273 – Followership and following practices in early childhood education

Presentation - ECV2022-273

Followership and following practices in early childhood education

Melinda Brooker, Charles Sturt University, Australia (mbrooker@csu.edu.au)

Background: Without followers and following practices there cannot be leadership. Yet followership theory, as theorised by organisational management scholars, has not been used to explicitly examine how educators respond to diverse working conditions and circumstances in early childhood education.

Aim: To explore followership and develop new insights into followership practices used by early childhood educators in both leadership and followership roles.

Method: A qualitative research design employed multi-site ethnography complemented by the theory of practice architectures to investigate followership understandings and following practices from a participant and researcher lens. The investigation included 42 early childhood educators in both followership and leadership positions at three diversly structured ECE sites in Australia: a for-profit-long day care (LDC), a not-for-profit LDC, and a stand-alone preschool. Data consisted of field notes, interview transcripts, and reflective journal extracts. Additionally, educator-created artefacts such as centre philosophy and wall displays along with publicly available documents such as the National Quality Frameworks were analysed.

Results: Followership involved educators’ willingness to cede power and responsibility to others to achieve a common goal, which resulted in mostly self-empowered followership. Following as a practice showed how educators were influenced by close leadership, like a manager, and/or distant leadership, such as government bodies (i.e., ACECQA), which led to mostly passive and dutiful practices.

Conclusions: Overall, the differential findings linked to educators’ understandings, which were predominantly negative assumptions of followership. Yet, paradoxically, educators in a followership role were sometimes self-empowered, contradicting their negative understandings.

Implications for children and families: If you understand followership and what it means to follow as a practice, you will be better able to help leadership co-create better outcomes for children and families using ECE.

Implications for practitioners: Increasing your understandings of followership and following practices has the potential to:

  • relieve the leadership burden
  • inform leadership development, and
  • make your professional practices more effective.

Key words: followership, leadership, professionals’ voices, innovations, workforce issues, government, qualitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

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