Understanding and exploring educational leadership

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

‘Developing and supporting teams to achieve the best outcomes for children is at the very heart of educational leadership’ (ACECQA)

Educational leaders are highly valued and instrumental in establishing, delivering, maintaining and continually improving quality education and care for Australia’s children. ACECQA’s The Educational Leader Resource and accompanying videos provide insights into, and perspectives of, the role through the eyes of educational leaders, academics and service leaders.

In this blog, we’ll be unpacking Part Two of the Resource: A model for understanding and exploring educational leadership.

In this part of the Resource, we are introduced to the Educational Leadership Model (ELM) as a way to analyse and advocate for the role within our own services and the wider Australian context. The dimensions of the ELM are described first in terms of what they mean for an educational leader and then explored in more detail by five leading Australian academics. They examine the dimensions from their own perspectives, sharing research insights and practical suggestions.

The ELM invites educational leaders to broaden their thinking and reflect on the role as one that requires growth and development of key capabilities. The model assists those who are interested in imagining the possibilities of the role for themselves, as professionals, while also maintaining the responsibilities of the role, under the National Law. The ELM has been designed to support educational leaders in empowering the educator teams in diverse settings, as they enrich and promote children’s learning and wellbeing.

The ELM comprises four key elements – knowledge, professionalism, relationships and reflection – that intersect and form the foundation of educational leadership.

Knowledge

Professor Frances Press unpacks what an educational leader needs to know, the different types of knowledge, and how it is used and developed. She considers the way knowledge changes over time according to the context of where we work, where we live and where we are in our own lives. When we think about knowledge, it is helpful to think about the category and type of knowledge that we use in our work with children and families.

A category of knowledge includes information, evidence and understanding and recognising that the types of knowledge central to our work with children, families and educators includes pedagogical, theoretical and contextual knowledge. Continuing to build your knowledge and sharing your knowledge is important – as an educational leader, it is important that you support and promote this in your educator team.

Reflective questions

    • What do you need to know about the children, families and educators as an educational leader?
    • What do you already know, and who do you share this with?
    • How might you actively, respectfully and regularly build the type of knowledge you need?

 

Professionalism

The process of setting the tone for professionalism begins with educational leaders thinking of themselves as professionals with ethical responsibilities to which they hold themselves accountable. Professionalism is also about advocating for the place of effective educational programs and practice in the delivery of children’s education and care. From time to time, it might mean taking courageous action and having the capacity to speak up for children’s right to quality education.

Dr Lennie Barblett outlines further how educators demonstrate their professionalism in their everyday work, through their relationships with children, families, colleagues and community members. An educational leader isn’t just a professional – he or she is someone who uses their developed professionalism to lead educator teams as they connect with each other to build a positive organisational culture where learning is key.

Reflective questions

    • Think of an example of someone who demonstrates outstanding professional leadership skills. What qualities, attributes and dispositions does this person demonstrate to make them outstanding?
    • What dispositions do you consider important to role model and demonstrate in your work in the service? (Examples could include: honesty, respect for others.)

 

Relationships

Much of what is prescribed and promoted as fundamental to the educational leader role, and is vital for bringing ideas to fruition, relies on effective and collaborative relationships. More than just gaining agreement, collegial and collaborative relationships promote a shared vision of quality practices that stand the test of time.

Professor Andrea Nolan shares with readers a greater understanding of the foundations that we need to build and maintain effective relationships. Some examples include motivation, a sense of empowerment, team leadership and strong communication skills. A respectful and trusting relationship is established through the use of non-judgemental communication and by ensuring confidentiality (Nolan & Molla, 2017), where educators feel a sense of comfort to freely and reflectively critique practice.

Reflective questions

    • How effective are your current relationships with educators and service management?
    • How can you collaborate with other educators to build meaningful and trusting relationships within the service?

 

Reflection

This dimension of the ELM recognises that educational leaders are reflective professionals who consider the impact of their work and that of others, on children, families, colleagues and the wider education and care community. Reflection is essential to the everyday work of an educational leader, however it isn’t always easy to undertake.

Dr Jennifer Cartmel and Dr Marilyn Casley remind us that reflection features in our approved learning frameworks as a guiding principle and practice of children’s education and care. Reflection is an important skill of the educational leader, one that is supported by the other dimensions of the ELM, in particular, the building of quality relationships and a professional learning community. Remember, reflective practice is enhanced through quality relationships as educator teams find common ground and create partnerships that provide high quality environments in which children grow and develop to their full potential.

Reflective questions

    • What is my knowledge of the process of engaging in (and recording) reflection and how can I support this in others?
    • What questions can I develop to help others in my team to reflective meaningfully on their own practice?

 

Throughout the blog, we’ve posed reflective questions you can use to further build your understanding and experience with each dimension of the ELM.

I encourage you to explore the four dimensions of the ELM, what they mean for you as an educational leader and how you might further develop the key capabilities of knowledge, professionalism, relationships and reflection. The deeper unpacking of the four dimensions in The Educational Leader Resource by leading researchers and academics is useful to support you on your continuous improvement journey.

Further reading and resources

Educational Leader


ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest. This month showcases the role of the Educational Leader, and a We Hear You blog series exploring the why, the what and the how of the role.

The first instalment, The role of the educational leader: aims, objectives and intent, includes information about why the role was introduced and what it aims to achieve.

Additionally, it provides questions to encourage educational leaders to self-assess their own skills, knowledge and understandings and put in place a plan to develop the areas that need strengthening.

The next phase considers how leaders then use their skills, knowledge and understandings to lead the development of the curriculum/program, culminating in the final instalment that looks at working with teams to set goals for both teaching and learning that help bring the program to life. The series includes a range of great resources for further reading and reflection.

We have also looked at ways we can bring ideas to life and so have published a presentation based on an address to the Educational Leaders Western Australia Forum. This presentation explores the way educational leaders around Australia drive quality practice by working to lead, coach, mentor and inspire educators towards continuous improvement, ultimately delivering quality outcomes for children and families.
Educational Leadership – National Education Leader presentation

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