In this free extract from the Alliance publication, Effective Leadership for High Quality Early Years Practice, Michael Reed, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Early Childhood at the Institute of Education, University of Worcester, shares a successful case study in which one setting used a distributed approach to leadership to improve their practice and outcomes.
Case study: Ladybirds Pre-school’s distributed approach to leadership
Ladybirds Pre-school is run by a team of six practitioners who all hold appropriate early years qualifications. It is located on the site of a large primary school and has close links with the school. It provides funded early education for two, three and four-year-old children who have a range of abilities and needs and are from families which encompass diverse faiths and cultures. The preschool values children’s learning and prides itself on collaboration with parents. This was described in inspection feedback as outstanding. Staff provide support for children’s learning, are sensitive to their needs and see themselves as having a passion about early education and its value to the community.
The leader encourages each of them to take on board key person duties and early assessments of children’s development to ensure intervention is swiftly put in place to close gaps in learning. Their latest inspection report noted how children have immense fun as they try out interesting learning activities. They smile, trust the staff and are obviously happy to engage in planned experiences, directed teaching and learning discoveries.
The leader, Jan, has high expectations of staff and children. She leads by example and encourages all staff to take professional responsibility within the setting. Jan works well with staff and her judgement is trusted. She in turn trusts the staff to be honest and professional when they air their views. She encourages the staff team to share their expertise in curriculum planning.
Less experienced colleagues, volunteers and students on placement are supported and encouraged to share their ideas at meetings and their views and ideas are respected. The aim is to help them learn from experienced staff who take more of a lead in planning. Jan encourages the pre-school staff to have professional conversations with the school staff as well as other professional agencies associated with the setting. This is achieved through joint meetings which ask reflective questions about how to work better together. There are also regular opportunities for the staff team to come together to reflect on the connection between how children think and learn and their day-to-day practice. This has been quite successful and led to what can be described as a pattern of staff self-evaluation and development which has influenced changes in practice.
For example, it was identified through reflective dialogue that when staff received external training, the detail was rarely fed back to the whole team so that they could consider if it might have a wider influence on practice. Now, staff members take responsibility for ensuring short verbal feedback is given as part of staff meetings. If there is strong interest in what is said, a more detailed explanation is placed on the agenda for self-organised professional development days.
The reflective questions have also led Jan to take on new ideas. She admits that one of her limitations is being a novice when it comes to technology. She therefore has worked alongside a student on placement and another staff member to learn how to access webbased updates on policy and practice and place what is found on a staff social media website. This is not because she wants to be involved in everything, but in order to receive the support she needs to develop her own skills.
Distributing responsibility is successful when a leader invests time to encourage and support people so they recognise that together they can shape practice. The approach helps practitioners to become professional leaders by being self-directed, responsible and willing to be accountable to the team. This is an important lesson as effective early education rarely emerges from a leader working in isolation. An individual leader may have the desire to make things happen, but it is rare to find all the parts of an organisation coming together without active collaboration between staff, and this requires a clear direction to which everyone subscribes. It takes time and needs careful people management. It is also a way to nurture more effective leaders, as practitioners learn skills which will enable them to take on other leadership responsibilities in the future.
This is a free extract from the Alliance publication, Effective Leadership for High Quality Early Years Practice, by Michael Reed, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Early Childhood at the Institute of Education, University of Worcester.
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