Leaders in early childhood education usually enter the profession with a profound love of children. They have experience and key skills: patience, organization and flexibility. They embrace diversity, and they can communicate effectively with children, teachers, parents and the community. However, as early childhood education progresses, lawmakers are working to expand programs and improve the quality of schools and daycare centers. It is, in part, up to the leaders already in the field to see that they are ready for change. There are several important qualities that will make these leaders successful.
Mentor Rising Leaders
As leaders in the field of early childhood education, effective directors and administrators are always looking for rising leaders. Since teachers in the early childhood classroom work with students and parents, strong directors regularly observe and evaluate their staff members. Many classroom teachers and assistants have the skills that could, with time and training, qualify them as the next generation of strong leaders.
After administrators identify rising leaders, mentorship becomes important. It is not enough to simply encourage a promising leader to pursue additional education and look for leadership opportunities. A good director will make a point to include these up-and-comers in strategic planning and decision-making situations, giving protégés an opportunity to experience leadership firsthand. Further, wise directors will cultivate opportunities for new leaders within their systems to increase retention.
Make the Most of Individual Strengths
Strong directors and leaders know their strengths. In situations that require a leader’s particular expertise, they take the reins and keep the organization moving forward. A strong leader does not back down from controversy or let bullies run the show.
On the other hand, strong leaders also embrace “upside-down leadership.” When early childhood administrators practice upside-down leadership, staff members feel empowered to make suggestions and use their skills. Smart leaders recognize areas for improvement and learn from those who know best, including those they supervise. According to Rebecca Marcon of the department of psychology at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, “The person providing direct service will have the practical knowledge, ideas and creativity, but may miss the big picture. The person farthest removed from the action has to keep the big picture in mind. But both must listen to each other because both are valuable.”
Provide Time and Opportunities
Teaching and childcare can be lonely professions. Although they are around people all day, most teachers and assistants will confess that they would appreciate more time with adults — both colleagues and friends. Leaders in any educational setting who provide time for interactions among staff members almost always see improved morale and loyalty.
Smart leaders also provide time and opportunities for professional development. It may not be possible to provide on-site classes or seminars for every need, but if administrators are generous with time and financial support, teachers and assistants will see that their leaders truly support continuing education.
Recognizing the next generation of leadership in early childhood education, empowering people to do what they do best, and providing social and educational support are all critical to successful leadership. The truly great leaders never lose sight of their purpose. They maintain a passion for education and devotion to early childhood. They know that systems and processes can and should be efficient and precise. But if children are not the centerpiece, no leader can run a truly effective childcare center.
Learn more about A-State’s Online Master of Science in Early Childhood Services.