Leading from positions of power in children’s education and care services

Two educators in discussion


This month we hear from Emma Cross, Associate Lecturer in the School of Education at Curtin University, who highlights key findings from the Quality Leadership and Positionality project published in the 2022 Leading for Quality article, conducted by Curtin University. 

The leadership of quality in children’s education and care services is the responsibility of everyone. However, the educational leader plays a critical role in the establishment of environments that support collaborative and distributed leadership structures. 

The Quality Leadership and Positionality project has reimagined existing theories of leadership and proposed a way forward for the educational leader position.

Key findings

The educational leader role – A position of leadership and power

The leadership of educational programs and practices in education and care services is discussed in Quality Area 1 and Quality Area 7 of the National Quality Standard. 

The educational leader role is identified throughout these quality areas as a driving force behind the quality of leadership delivered in children’s education and care learning environments. The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA)’s emphasis on the educational leader role suggests a positional approach to leadership in children’s education and care services. 

Positional leadership is an approach that highlights specific individuals within their roles as leaders. In education and care services, the educational leader can be considered a positional leader because of the emphasis placed on them throughout the National Quality Framework in their leadership of ongoing quality improvement and educational programs and practices. The positional leadership responsibility placed on the shoulders of the educational leader must be carefully navigated to ensure the empowerment of educators and emerging leaders within their services.

Leadership responsibilities through a distributed approach

While the educational leader role has been identified as a position of leadership across children’s education and care services, educational leaders require partnerships with other educators to foster emerging leaders and achieve best practice and success. This distribution of leadership is a critical component to the empowerment of educators. It encourages their own identity as leaders to flourish. It is important to note, that a distribution of leadership is not simply a delegation of tasks and responsibilities. A distribution of leadership is a dynamic way of working in which individuals feel empowered to take charge in their areas of expertise, interests, and skills.

A distributed approach to leadership in the Australian children’s education and care sector allows services to enact the “Collaborative Leadership and Teamwork” that is discussed throughout the revised principles of Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF) V2.0 2022. 

Leading distributed approaches from a position of power

Traditionally, theories of positional leadership would suggest that a distributed approach cannot co-exist. However, in the complex nature of the Australian children’s education and care sector there may be benefit to the educational leader position in the coordination of distributed leadership opportunities across the service. 

Educational leaders in the Australian children’s education and care sector undertake their role with a key responsibility of supporting educators to see themselves as leaders and empowering them to take opportunities as they arise. As the service’s practices transform with educator empowerment, it is important that the educational leader makes space for more dynamic leadership to ensure a true distributed approach can take place. 

The following graphic illustrates the interrelations of positional and distributed leadership approaches in the Australian children’s education and care sector, leading to higher quality practices. 

Leading for high quality ratings graphic

Leading for high quality ratings in the Australian EC Sector.
Adapted from Cross et al. (2022)

What does this mean for educational leaders?

  • Support educators to recognise themselves as leaders in their work.
  • Coordinate opportunities for educators to take leadership responsibilities based on expertise, interest, and skill.
  • Recognise when educators are empowered in their work and take a step back, allowing the distribution of leadership to occur more dynamically and organically.
  • Facilitate regular professional conversations about practice in a respectful manner.

What does this mean for educators?

  • Realise that everyone can be a leader in a range of capacities: leadership of self, others, and practice.
  • Take opportunities that arise.
  • Share your knowledge, interest, skill, and expertise with others in your service.
  • Recognise your areas of weakness and work with your team to support these.
  • Lead your own ethical practice, taking responsibility for your actions and decisions.
  • Engage with professional conversations about practice in a respectful manner.

For more information and resources for educational leaders, visit the Educational Leadership section of the ACECQA website.


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