From the Ground Up: Growing leadership skills in early childhood educators

Over the past two years Assoc Prof Megan Gibson and members of the Centre for Child and Family Studies, Cathy Nielson and Dr Julia Mascadri, have been working closely with the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia (ELACCA), to develop and deliver a new national six-month leadership program for early childhood educators.

From the Ground Up has been designed by academics at QUT to grow leadership skills throughout ELACCA membership organisations. The main aim of the program is to build applied leadership skills among early childhood educators and to strengthen and extend the leadership skills of emerging and experienced leaders.

ELACCA was established in 2014 and works to promote the value of quality early learning and care for young children and their families. ELACCA comprises 20 members, both not-for-profit and for-profit service providers, who work together to achieve greater quality and equity in early learning in Australia. They do this through analysis, advocacy and innovation and in particular by co-designing professional learning programs for early childhood educators and teachers. The council also run public campaigns to build a greater education workforce by analysing data on early learning care performance. They draw on the expertise, knowledge, and practical experience of their members to represent their views to the decision-makers in government, media and the public.

From the Ground Up participants work in pairs to build their skills and knowledge, coming together each week online in whole-of-group workshops or smaller mentoring and coaching sessions. Now in its second iteration, over 80 educators have participated in the From the Ground Up program and are exploring ways to use action research as a key learning tool to support leadership practices within their services. Key outcomes of the program have been the development of knowledge, confidence, skills, and in particular a deep connection between program participants to support each other. Unanimous responses from program participants suggest the program has provided opportunities to grow leadership capabilities and capacities for individuals, teams of early childhood educators, centres, and organisations.

Significantly, given the critical early childhood workforce shortage, preliminary analysis in the evaluation of From the Ground Up is demonstrating that the program is making a difference in educator retention and engagement in the early childhood profession:

“For two years we have just been surviving, and this [From the Ground Up] provided us with the opportunity to really thrive.’ (Experienced Leader)

“I have looked forward to this every week, every fortnight. The networking is so powerful. It is great to hear new terminology. I have gained a lot from the course so far and I have seen Deidre blossom as an assistant manager, which has been just absolutely beautiful, a fabulous testimony to how well the course is run.’ (Experienced Leader)

“I’ve never heard of anything like this before, so being exposed to this has been really exciting for me. This has been enlightening because being able to dive into something, it just enhances your practices moving forward, because then you look into everything on a much deeper level.” (Emerging Leader)

Future partnerships between the QUT Centre for Child and Family Studies and ELACCA may see the program extend to running twice each year with an alumni division and opportunities for past participants to continue to reconnect on a professional level.