Leadership within the early childhood sector and narratives of hope

Belinda Downey, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Will Letts, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Doreen Rorrison, Charles Sturt University, Australia (

Background: Leadership can typically be informed by discourses of masculinity, power and agency which can look different in highly feminised fields such as early childhood education. The early childhood regulatory body of Australia has outcomes-based requirements which impact leadership within services differently depending on the discourses embedded within the leadership style. These leadership styles then impact the educators and the educational program.

Aim: To unpack hidden discourses within the construction of early childhood educator roles that relate to leadership and management.

Method: Participants included 34 early childhood educators working across the ‘top end’ of the Northern Territory in Australia. Yarning sessions (cf. focus groups) were undertaken, discussing the early childhood profession and the impact of Government policy and policy reforms on their role. A constructivist grounded theory approach was taken after a thematic analysis was conducted on transcripts.

Results: The thematic analysis identified two narratives regarding leadership that educators depicted their role within:

1. Hopeful. Educators stated they felt valued by their leader and/or team due to aligned philosophical and educational values, and

2. Struggling. Educators felt unvalued in their role by management and felt more value was placed on outcomes-based regulatory requirements which led to resistance to management direction and communication breakdowns.

Conclusions: Educators who described their role within narrative (1) felt valued and philosophically aligned with their team this was built on a willingness by all parties to listen, communicate and find a collective common ground. Educators who described their role within narrative (2) felt unvalued, pressured due to management’s focus on outcomes-based regulatory requirements and divided from management due to a difference in philosophical values.

Implications for children: Your educators think that it is more important to listen to you and teach you through playing with you, than it is to write to the Government on the computer.   

Implications for families: Educators believe that spending quality time teaching and engaging with your child and you is a more important use of their time.

Implications for practitioners: You find hopeful well-being in your role when surrounded by philosophically like-minded individuals who value education and care. The sector needs to find a balance between bureaucratic expectations and educational integrity.

Key words: professionals’ voices, workforce issues, wellbeing, communication, education, policy, government, qualitative methods, leadership

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