Producing Leadership: Collective memory stories of early childhood education leaders

Marie White, Queensland University of Technology, Australia (

Background: Contemporary early childhood policy identifies leadership as the vehicle for delivering a broad range of outcomes in the early childhood education and care sector. The importance afforded to leadership within the national reform agenda speaks to the need for increased understandings of what leadership is and how it is produced in early childhood education and care (ECEC). This is particularly important during times of rapid sector change and given that there has been limited research focus on early childhood educators’ evolving conceptualisations of leadership (Rodd, 2013).

Aim: To explore how early childhood leaders produce understandings of ‘good’ leadership.

Method: The data for the study was collected through a series of workshops inspired by the poststructural research methodology of collective biography developed by Bronwyn Davies and Susanne Gannon (2006). The practices of collective biography involve small groups of people coming together to investigate a particular topic through shared work of telling, listening and writing memories (Davies & Gannon, 2006). Foucauldian discourse analysis was employed to analyse the data.

Results: Discourses of educational and pedagogical leadership, positions and/or relationships, gender and power were found to produce notions of ‘good’ early childhood leadership.

Conclusions: Interrogating discourses in the talk of early childhood leaders highlighted tensions and contradictions which were explained using ironic thinking. Early childhood leadership is characterised by complexities, tensions and nuances that have been illuminated through an innovative research design and methodology. There are implications to be drawn for early childhood policy and workforce issues.

Implications for children: Early childhood leaders do their best to ensure that your teachers and families understand how you learn and what you love to do. They work really hard to make sure that people understand how important you are.

Implications for families: Early childhood leaders are experienced and dedicated to their work and do their best to meet the needs of children, staff, families and authorities. This is hard and complex work. It is appreciated when you acknowledge that early childhood leaders are doing their best in managing many competing demands in their daily work.

Implications for practitioners: As leaders, it can be hard to meet the needs and expectations of multiple stakeholders in ECEC, especially during times of change. Leadership is complex, it is not one-size-fits-all and it is not all up to you – ECEC is a shared responsibility.

Key words: Leadership, Innovations, workforce issues, qualitative methods.

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