Early Childhood Education Journal

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 387–396 | Cite as

Redefining Leadership: Lessons from an Early Education Leadership Development Initiative

  • Anne DouglassEmail author


This study examined how experienced early educators developed as change agents in the context of a leadership development program. Unlike in many other professions, experienced early educators lack opportunities to grow throughout their careers and access the supports they need to lead change in their classrooms, organizations, the profession, and beyond. This qualitative study brings a relational and entrepreneurial leadership theory lens to its analysis of the experiences of 43 early educators as they co-created pathways forward as leaders for change. The study defines leadership as a process of influencing change to improve early care and education, and not reserved just for those with a formal leadership position. Results show how educators came to see themselves as leaders and pursued different paths to making change and driving improvement. The study offers a new conceptual mapping of a leadership development ecosystem for supporting educators’ capacity to identify as leaders as well as lead improvement and innovation. The paper concludes with lessons learned and recommendations for strengthening the leadership infrastructure to support early educator leadership for change and innovation.


Early education leadership Teacher leadership Child care Leadership Change Leadership development Innovation 



Funding was provided by Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (Grant No. CTEEC0900ISAEECRTTT0806UMB13A).


  1. Ancona, D., & Bresman, H. (2007). X-teams: How to build teams that lead, innovate and succeed. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.Google Scholar
  2. Berwick, D. M. (1994). Eleven worthy aims for clinical leadership of health system reform. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 272(10), 797–802. doi: 10.1001/jama.1994.03520100059034.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bloom, P. J., & Bella, J. (2005). Investment in leadership training-the payoff for early childhood education. Young Children, 60(1), 32–40.Google Scholar
  4. Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G. (2015). Learning to improve: How America’s schools can get better at getting better. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cameron, C., Mooney, A., & Moss, P. (2002). The child care workforce: current conditions and future directions. Critical Social Policy, 22(4), 572–595.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carr, V., Johnson, L. J., & Corkwell, C. (2009). Principle-centered leadership in early childhood education. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 37(3), 25–32.Google Scholar
  7. Douglass, A. (2011). Improving family engagement: the organizational context and its influence on partnering with parents in formal child care settings. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 13(2). Retrieved from
  8. Douglass, A. (2014). Resilience in change: Positive perspectives on the dynamics of change in early childhood systems. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 14(2), 211–225. doi: 10.1177/1476718x14555704.Google Scholar
  9. Douglass, A., & Gittell, J. (2012). Transforming professionalism: Relational bureaucracy and parent-teacher partnerships in child care settings. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 10(3), 267–281. doi: 10.1177/1476718x12442067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Douglass, A. (2017). Leading for change in early care and education: Cultivating leadership from within. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  11. Fletcher, J. K. (1999). Disappearing acts: Gender, power, and relational practice at work. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  12. Fletcher, J. K. (2004). The paradox of postheroic leadership: An essay on gender, power, and transformational change. Leadership Quarterly, 15(5), 647–661.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gittell, J. H. (2016). Transforming relationships for high performance: The power of relational coordination. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Gittell, J. H., & Douglass, A. (2012). Relational bureaucracy: Structuring reciprocal relationships into roles. Academy of Management Review, 37(4), 709–733. doi: 10.5465/amr.2010.0438 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Goffin, S. (2013). Building capacity though an early education leadership academy. Retrieved from
  16. Goffin, S. G., & Janke, M. (2013). Early childhood education leadership development compendium: A view of the current landscape. (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Goffin Strategy Group. Retrieved March 1, 2016 from
  17. Goldstein, L. S. (2007). Embracing pedagogical multiplicity: Examining two teachers’ instructional responses to the changing expectations for kindergarten in U.S. public schools. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 21(4), 378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Henderson-Kelly, L., & Pamphilon, B. (2000). Women’s models of leadership in the child care sector. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 25, 8.Google Scholar
  19. Hess, F. M. (2006). Educational entrepreneurship: Realities, challenges, possibilities. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  20. Institute for Healthcare Improvement. (2003). The Breakthrough Series: IHI’s collaborative model for achieving breakthrough improvement. IHI innovation series white paper. Boston: Institute for Healthcare Improvement; (Available on
  21. Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. (2012). The early childhood care and education workforce: Challenges and opportunities-A workshop report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  22. Institute of Medicine and Nation Research Council. (2015). Transforming the workforce for children birth through age 8: A unifying foundation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  23. Kagan, S. L., & Kauerz, K. (2012). Early childhood systems: Transforming early learning. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  24. Komives, S., Lucas, N., & McMahon, T. (2007). Exploring leadership: For college students who want to make a difference. [2nd ed]. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  25. Leonard, J. (2013). Innovation in the schoolhouse: entrepreneurial leadership in education. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education.Google Scholar
  26. Macfarlane, K., & Lewis, P. (2012). United we stand: seeking cohesive action in early childhood education and care. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 13(1), 63–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Miles, M., Huberman, A. M., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: a methods sourcebook. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  28. Muhr, T. (2004). Atlas. ti: The knowledge workbench: v5. 0 user’s guide and reference. Berlin: Scientific Software Development.Google Scholar
  29. Muijs, D., Aubrey, C., Harris, A., & Briggs, M. (2004). How do they manage? A review of the research on leadership in early childhood. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 2(2), 157–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ospina, S., & Foldy, E. (2010). Building bridges from the margins: The work of leadership in social change organizations. The Leadership Quarterly, 21(2), 292–307. doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2010.01.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ramgopal, P. S., Dieterle, K. P., Aviles, J., McCreedy, B., & Davis, C. F. (2009). Leadership development in the south: Where do we go from here? Dimensions of Early Childhood, 37(3), 33–38.Google Scholar
  32. Smith, K., & Petersen, J. L. (2006). What is educational entrepreneurship? In F. M. Hess (Ed.), Educational entrepreneurship (pp. 21–44). Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  33. Taba, S., Castle, A., Vermeer, M., Hanchett, K., Flores, D., & Caulfield, R. (1999). Lighting the path: Developing leadership in early education. Early Childhood Education Journal, 26(3), 173–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Uhl-Bien, M., & Ospina, S. (2012). Advancing relational leadership research: A dialogue among perspectives. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing.Google Scholar
  35. Whitebook, M., Kipnis, F., Sakai, L., & Austin, L. J. E. (2012). Early care and education leadership and management roles: Beyond homes and centers. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 14(1):n1. Retrieved from
  36. Wise, V., & Wright, T. (2012). Critical absence in the field of educational administration: Framing the (missing) discourse of leadership in early childhood settings. Connexious Project, 7(2), 1–9.Google Scholar
  37. Wood, E., & Bennett, N. (2000). Changing theories, changing practice: exploring early childhood teachers’ professional learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16(5–6), 635–647. doi: 10.1016/S0742-051X(00)00011-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Woodrow, C., & Busch, G. (2008). Repositioning early childhood leadership as action and activism. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 16(1), 83–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Yin, R. K. (2014). Case study research: Design and methods. New York: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Massachusetts BostonBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations