ERG SES E 07, Education Practices
Educational Leadership has been explored from several theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches. Numerous texts/models have emerged and definitions proliferate, yet, the understanding and practice of leadership remain elusive (Leithwood, Mascall & Strauss, 2009). This situation has been echoed transnationally within the early childhood care and education (ECCE) sector (Sumsion, 2006). Where research suggests that ECCE practitioners do not connect with or understand leadership; but rather view themselves primarily as educators (Hallet, 2013; Waniganayake, 2014). This status quo may be responsible for a workforce which is considered marginalised, with limited political power, poor social profile and a weak professional identity (Rodd, 2006). It would appear that the primary focus of current transnational research is the search for effective leadership practice in terms of quality and outcomes for children (what works) (Aubrey, 2011; Cheeseman, 2007) rather than researching and creating new methodologies to connect ECCE practitioners with leadership or developing leadership practice with the intention that the practice and the consequences of leadership practice will be more “productive and sustainable, more just and inclusive;” and ultimately change for the better the world they live and practice in (human flourishing) (Kemmis, McTaggart & Nixon, 2014, p. 66).
In Ireland, addressing the status quo is difficult as there is limited evidence available concerning ECCE leadership and very little leadership training. Consequently, it could be reasoned, that due to the limited research and training available, the current understanding of ECCE leadership also remains undeveloped, and may be contributing to the marginalisation of the sector. Therefore, this study set out to explore and explain ECCE stakeholders perceptions, practices and possibilities for leadership. A space was offered to the ECCE stakeholders, five leaders (4 female and 1 male), 12 practitioners, and 26 children in five ECCE settings to voice their meanings and experiences of leadership. To identify what was influencing the stakeholders’ practices and understandings of leadership and to listen to the stakeholders articulate their interventions to develop ECCE leadership. The objective was to generate leadership knowledge to advance the understanding and practice of leadership nationally and transnationally, as currently “we” have little understanding as to what “is going on” with ECCE leadership, nor do we know “why it behaves the way it does”. Until this gap in leadership knowledge is addressed, “we” will not “be confident about introducing any intervention to change it” (Balikie, 2005, p. 60). The research questions included:
1. How do the stakeholders in ECCE understand leadership?
2. How is leadership practiced in ECCE settings?
3. What is influencing the ECCE stakeholders’ understandings and practices of leadership?
4. Which interventions have the possibility to develop leadership?
In choosing a theoretical framework for this study, the primary concerns were the research participants and the research questions. The researcher recognised that leadership is a socially constructed, and context-specific phenomenon that holds different meanings for various stakeholders of the sector (Nivala, 1997). Accordingly, this study assumed a constructivist paradigm; where the philosophical conviction is that individuals build their construction of knowledge (epistemology) based on interactions with others and the environment (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011). The ontological position is that there are multiple realities and as such the methodical procedure employed was a collective case study, using multiple sites (Stake, 2000). The study was also mindful of feminist proposals for undertaking research (hooks, 2000; Harding, 1987; Hesser-Biber, 2012), as all feminisms embrace the notion of empowering [wo]men “to recognise their capacity and power to bring about change” (Stacki & Monkman, 2003, p.174). This study also looked to feminists’ theorist to ensure that the gender dimension was recognised and taken in to account in this research (Oliver, 2014).
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