There are many theories of leadership applied in early childhood educational settings, some more appropriate than others. This essay outlines the transformational theory of leadership justifying why it is appropriate to use in educational settings and discussing issues including what impact the application of the transformational theory of leadership will have on children and staff. The paper refers to management and leadership and to recent peer-reviewed journal articles and published research in order to discuss transformational leadership.
In “Transformational Leadership” (2000) Dr John Hinchcliff states that the word transformation itself means to make a difference. He says that this all means that our approach to dilemmas requires that we encourage ourselves to learn to see things in different ways. We must learn new ways of thinking to solve new problems. Einstein said: “We will not use the same thinking to solve the problem that we used to create the problem.” Therefore an outline of Transformational Leadership in education is that leaders must make a difference, and that the current problems in education can’t be solved by using age old methods – change is required.
Leaders recognize that organizations must continually adapt to meet changing needs and circumstance. The astute leader will anticipate and see opportunities for change instead of sticking to a situation that no longer works. (Humphries and Senden, 2000). This is why it is the appropriate theory to use in educational settings, particularly in Australian education.
Australian Early Childhood Education Settings cater for children from six weeks until eight years of age and encompass childcare centres, preschool and primary school environments. Leadership in educational settings is a crowded and busy terrain (Gunter, 2001). What effects flow from quality leadership, such as staff retention, to quality child care and what impacts do these have on children, parents, staff and the wider community?
The use of transformational leadership in the field of childcare would greatly assist in the reduction of staff turnover. Turnover contributes to poor-quality services for children and families, and can have serious deleterious effects on children’s development and adjustment. Hale-Jincks, Knopf and Kempl, 2006, state this in their publication “Tackling Teacher Turnover in Childcare: Understanding Causes and Consequences, identifying solutions”. The article likens the impact of teacher turnover on children to that of divorce, and states that effects on children are very detrimental.
Hale-Jincks, Knopf and Kempl go on to recommend the following or leadership transformations: Enhance administrative support, effective communication, match caregivers to desired teaching assignments, staff rooms equipped with comfortable furniture and entertainment and increasing caregiver compensation programs. Other interventions are also appropriate.
Child care workers should have opportunities to move up the career ladder and should have chance to increase training – leaders should make this more accessible. (Hale-Jincks, Knopf and Kempl, 2006). The transformational leader would make training easily accessible to his staff, in the knowledge that the better trained the staff member is, the better impact that staff member would have upon children and parents.
To enhance the quality of child care and to reduce rates of teacher turnover, caregivers need an educational background that will prepare them for the challenges of working in an early childhood setting. Evidence researched by Scarr and Eisenberg suggests that college level training courses are particularly helpful in providing a training experience related to high-quality interactions which is something that should be borne in mind by leaders wishing to enhance the learning experience of their children.
In order for learners to obtain the full benefit of transformational leadership other aspects of child care are equally as important – the number of children enrolled in nonparental child care has increased in the last two decades, so has the emphasis on child care quality in the research literature (Scarr & Eisenberg, 1993). Research results have demonstrated the strong association between high-quality child care and better developmental outcomes for children.
For the best outcomes it is important to keep the number of children in classes small. Lower teacher-child ratios, smaller group size, and more teacher education are factors that are closely related to positive teacher behaviours which would enhance the experiences of children and parents. (Shim, Hestenes and Cassidy, 2004). It is therefore of utmost importance that once a quality teacher has been employed by an educational institution, he or she is kept happy in order to reduce staff turnover and therefore lessen stressful impact upon all concerned.
These measures would ensure that by the time a child has completed the childcare phase and is ready to enter junior primary, he or she would be optimally primed to benefit from the opportunities transformational leadership offers there.
Children in junior primary can also benefit extensively from the theory of transformational leadership in education, although the issue is not as clear cut as it appears to be with childcare – Barnett, McCormick and Conners conducted a study detailing the relationship between the transformational and transactional leadership behaviours of school principals in some New South Wales schools.
They introduce the study by stating that schools continue to be challenged, in the name of restructuring, to change governance structures, open themselves up to community influence, become more accountable, clarify standards for content and performance and introduce related changes in their approaches to teaching and learning and conclude that
Further research is needed to clarify not only perceptual differences that exist with transformational leadership but, more importantly, the relationships that transformational and transactional leadership behaviours have with aspects of school-learning culture in the context of Australian schools.
However, there are a number of factors which influence student performance in schools, being social class, gender, school sector and size (Silins and Murray-Harvey 1999). Teachers would be able to use transformational leadership to overcome these. It is suggested by Walker and Walker that for schools to match the needs of their changing communities they need to value and learn from their inherent differences. This would ensure effective leadership.
Griffiths finds evidence in results of a research paper, entitled “Relation of Principal Transformational Leadership to School Staff Job Satisfaction, Staff Turnover and Public Performance” (2003) that the theory of transformational leadership describes effective leadership in many settings including education.
Quality leadership in early childhood settings leads to quality child care which has a good impact on children. Research shows that schools classified as successful possess a competent and sound school leadership (Huber). The theory of transformational leadership facilitates this and allows the resolution of problems facing the educational system in Australia such as high turnover on staff and lack of training in staff, which have a detrimental effect on children.
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Barnett, McCormick and Conners, “Transformational Leadership in Schools – Panacea, Placebo or Problem?” Vol 39 pp 24 – 46, 2001
Griffiths, “Relation of Principal Transformational Leadership to School Staff Job Satisfaction, Staff Turnover and Public Performance” 2003
Gunter, “Critical Approaches to Leadership in Education” Journal of Educational Enquiry Vol 2, No 2, pp98 – 108 2001
Jongee Shim, Hestenes and Cassidy, “Teacher Structure and Childcare Quality in Classrooms”, 2004 p143 – 158 Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Hale-Jincks, Knopf and Kempel, “Tackling Teacher Turnover in Childcare: Understanding Causes and Consequences, identifying solutions” Childhood Education 2006 p219
Hinchcliff, J, 2000, “Transformational Leadership”
Huber, “School Leadership and Leadership Development”, Independent Research Group
Humphries and Senden, 2000 “Leadership and Change, a Dialogue of Theory and Practice” Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 2000 p26
Silins and Murray-Harvey “Students as a Central Concern” 1999 Flinders University
Walker and Walker “Challenging the Boundaries of Sameness: Leadership through Valuing Difference”