A Critical Intersection: Administrative and Pedagogical Leadership

by Jill Bella

April 18, 2016


Read more from the whole leadership blog series

Over the past few months the McCormick Center has been engaging you in a discussion about the concept of whole leadership. We’ve introduced the idea of leadership essentials, administrative leadership, and pedagogical leadership as overarching domains. I’d like to focus on how two of those overarching domains intersect in a way that is critical for sustained quality.

Our working definition of administrative leadership describes successful administrative leaders as being able to establish systems that protect and sustain essential operational functions. Operational leadership (accomplished through activities such as hiring and supporting staff, overseeing budgets, and maintaining a positive workplace climate) and strategic leadership (involving guiding the direction of the organization with the future in mind) are important aspects.

The working definition of pedagogical leadership includes supporting teaching and learning by establishing organizational norms of continuous quality improvement and influencing children’s learning by fostering family engagement, ensuring fidelity to the organization’s curricular philosophy, using data to evaluate the effectiveness of the learning program, and meeting standards established to optimize learning environments.

Let’s consider how administrative and pedagogical leadership are connected by looking at an example related to the common practice of engaging families.

A few months ago, I visited a program where the director expressed frustration because families were not participating in events or engaged in their child’s learning process. Several weeks later, I visited another program where the opposite was the case; families were extremely involved in program events. They were also aware of what the children were learning in the classroom and were embedding the learning into their home life. This was evidenced through photos and documentation that was displayed in the classrooms. When I asked the director of the first program, with little family involvement, what she was doing to support family partnerships her response had been short. She stated they continually sent out flyers about events and posted numerous reminders on bulletin boards. For me, this response demonstrated a disconnect between administrative and pedagogical practices.

When I asked the director of the second program, with considerable family involvement, how she supported family partnerships she provided a description that included the following actions:

  • The initial contact with the families includes sharing the value of family engagement
  • On the tour of the center the director points out photos of families engaged in classroom and program events
  • The director introduces the new family to any family members who are volunteering in the classroom that day
  • Families receive a link to the program’s website with family testimonials and a video clip highlighting family engagement
  • Families are shown classroom lesson plans which include space for linkages to family life
  • Families are given a family handbook which outlines how families are considered partners and provides examples of how this is demonstrated
  • Each family receives a home visit which includes completing an intake form that is designed to really understand the uniqueness of each family and bridge home life with the program
  • At the end of a child’s first week there is a “touch base” phone call to find out how the transition is going and if anything needs to be done to better acclimate the child to the program
  • When classroom staff meet to plan the lesson for the week there is a standing agenda item for updates about families
  • Each child has a notebook in their cubby that travels back and forth between home and program so families and teachers are kept informed with the daily happenings in the child’s life
  • Family conferences happen at least twice a year and are used to provide a thorough explanation of children’s learning and development with ideas for how families can support learning and development during daily routines at home

For me, the above examples demonstrate administrative leadership that supports family engagement. In short, the director and staff are intentional about building family partnerships and this is established by the development of operational systems that encourage and promote family engagement.

In addition, this director shared the following:

  • Supervisors of the teachers include family partnerships as a criterion they address during supervision meetings
  • Recently the staff all read the book From Parents to Partners and some staff are in the midst of an optional week-long “book club” discussion over lunch
  • Since enhancing family partnerships is one of the program’s goals this year, several new responsibilities focusing on this are now included in each job description, and several related criteria are now included in the performance appraisal forms for staff
  • Several books on family engagement were purchased at the beginning of the year and teachers are encouraged to attend trainings related to this topic
  • When staff check out any of the new books on family engagement or attend a training focused on family partnerships this is followed up on in conversations with the supervisor
  • There is an expectation that the teacher will implement a practice he or she learned from a reading or training and discuss the impact with the supervisor and/or colleagues
  • Staff who attend training have a form to complete afterward that includes a space to capture insights learned and methods for implementation
  • Once staff have an opportunity to practice, reflect, implement, and tweak what they learn during a training they are encouraged to present the new practice as well as lessons learned at a meeting with their colleagues

I believe the above examples demonstrate how supervisors in this program are demonstrating pedagogical leadership and have established methods to support this practice.

For me, administrative and pedagogical leadership are dependent on one another. If there are policies and practices in place to help ensure family engagement is occurring (administrative leadership), but if teachers are not supported in building on and following through with these practices (pedagogical leadership), then successful family engagement is less likely to occur.

How does this example resonate with you? In what ways do you implement pedagogical leadership that support administrative leadership practices? What are the consequences of having a program with a strong emphasis in Administrative Leadership, but not Pedagogical Leadership, or vice versa?

Jill Bella is Director of Quality Supports for the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. In this role she coordinates the McCormick Center’s research and training initiatives relating to the Early Childhood Work Environment Survey, the Program Administration Scale, and the Business Administration Scale for Family Child Care. Jill is co-author of A Great Place to Work, Inspiring Peak Performance, and Zoom: The Impact of Early Childhood Leadership Training on Role Perceptions, Job Performance, and Career Decisions.


16 Responses to “A Critical Intersection: Administrative and Pedagogical Leadership”

  1. Jack says:

    This is a beautiful illustration of effective parent involvement. Thank you. The description of the positive program brought tears to my eyes. It felt so good to realize that people so clearly understand this issue.

  2. Missy Brown says:

    WOW! What a welcoming program that must have been. I have been waiting for the right moment to introduce this blog series to leaders in our area and this piece will really inspire them. Thanks Jill for sharing your experience.

