This discussion will explain my experiences being led by others in the past and to evaluate these experiences of leadership and its impact on myself, my co-workers and organisation. I will also discuss good leadership traits that I would like to strengthen in myself to help me become an effective early years teacher in the future.
While positive leadership characteristics are critical to being a good leader, understanding the negative leadership traits are just as important. We all possess positive and negative characteristics in ourselves so it is important to learn to how to develop the positives and overcome our negative traits. Stephen Covey explained that we have the ability to examine our own character, to decide how to view ourselves and our situations, and to control our own effectiveness.(Covey, 2004). This process of self-evaluation and developing oneself will determine how effective we are as leaders especially as take on our roles as early childhood educators.
My example of positive leadership experience is from my role as a high school teacher at a Christian school in Manila, Philippines. Our head teacher organised a weekly bible study for all staff. Bible studies from Christian organisations are a priority and to be expected but I realised that the head teacher intentionally set these recurring meetings not just for bible studies but for us to benefit from a group set-up. The group gave us answers, the practical knowledge of seasoned educators, provided direction, goals and vision, and a standard for correction. The group helped us learn new attitudes, values and skills, encouraged us to become a stronger leader in our classrooms, taught us about teams and how to relate to each other. The meeting also to gave us time to connect, and relax when days are long and demanding. This simple leadership strategy of setting up regular group meetings helped us create a positive working environment that resulted in teachers supporting one another. We became an effective team, a quality school that helped the community and I felt fulfilled in my role.
Some concepts of positive leadership from my experience and can be evaluate based on theories on leadership from our study. Some approaches to effective leadership that are theorised best suited to early childhood settings includes “principle-centered” leadership approach, team approach, and distributed leadership. There are many similarities and defining features among them. Principle-leadership approach is based on developing good values and aims to be transformational (Carr, Johnson, & Corkwell, 2009). In this approach leaders focus on “responsibility and initiative, vision and values, integrity and execution, mutual respect and benefit, mutual understanding, creative cooperation and renewal” (Carr, Johnson, & Corkwell, 2009, p. 26). Team approach leadership focuses on forming groups that promote team work to improve quality of care and education for children. Improved outcome for children happens when team members nurtured by a leader understand their roles and responsibilities (Rodd, 2013). Another key leadership approach mentioned was distributed leadership where “leadership behaviour and actions are shared throughout teams in the organisation” (Lindon & Lindon, 2012, p. 120). In early childhood settings, a team can be the director and an assistant or an entire group of educators. It might mean a small group or a large group of teachers and staff and others who are not employed by the centre such as independent providers and parents. They work together offering their different expertise and combining resources (Rodd, 2013).
Although in my role as a high school teacher, there was one-to-one meeting always available with the head teacher, I noticed the director’s and head teachers’ emphasis on group meetings for the reasons similar to Woodcock’s (as cited in Rodd, 2013). We met not just to know more about our faith. Our group meetings provided opportunities for “help and support, coordination of tasks, a sense of belonging, identification of professional needs, better communication and a pleasant working environment” (Rodd, 2013, p. 148). Eventually, our teams were well established, there was a sense of team culture that we are comfortable with each other even when we are dealing with a lot of problems or hectic schedules at work. I felt at ease approaching our director and other staff when I have a concern. I got to know the team as trustworthy people and the leaders made us feel competent as they trusted us in our ability to lead based on our strengths and skills. I learned that I have a specific role to play as a history teacher and felt good knowing that the team knew the value I offered the school while I depended on them for their unique contributions and skills.
My positive leadership experience at this Christian secondary school also highlighted their use of the principle-centered approach combined with “servant leadership” approach by Robert Greenleaf (in Spears, 2010, p.12). The school director encouraged us to serve just like Jesus and as?Christians to know that we have more in Jesus than just a great spiritual leader; we have a practical and effective leadership model for all organizations, for all people, for all situations (Blanchard and Hodges, 2003, p. 10). In our school this overarching Christian principle became very important. It became our vision and main focus that transformed us and the school. We also studied leadership principles by Stephen Covey so we can improve how we lead so we can inspire our students to realise their potential. The management believed that if we feel confident in our leadership abilities as teachers we can help our students to realise their best selves and this will raise the school as a whole. It felt great to be part of a great team where everyone treats each other like family, where we were encouraged to think and act in ways to produce a place where people cared for each other while sensing an overall clear leadership.
Meanwhile, my negative leadership experience would be when my leader failed to communicate clearly and was inflexible to adapt to new ideas. I was working as a teller at one of the ‘big four’ banks here in Australia and my leader there seemed to lack skills on how to communicate or to engage in constructive conversation. She is an efficient at her job as senior teller but gave minimal instructions as a supervisor. I was assigned tasks but many times I remember my supervisor walking away with minimal explanation or without showing me what she wanted done. There were also times when I was told to just watch and copy exactly how she fill out forms, how to count money not allowing for any minor changes or different ways of doing things. I felt she was inflexible and rigid and needed order or perfection to be efficient in her job. It became hard for me to me do to my job with very little instruction and her exacting ways also made me very anxious. When I asked for coaching and specific instruction, she drip fed me with a small amounts of information without going into detail. I had to ask for more directions from others and changed my communication style before I could get the information I needed. At one time, we were having a review of my performance and she told me I was doing my job “as if I was still in retail.” I was deeply offended by this comment as she assumed retail people did not care about their work or I do not care for quality of job in customer service. Overall I felt that I was treated poorly, degraded and left in the dark while on training. This is why I eventually resigned.
My poor leadership experience at a bank really addressed a negative leadership characteristic which is inconsistent communication. The management/key leaders showing lack of insight by overlooking the critical importance of knowing how to effectively communicate to a junior staff like myself. They failed to provide me with essential information to help me perform my job. My supervisor damaged our work relationship by saying unhelpful comments and alienated me by having minimal contact and guidance. They kept me from excelling in my role as a teller and hampered performance of the bank. The supervisor was efficient in her role but seemed occupied with her status. She rarely communicated with me and when she did she treated me as though I am lesser person. While I was training, she told me what to do with close instructions, constantly checking if it done exactly her way, adding a few suggestions then disappearing before I could get clarity.
Given these experiences, I would like to develop my relational skills further so I can be a stronger, more effective early childhood teacher. My goal is to be someone who will influence others, someone engaging, inclusive and consultative. I still have a lot to learn but with leadership qualities like these, I hope to encourage my co-teachers not only to follow directions but to achieve goals and standards for our school, to inspire them to work together and to be the best version of themselves.
I know I can only influence others if I take opportunity to learn and make time for myself attending professional development courses while balancing work commitments with rest and family time. In professional development, I would like to learn more about having a clear purpose and focus, how to be decisive and a good communicator so I can inspire others towards a goal or encourage them to embrace their leadership qualities too.
I know myself to be a lone ranger at times just choosing to work on my own, implementing my own ideas and refusing to collaborate because I think my projects will work best if I do it myself. I hope that as a leader I would be able to have an open mind and accept input from others, support new ideas from the team so we can be more prepared and responsive to the needs of children and families. (Carr, et al. 2009).
I would also like to be authentic in my dealings with families and connect meaningfully, professionally and sensitively to them (Waniganayake, 2017). An important lesson I learned from this course is that children benefit when there is two-way communication between families and educators and this happens when we build a good relationship with the families by making sure we are accessible to them and they feel welcome and comfortable whenever they come to us.