Our role in early childhood leadership and advocacy

Chris Mahony, Director of the Kath Dickson Institute of Early Childhood Studies in Toowoomba, discusses the crucial roles of advocacy and leadership in our day-to-day practice.

Over the past decade, there has been considerable interest in the concept of leadership in early childhood education and care. Rodd (2001, p. 10) argues that 'leadership is a contextual phenomenon, that is, it means different things to different people', and is another aspect of the difficult multi-faceted nature of leadership in early childhood education.

The five faces of leadership
By unpacking the five styles (or faces) of leadership proposed by Kagan and Bowman (1997), we find their validity today is still evident.

Administrative leadership
As the name suggests, this style requires leaders to be involved in the operational, day-to-day running or management of services. This could include preparing rosters, newsletters, excursion forms, budgets and compliance issues.

Pedagogical leadership
Underpins the core of early childhood care and education, ensuring the quality of the day-to-day lives of participating children, as well as supporting and enhancing their growth, development and learning.

Community leadership
Involves demonstrating to the community that early childhood education and care is an important issue, and can determine a child's future success in life. It is contextualising your service into your community.

Conceptual leadership
Revolves around the creation of new ideas to advance the profession. Individuals must be open to new ways and processes of thinking, and demonstrate a willingness to challenge conventional assumptions. Be prepared to think forward and 'outside the box'!

Advocacy leadership
As a whole, the early childhood community helps to improve the landscape for children and families. We all have to seize any strategic opportunity to move any issue forward.

Strong leadership in early childhood education and care acknowledges that each of these ‘faces' is as important as the other. However, as early childhood professionals, we must not become so overwhelmed by the compliance issues facing the profession that we ignore the other facets of leadership.

Practical tips for an advocate:

  • Keep abreast of current trends and issues. You have to be knowledgeable about the topic.
  • Adopt policies, practices and procedures that support young children.
  • Take the time to write a letter or response to recognise and speak out about bad policy decisions affecting young children, whether this is at a national, state or local level.
  • Attend community meetings that could affect young children and families.
  • Speak to your local member about issues that could affect young children and families.
  • Challenge any comments that are derogatory to young children.
  • Importantly, know how and when to compromise.

The role of advocacy
Advocacy is perhaps the face of leadership that presents the largest dilemma for early childhood professionals. Nupponen (2006, p. 155) suggests one reason may be ‘the notion that to be an advocate required confident and skilled people', and that we struggle to view ourselves in this light.

Perhaps we struggle with advocacy because as early childhood professionals we see ourselves as teachers first and foremost. However, we can all take an active role as advocates for young children; that is, give voice to issues that will affect children and families.

Issues such as resource and referral agencies, the importance of the early years, affordable child care, accreditation, licensing requirements, staff support and salaries have all been placed at the forefront by or through strong advocacy from the field.

Chris Mahony
Kath Dickson Institute of Early Childhood Studies


Kagan, S. L., & Bowman, B. T. (Eds.) (1997). Leadership in early care and education. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Nupponen, H. (2006). Framework for developing leadership skills in child care centres in Queensland, Australia. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 7(2), 146-161.

Rodd, J. (2001). Building leadership expertise of future early childhood professionals. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 22, 9-12.

Every Child magazine – vol. 14 no. 4, 2008, pp. 30

Don't forget, Every Child is tax deductible for early childhood professionals

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Vol. 14 No. 4 2008
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Last updated: (April 8, 2014 at 3:10 pm)


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