Developmental pathways for leaders in early childhood education: lessons from the experts

Leaders are critical to the success of Early Childhood Education (ECE) reform, yet there is no clear defined path in how to pursue a leadership career in the multifaceted, diverse field of ECE. Emerging literature on ECE leadership demonstrates an inconsistency in how leadership is understood by stakeholders and persons working directly with children (Heikka & Hujala, 2013). Consequently, without clear leadership trajectories, roles are not built on professional competencies (Austin 2014) and subject to traditional definitions of leadership that might not work for a complex and highly feminized field (Hard & Jónsdóttir, 2013). In this study, seven ECE leaders were interviewed and asked to give narratives of their career trajectories in ECE. Four themes that arose from interview questions included diverse pathways to leadership, how leaders engaged with systems, dispositions and persistence of leaders, and reflections and advice form leaders. The results indicated a very strong orientation towards social justice in all leaders, coupled with mentorship, communication, and knowledge of systems supporting young children and their families. Implications, potential limitations of the study, and ideas for future research are included.