Whole Leadership Series: Putting the Pieces Together

by Mike Abel

May 9, 2016

Read more from the whole leadership blog series

Over the last 11 weeks we have published a series of posts to explore the multifaceted, nuanced nature of leadership in early childhood programs. We invited you to participate in an online discussion exploring the concept of Whole Leadership—a broad view of program leadership—evidenced in many areas, which we collapsed into three domains: leadership essentials, administrative leadership, and pedagogical leadership. The blog posts were:

You robustly responded, which lead to a rich conversation—expanding on our initial thoughts. I took the opportunity to analyze the 82 posts and replies submitted in this series in order to give you an update on what we are learning thus far.

  • There is affirmation that Whole Leadership is a useful and meaningful term for considering early childhood program leadership.
  • There is a great deal of overlap across leadership domains, and they are highly interconnected.
  • A substantial number of resources are available to support early childhood leaders, but clarity is needed about the distinctive aspects of leadership in the field.
  • Skill related to leadership essentials are foundational for all facets of leadership.
    • Competencies associated with leadership essentials may include confidence, creativity, cultural competence, efficacy, ethical conduct and morality, freedom, humility, inspiration, intentionality, an internal compass, intuition, self-discovery, self-awareness, transparency, and knowledge
    • Leadership essentials can be learned
    • Some activities related to leadership essentials include assessing change readiness among staff, journaling, reflective practice, and shared leadership.
    • Competencies associated with leadership essentials may be helpful in buffering the challenges that many program leaders face—leadership essentials provide a strong foundation to help program leaders get through challenging times.
  • Administrative leadership is important for the success of learning organizations and includes operational and strategic leadership dimensions.
    • Administrative leadership includes management functions such as orchestrating the logistics for teaching and learning, mobilizing staff to achieve program outcomes, establishing systems for effectiveness, and influencing organizational climate to foster collegiality and harmony.
    • Strategic leadership includes planning, operationalizing, and executing initiatives to advance the program’s mission.
    • Leadership for advocacy could be considered a dimension of strategic leadership because it is future oriented.
    • Professional learning communities for program leaders may be helpful for developing administrative leadership skills, sharing management ideas and resources, and providing emotional support.
    • Reflective practice is a method that some leaders have found useful for improving their administrative skills.
  • Pedagogical leadership—inclusive of instructional leadership—addresses the complexity of teaching and learning in birth to age 8 programs.
    • Effective pedagogical leadership fosters organizational cultures through reflective inquiry, continuous quality assessment and improvement, professional learning communities, and intentionality in allocating resources for teaching and learning.
    • Pedagogical leaders support family engagement, align curriculum to philosophy, make data-informed decisions, and optimize learning by applying evidence-based standards.
    • Bridging the Birth-3rd grade continuum should be a priority for all pedagogical leaders, regardless of the ages their programs serve.

This week, we are continuing the discussion started in this blog series at the McCormick Center’s Leadership Connections™ conference in Wheeling, Illinois. Over 600 participants will be invited to join the conversation through several interactive experiences. Members of the McCormick Center national Advisory Board will be examining ideas explored thus far and will contribute to the discussion.

Over the next year, the McCormick Center will continue to refine and clarify our understanding of early childhood program leadership. We hope this will lead to the development of a Whole Leadership framework which will add value to the field. We believe this is only the beginning of these efforts and encourage you to join us in the journey.

Mike Abel is the Director of Research and Evaluation at the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. His background is in early childhood program leadership, teacher education, and applied research. He has worked on a number of state and national projects related to systems development and highly vulnerable children and families. He served as the Missouri AEYC-MO President and as a member of the NAEYC Affiliate Council Executive Committee.


2 Responses to “Whole Leadership Series: Putting the Pieces Together”

  1. Karen Chandler says:

    I just returned from the conference Leadership Connections where I had the opportunity to participate in dialogues on the work done to define Whole Leadership and in particular use of the term pedagogical leader.
    Although it was noted during a session facilitated by Mike Abel, that there was some hesitation to use the term pedagogical leader as it may be viewed as removed and perhaps academic – I say go for it.
    In Ontario Canada, we introduced the term to the field through the work of our Expert Panel on Early Learning for Every Child Today 10 years ago. A second expert panel report Investing in Quality: Policies, Practitioners, Programs, Parents: A Four Point Plan Start 2007) recommended strengthening pedagogical leadership resulting in the establishment of a degree in leadership.
    This and other initiatives achieved through this work has had a transformational effect on the field of early childhood.
    It has elevated educators and laid the groundwork for further developments focused on pedagogy such as recent provincial regulations that hold programs accountable for their curriculum as well as the continuous learning of the educators.
    Another initiative involved the professional development of leaders from programs on the role of pedagogical leadership. The City of Toronto Children’s Services partnered with George Brown College to offer the Curriculum and Pedagogical Leadership course to more than 800 directors. Ontario, like many other provinces, has a provincial curriculum framework, Early Learning for Every Child Today (ELECT), which guides all early childhood programs. During this course, EC leaders use this framework to review the curriculum and pedagogy in:
    1. Analyzing the early human development that underpins ELECT and Full-Day Early Learning-Kindergarten Program.
    2. Critique strategies to support diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as prerequisites for early learning.
    3. Evaluate how partnerships with families and communities strengthen the ability of early childhood settings to meet the needs of children and families.
    4. Demonstrate how curriculum planning supports early learning and development in early childhood settings from infants to school age.
    5. Analyze evidence reported in academic journals and practitioner research in order to construct pedagogical strategies that encourage early learning and optimal development.
    6. Demonstrate pedagogical leadership skills that cultivate knowledgeable and responsive staff.
    7. Analyze observation and documentation tools to assess children’s development progress and plan curriculum.
    8. Implement program evaluation that complements and supports curriculum and pedagogy.
    Yes, you can see it is not a quick fix. It has placed the focus on where it should be – on facilitating children’s learning.

  2. Mike Abel says:


    Thank you for this detailed and informative response. I appreciate your taking the time to chronicle your work on pedagogical leadership in Ontario and for sharing the framework for reviewing curriculum and pedagogy. I am grateful for the contributions you are making to this emerging work–both with this blog response and for your valuable comments during the Leadership Connections workshop. It was a pleasure to meet you in person and I look forward to learning more about your interests in early childhood leadership and the meaningful advancements you are making in Canada.