Standard 7.2 Leadership – Case study 2

Effective leadership builds and promotes a positive organisational culture and professional learning community.

This case study is a collection of examples of high quality practice to prompt reflection and discussion about Exceeding NQS practice in a range of service contexts. It is not an extract from an assessment and rating report for a service that is rated Exceeding NQS for this Standard, and does not comprehensively describe the ways that a service can demonstrate Exceeding practice.
Educators looking into documentation

 

icon representing family day care - a set of houses and children

This council-run family day care service is situated in a local government area that covers a large geographical area and is on the outskirts of a major city. The council’s Children’s Services department also manages a range of other education and care services including long day care, occasional care and outside school hours care services.

The council, including children’s services, is committed to acting in the best interests of children and upholding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention). Recently, the council has been reviewing UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative, which supports the implementation of the Convention at the local level. The guiding principles of building a child-friendly city mirror the overarching principles of the Convention and the council aims to use them to promote best practice across all its functions.

Information about these initiatives is shared with families upon enrolment in children’s services, and then through regular newsletters, to highlight the council’s commitment to children and families and to seek their views and perspectives. Families and children eagerly contribute to public forums facilitated by the council seeking their views on new or potential projects and initiatives within the local government area. For example, a recently completed inclusive and accessible playground incorporated the ideas and suggestions of children and families using the family day care service, and the broader community.

The council is committed to providing ongoing professional learning opportunities for all employees. This includes leadership development opportunities for those already in leadership positions, or those aspiring to be leaders in children’s services or other areas within the local government structure. The family day care service leader and coordination unit staff attend these leadership training sessions along with other leaders and aspiring leaders. Participation in the leadership training aligns with and flows through the coordinators’ individual performance and learning goals. It also helps to progress the service’s Quality Improvement Plan, which currently has a goal of improving quality through strong collaborative leadership and teamwork.

Following one of the leadership training sessions, the co-ordination unit team became interested in the potential for using a shared or distributed leadership approach. They wondered if this approach would further support quality outcomes and support the service’s vision for all children to have the best possible start in life. In exploring this approach further, the team engaged in critical reflection, facilitated by the Children’s Services Manager, to explore the existing approaches to leadership, as well as the potential opportunities and challenges of implementing a distributed leadership approach.  

Initial reactions and opinions within the team were mixed, as they reflected on and challenged their own definitions and understandings of leadership and engaged in robust discussions. This included, in some cases, rethinking their perceptions of a leader from someone who directs, instructs, and monitors performance, to someone who inspires, guides and motivates others to be the best they can be. The process also included challenging their perceptions of themselves as leaders, particularly for those who hadn’t seen themselves in this way before.

Through these reflective conversations, coordinators explored the potential of including educators in their distributed leadership approach, recognising that many of them had considerable experience and depth of knowledge after working within the service for many years. This led to a discussion about the notion of power and power dynamics and how, regardless of their different roles and responsibilities, the service can strive to achieve a ‘power with’ rather than a ‘power over’ approach, recognising and valuing all educators’ knowledge, skills, and expertise. These conversations were documented to capture the coordinators’ thinking and decision-making and so they could be referred to in the future to inform ongoing professional dialogue.  

Eventually the coordinators came to a shared understanding of the value and benefits of distributed leadership for themselves, family day care educators, children, and families. One change resulting from these conversations was the appointment of three educational leaders across the region, rather than just one. By using a shared leadership approach and having increased opportunities to work collaboratively, coordinators felt they could better utilise their strengths, expertise, and interests to build on and extend educators’ pedagogy and educational practice.  

Coordinators hoped this approach would share the important responsibilities of the educational leader role. They also hoped it would enhance relationships between the coordination unit team and educators, allowing educators to benefit from engaging with, and drawing on, the knowledge and expertise of all coordinators, further strengthening their professional learning community. Coordinators also anticipated that this approach to educational leadership would support their own professional learning through the sharing of diverse ideas and opinions and providing mutual support and ongoing collaboration.

The coordination unit worked together to revise the existing role description of the educational leader to better reflect a distributive leadership approach. As part of this process, they referred back to the Education and Care Services National Regulations 2011 to ensure they continued to meet the requirements of the role, to lead the development and implementation of educational programs across the family day care service. They also looked at the Educational Leadership Model described in ACECQA’s The Educational Leader Resource and discussed the four dimensions of effective educational leadership and what this might look like in the context of their service. The Children’s Services Manager was also involved to provide feedback, address questions about how this shared role would be supported by the council, and to help formalise a strategy for communicating this new approach to educators.

The new team of educational leaders now meets regularly to share key achievements and stories of success, discuss solutions to issues and challenges and provide ongoing mutual support to one another. In a recent meeting, for example, one educational leader remarked that while they were able to connect with educators more frequently, some educators had reported feeling isolated from each other. To better understand the situation, the coordination unit team designed and sent out a survey to educators. They hoped this would help them to obtain more accurate and detailed data about what was working well and identify any issues or challenges. They also reached out to colleagues in neighbouring family day care services at a networking meeting to seek out their ideas and persepctives.  

The survey revealed that educators had a high level of satisfaction for the support they received from educational leaders. Educators reported that the educational leaders were always available to answer questions and to provide guidance and support in developing educational programs for children. Educators appreciated educational leaders’ flexibility in supporting them to develop planning methods and formats that worked best for them and the children and families attending their residence. As expected from the initial feedback, the survey also revealed that some educators were interested in different opportunities to connect with each other, in addition to those already provided.

The coordination unit team discussed the survey responses and came up with a range of ideas they could explore as opportunities for improvement, which they shared with educators to gain their thoughts and perspectives. Through this collaborative process, it was agreed that the service would increase the number of online professional learning options available to educators. Topics proposed by educators included different approaches to collecting and documenting children’s learning, involving children and families in analysing children’s learning, and unpacking the assessment and planning cycle. Online video sessions on topics of interest are now provided and discussion forums are facilitated on the service’s intranet to promote ongoing dialogue and critical reflection. Educational leaders follow up on and extend these discussions during home visits to individual educators.

Educators are also asked to provide suggestions for topics for the face-to-face professional learning sessions. When shared interests are identified, families are also invited to attend these sessions. For example, recently the benefits of using acknowledgment versus praise was the focus of a professional learning session attended by families, educators, and the coordination unit team. The content discussed at the session triggered further conversations between educators and families, which continued for some time afterwards. These discussions also provided a shared understanding about how to support children’s views of themselves as capable and competent through a consistent use of encouragement at home and in the service, rather than using extrinsic reinforcements such as praise. Educational leaders also sourced follow-up reading materials for educators and families to build on and further extend this new knowledge.

Given the success of this event, and following positive feedback from families, the service is now looking to create more regular opportunities for educators, educational leaders, and families to come together in this way. To strengthen their mechanisms for gathering ideas from families, educators have added a question to their bi-annual family survey to keep track of current priorities and interests. 
 

You may wish to use the indicators for Exceeding practice, the reflective questions for Exceeding practice at the Standard level, or the questions used by authorised officers to establish Exceeding practice to review and consider the examples of practice described above. You may also wish to consider them as part of your self-assessment, and in the development of your Quality Improvement Plan.

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