The role of the educational leader: Part 1

During the month of October, We Hear You will be showcasing a three-part series exploring the development of ‘The role of the educational leader’.

In the first instalment, we consider the history of the role, the reasons behind its introduction as well as the aims, objectives and intent of educational leadership.

Part 1: The role of the educational leader: aims, objectives and intent

When speaking to the education and care sector and in our collaborative work with regulatory authorities, we often are asked about support to assist educational leaders better understand the role and how the role supports quality provision. The scope of the aims, objectives and intent of the role is our focus in this first of our three-part series addressing the why, the what and the how of educational leadership.

At this stage, it might be useful to recap why the role was introduced and what the requirement of having an educational leader aims to achieve.

In the development of Belonging, Being and Becoming: Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF) there was much discussion about (and recognition of) the role of pedagogical/educational leaders in supporting educators in the process of planning, implementing and evaluating quality programs in early childhood education and care services. Similarly, the significance of the role was acknowledged in the development of the My Time Our Place: Framework for School Age Care in Australia (FSAC).

The importance of this role was also recognised in the development of the National Quality Standard (NQS), which was informed by national and international research. In particular, the OECD Starting Strong II Early Childhood Education and Care report identified the importance of paying attention to both structural and process quality to ensure quality outcomes.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard identifies the key aims and objectives of the role, noting that:

Effective curriculum development requires ambitious goals and clarity of purpose. It requires attending to the principles, practice and outcomes of the approved learning framework. The role of the educational leader is to work with educators to provide curriculum direction and to ensure children achieve the outcomes of the approved learning framework (p. 178).

Educational leaders play an integral role in mentoring, guiding and supporting educators. As part of continuous improvement, the educational leader of a service may reflect on the strategies needed to develop the curriculum and the educational program in the service. The most effective educational leaders work collaboratively with educators, children and families to decide ambitious goals for the curriculum as well as the focus and purpose of the educational program.

Effective leadership creates a positive organisational culture that values openness and trust, where people are motivated to ask questions, debate issues and contribute to each other’s ongoing learning inquiry (Guide to the National Quality Standard, p. 165).

The educational leader’s role in a service will contribute to the organisational culture and develop a professional learning community across a service and potentially more broadly by networking with other education and care services and professionals from other disciplines. This approach involves conceptualising the role, not simply as one concerned with checking educators’ and children’s records, but instead, as a leader who supports educators, families and the community and builds their understanding of early and middle years pedagogy. This involves building capacity to discuss and engage in a cycle of planning for play and leisure based learning. Research highlights the link between quality and educator understanding of pedagogy, relationships, sustained shared thinking as well as assessing and planning learning (Siraj-Blatchford and Manni, 2006, p. 6).

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A lively culture of professional enquiry is established when educators, co-ordinators and staff members are encouraged to build their professional knowledge, reflect on their practice and generate new ideas (EYLF, p. 13; FSAC, p. 11).

ACECQA’s information sheet about the role of the educational leader summarises the requirements under the National Quality Framework (NQF). Beyond the specifics outlined within the NQF, the educational leader has a role to play in guiding the service and its educators through self-assessment processes, supporting educators to self-assess their own skills, knowledge and understandings and to plan (using mechanisms such as the service’s quality improvement plan or performance plans)  strategies to develop the areas that need strengthening.

Questions for educational leaders to guide self-assessment:

  • What are my understandings of leadership?
  • What theories of leadership guide and inform my practice?
  • What strategies could I implement to strengthen my own communication and interpersonal skills?
  • Am I confident in my understandings of the approved learning frameworks?
  • How does the service’s philosophy guide the implementation of the educational leader role?
  • What ongoing learning do I need to engage in to strengthen my abilities to lead and guide the curriculum and educational program?

Further reading and resources


Read the complete series:

Part 1: The role of the educational leader: aims, objectives and intent

Part 2: Leading the development of the curriculum

Part 3: Setting goals and expectations for teaching and learning

 

The role of the Educational Leader


 ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

The educational leader has an influential role in inspiring, motivating, affirming and also challenging or extending the practice and pedagogy of educators. It is a joint endeavour involving inquiry and reflection, which can significantly impact on the important work educators do with children and families.

With the introduction of the role, a number of myths have emerged. One of these is that the educational leader must complete all of the programming for all educators. This is a very narrow and prescriptive view of this important role.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) primarily deals with the role of the educational leader through Quality Area 7 – leadership and management. But neither the NQS nor the regulatory standards are prescriptive about the qualifications, experience, skills or role description for the person chosen to be the educational leader. There is a very good reason for this. The flexibility of these provisions allows approved providers to choose the best person in the service to take on this role.

When designating an educational leader, consideration needs to be given to whether the person is:

  • suitably qualified and experienced
  • willing to make time for the role and eager to learn more
  • approachable and well respected
  • knowledgeable about theories, pedagogy and the relevant learning frameworks
  • skilled at supporting educators of varying abilities and learning styles
  • knowledgeable about the NQS and related regulatory standards

The most effective educational leader views their role as collegial. They seek to play an integral role in mentoring, guiding and supporting educators. Some roles of the educational leader include:

  • promoting understanding of the approved learning framework
  • keeping up to date with current research/resources and sharing these
  • exploring opportunities for professional development
  • helping educators to understand and implement policies and procedures
  • encouraging educators to reflect on their practice
  • discussing ways to demonstrate the service is meeting the standards.

If you have been chosen as the educational leader in your service, congratulations on being selected for this important role and enjoy this journey of learning and growing with your team.

Further reading and resources 
Early Childhood Australia Newsletter 33: The educational leader

Early Childhood Australia E-learning video, Talking About Practice (TAPS): The role of the educational leader
IPSP online library: The distributive leadership model by Ros Cornish
IPSP online library: Pedagogical Leadership: Exploring New Terrain and Provocations by Anthony Semann and Rod Soper in Reflections issue 47
Laurie Kelly (Mindworks) video: Leadership in education and care
Discussions about the educational leader role