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The Whole Leadership Framework is designed to clarify our understanding about leadership in early childhood education at the program level. The framework highlights three primary domains: leadership essentials, administrative leadership, and pedagogical leadership. It is important to note that there is overlap between each of these domains, reflecting an interdependent relationship. Few leadership roles and functions are mutually exclusive. Rather, leadership exercised in one domain impacts and/or requires reciprocal leadership in the other domains.
The Whole Leadership Framework can be applied to early childhood programs serving young children in a variety of settings: centers, schools, and homes. The framework is useful when considering the formal and informal leadership structures or roles in each of these settings.
The Whole Leadership Framework is designed to clarify our understanding about leadership in early childhood education at the program level. Drawing from Kagan and Bowman’s seminal work, Leadership in Early Care and Education,2 the framework highlights three primary domains: leadership essentials, administrative leadership, and pedagogical leadership. It is important to note that there is overlap between each of these domains, reflecting an interdependent relationship. Few leadership roles and functions are mutually exclusive. Rather, leadership exercised in one domain impacts and/or requires reciprocal leadership in the other domains.
The Whole Leadership Framework can be applied to early childhood programs serving young children in a variety of settings: centers, schools, and homes. Early childhood centers include: Head Start, Early Head Start, state-funded Pre-K, as well as for-profit, non-profit, public, private, employer-sponsored, and college-affiliated child care programs. Multi-site organizations have leadership structures with oversight of more than one site. These entities include: corporate child care programs, multi-site Head Start and Early Head Start grantees, and military child care programs. Public and private elementary schools, serving Pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade children, may have leadership roles located at the district or regional levels. The framework is useful when considering the formal and informal leader- ship structures or roles in each of these settings.
Administrative leadership is about setting goals, orchestrating work, and mobilizing people to sustain an early childhood organization. Effective administrative leaders establish systems for consistent implementation of program operations to meet the needs of children, families, and staff. There are at least two important aspects of administrative leadership: operational leadership and strategic leadership.
Operational leadership is accomplished through critical functions such as hiring, evaluating, and supporting teaching staff; developing budgets aligned with program goals and needs; and maintaining a positive organizational culture and climate.
Strategic leadership involves guiding the direction of an early childhood organization with the future in mind. Strategic leaders clarify mission and values, inspire staff to pursue a shared vision, and ensure that program goals and outcomes are attained.
Strategic leadership is not just internally focused. Administrative leaders need to communicate and align their program services with those of other community organizations serving young children and families. Advocacy is another essential aspect of strategic leadership. Effective administrative leaders are future oriented; they engage in advocacy because they want to have influence on the external conditions (professional standards, regulations, and government policies) that impact young children, families, and early childhood programs.
Administrative and pedagogical leadership are separate but connected. For example, the most qualified, skilled teachers will not be effective teaching young children if the organizational conditions in which they work (e.g. supervisor support, opportunities for professional growth, shared decision-making, collegiality, rewards and recognition, role clarity, task orientation, innovativeness, and physical environment) are not adequately supportive. Administrative leadership ensures the organizational conditions in which teachers and other staff can do their best work so that children and families thrive.
Leadership exercised to improve the art and science of teaching is found in the pedagogical domain. Our conception of teaching is a broad interpretation — spanning the birth to third grade continuum – that includes activities to optimize child development and learning. Pedagogical leadership attends to educator dispositions and high-quality interactions with children. Activities of individuals exercising pedagogical leadership include ensuring fidelity to curricular philosophy, assessing children’s development and learning, using data for evaluation, and optimizing learning
Pedagogical leadership includes instructional leadership — supporting classroom teachers in implementing curriculum, but we differentiate pedagogical leadership as a broader term that embodies activities that occur in early childhood settings that some individuals may not associate with instruction. For example, some educators may not consider encouraging infant teachers to talk with babies during diapering routines as part of instruction. Therefore, we choose pedagogical leadership as a broader, more inclusive term.
Effective pedagogical leadership requires promoting partnerships with families—essential to children’s learning and growth. Depending on the setting and organizational structure, pedagogical leadership in early childhood programs may also foster family.
We believe the Whole Leadership Framework can serve as a useful tool for early childhood systems leaders, higher education administrators, training and technical assistance developers, policymakers, and other individuals seeking to improve early childhood leadership and increase capacity of the workforce. We also believe the framework will be useful for individuals working in schools and organizations serving children birth through third grade to help them place leadership functions and competencies in an organized context. Most of all, we hope that it will establish a common language about early childhood organizational leadership as a lever to increase the quality of early childhood programs and to advance the field in support of young children and families.
Interested in Learning more about how you can use the Whole Leadership Framework? Contact us at McCormickCenter@nl.edu