointers when the teacher is singing. So, everybody has jobs, of course, but at different levels. So, every- body can be a leader (AG-2).
She added that children could learn leadership skills when teachers give up some control in the classroom, allowing
674 Early Childhood Education Journal (2021) 49:669–679
them to have a voice, be in charge, and be responsible for different tasks. The holistic nature of inclusive leadership further unfolded as one of the teachers described the par- ents’ role as leaders. In this ECE center, which mainly serves Haitian Creole and Spanish-speaking, recently immigrated families, parents are required to participate in class activi- ties and school events. Parents regularly take part in various literacy activities with children in the classroom; therefore, parents become more equipped to engage with their children at home in age and developmentally appropriate ways (Halp- ern et al. 2019). Teachers recognized how this involvement of parents is transforming them to become leaders as well. TG-4 elaborated on this involvement,
Because the parents in our program have their own projects and presentations, they are leaders in their classrooms. They help each other with homework, and you know that’s being a leader. Myself as a teacher, my co-teachers, the volunteers when they come here, they are all leaders in our classes as well (TG-4).
This notion of shared and inclusive leadership results in additional positive outcomes. TG-2 said, “I’m not the one controlling all the answers or the situation, but allow- ing other people to help me learn, too, about the different perspectives that we may have” (TG-2). The inclusive lead- ership, comprising administrators, teachers, parents, and children as leaders, seems to be a shared and appreciated perception of ECE leadership in this center.
Mainly teachers, but also administrators, expressed that early childhood leaders must have interpersonal and prac- tice-focused leadership skills to support others in a learning environment. All teachers expected their administrators to empower them, communicate well, give clear directions, follow up, provide resources, assistance, and demonstrate passion and empathy. Most often, teachers seemed to expect their administrators to provide optimal conditions for teach- ing and the appropriate tools for learning in the classroom. In this case, teachers perceived administrators/leaders as the providers of an optimal work environment. For instance, one teacher expected the availability of resources and profes- sional development to be provided by their administrators, “A leader is the person goes beyond expectations of what they want you to do, but gives you the tools, the strategies, and techniques to do so” (TG-1). Another teacher further clarified that guided assistance in practical pedagogical issues was appreciated, “[A leader] gives you the manual, gives you a chance to read through it, explains everything to you” (TG-3). She expected guidance in pedagogy to become a more effective teacher.
Good communication skills, including clarity and straightforward organization for collaboration and teaching were identified as parts of effective ECE leadership. For example, AG-3, the director of the ECE program, high- lighted that, as a leader, she must be a good listener to understand what the teachers, parents, and children need. She emphasized that her listening must be focused and objective, adding that, “I have to stop and focus…to be able to listen to what a teacher or student or families [say], and what their needs are” (AG-3). Besides, several teach- ers noted that administrators’ regular, clear, and straight- forward communication helped them become effective leaders in their classrooms. Aligned with teachers, AG-2, who worked directly with teachers, emphasized practic
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