  3. Betsy Carlin says:

    Thank you for sharing this lovely example.

    For me when you read the definition of Administrative Leadership I see the skills and qualities of what an administrator or director of any type of organization should possess. It describes a generic best practice for organizational leadership. It is when you add the Pedagogical Leadership you begin to describe best practice for an administrator or director of a program for young children. Almost more then an intersection I see it as a both/and. A highly functioning ECE leader will possess expertise in both.

  4. Jill Bella says:

    Thanks for your kind words Jack.

  5. Jill Bella says:

    I am so glad you are going to introduce the blog series to more early childhood leaders. Please encourage them to share their opinions on our working definitions and questions. We want to hear from those who are immersed in this work.

  6. Mj says:

    I think those are both great working definitions. Strong administrative and pedagogical leadership will be very apparent in a quality early learning program. Programs with good administrative leadership understand what staff need to do their job well. Programs with good pedagogical leadership understand sometimes complex and unique needs of their staff and families and have a framework in place to support those needs. Programs like these are also very transparent. I emphatically agree that it is a critical intersection when we are looking to sustain quality in a program.

  7. Laura Newman says:

    This is all outstanding content and food for thought! As I am in the midst of three daily consecutive director support group meetings, the topic this month by coincidence, Collaboration Between Staff, Parents, Your Enrolled Children and the Community. We spent a significant amount of time in conversation about the palpable benefits to family engagement. I wrap up tomorrow in anticipation of the same solid feedback – that a program which delivers intentional partnerships will be stronger and recognized with respect in the community it serves.

  8. Jill Bella says:

    Hi Betsy,
    Thanks for weighing in. I like your characterization as “both/and.” I agree that a highly functioning ECE leader will possess both. However, not all ECE leaders do. In my opinion, when this is the case, it is important that programs account for this by meeting that need in other ways. This might be accomplished through other leaders in the program or organizational practices. Too often I observe programs where there is strong administrative leadership and a lack of pedagogical leadership or just the opposite.

    When I observe programs with strong administrative leadership and a lack of pedagogical leadership I find good policies and procedures but no follow through. In other words, good intentions but no action. I find staff need the pedagogical leader to encourage and support the action.

    In the example I provided about good family engagement, consider the same program with all the practices in place listed under administrative leadership and none of the practices in place under pedagogical leadership. Good intentions–but a lot less action.

  9. Jill Bella says:

    Hi Mj,
    Your comment about programs with administrative and pedagogical leadership in place being “transparent” got me thinking. Does having both in place naturally lead to more transparency because a program then becomes a living example of its policies and procedures?

  10. Jill Bella says:

    Great to hear from you Laura! I’m excited to learn that you are discussing intentionality in your group. The idea of being intentional is critical for both administrative and pedagogical leadership. Clearly the director in my example made the connection between what the program valued and the message she wanted families to hear–beginning with their very first visit to the program. In addition, this director made the connection between what the program valued and the messages teachers were receiving. Food for thought: when there is more intention in a program are the practices more likely to be followed?

  11. What a wonderful topic, blog and discussion!
    I concur with all of the above comments, including both/and, and would only add that perhaps the point of intersection might be the center’s or program’s vision or philosophical framework…? And, as such, the practices we see in both leadership and frontline staff reflects this and to varying degrees based on the extent to which the vision/philosophy has been integrated into the culture.
    In my organization, we work from a philosophy based a the theoretical framework of attachment, relational learning and lifelong development because it works for both the children and families we serve, as well as each other and our external partners.
    All the best to each of you, Glory

  12. Jill Bella says:

    It’s nice to hear from you Glory! I appreciate that you highlighted the importance of intentionally connecting both administrative and pedagogical practices with a program’s mission and vision. Family engagement was a value in the second program mentioned above. The director and staff were thoughtful in determining how they would implement this value. As a result, the families they served were more likely to pick up on this value—which in turn, made them more likely to become engaged. Your comment is making me reflect more on the notion of intentionality. I think intentionality is such a powerful tool. I’m wondering more now about how intentionality is part of both administrative and pedagogical leadership, how it is demonstrated and encouraged in each, and ways to teach/train on intentionality…

    • And very nice to receive your response and provocation to continue the thread, Jill!

      From my own personal experience, as well as my observations in the field, intentionality is almost a by-product of being fully present in the moment coupled with a willingness to become more response-able… Or as I think of it – the adult, professional equivalent to play-based learning…

      What are willing to see or do differently? Can you play (reasonably) with your perceptions and responses?

      I also find that intentionality leads to development in reflective practice… Specifically, moving from ‘reflection on action’ (thinking about the past and choosing future response) to ‘reflection in action’ (thinking about what is happening now and responding).

      All the best, Glory

  13. Jill Bella says:

    Thanks for continuing the conversation Glory. I am so glad you did because I love how you describe intentionality as “almost a by-product of being fully present in the moment coupled with a willingness to become more response-able.” Your response also made me wonder about which comes first—intentionality or reflective practice. My initial thinking is that reflective practice encourages people to become more intentional, but your description of intentionality has me reflecting more! Also, thanks for bringing up “reflection on action” and “reflection in action.” Those two types of reflection along with a third, “reflection for action” are described in another resource for leaders in early care and education titled, From the Inside Out: The power of reflection and self-awareness by Paula Jorde Bloom.

  14. […] Whole Leadership blog posts by Jill Bella and Mike Abel got my wheels spinning reflecting on the concept of pedagogical leadership. As a […]

  15. […] A Critical Intersection: Administrative and Pedagogical Leadership […]