Leading through complexity: a workforce initiative for challenging times

Leanne Gibbs, Early Start, University of Wollongong, Australia (
Jo Grimmond, Early Start, University of Wollongong, Australia (
Kim Stouse-Lee, Early Start, University of Wollongong, Australia (
Elizabeth Aylward, Early Start, University of Wollongong, Australia (
Fay Gowers, Early Start, University of Wollongong, Australia (

Background: A qualified and stable early childhood education (ECE) workforce favourably influences the quality of early childhood education. With the advent of Covid-19, the ECE workforce was under threat. Policy arrangements and community circumstances-particularly in rural and remote regions jeopardised workforce stability and quality. The Early Start team was called to action. The team designed a response to support ECE workforce sustainability and children’s right to high-quality ECE. The response, a professional learning initiative, had unanticipated and far reaching effects-engaging educators from the most remote parts of Australia and across the world. The initiative was developed and theorised through a complexity leadership lens. This approach resulted in leadership emergence, creativity and innovation in a time of chaos and disruption. Key components of the theory; the administrative, adaptive and enabling shaped the work of the team.   

Aim: To demonstrate the potential of the complexity theoretical lens for the development of the ECE workforce and for the pursuit of high quality ECE.

Method: The strategy employed complexity leadership theory within complex adaptive systems.

Results: The use of complexity leadership theory enabled a positive outcome in times of disruption and chaos. The complexity lens can support innovation and enable equilibrium. Educators, who participated in the professional learning initiative, reported increased knowledge, efficacy and motivation.

Conclusions: Creative and innovative initiatives are needed to address ECE workforce issues. All workforce initiatives must consider the needs of the workforce in rural and remote Australia and therefore the well-being of children in those regions.

Implications for children: You deserve the highest quality education, wherever you live.

Implications for practitioners: You have a right to high quality evidence informed professional learning that supports your learning and well-being.

Key words: innovations, workforce issues, regional/rural communities, COVID-19, theory.

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