The professional leadership and action research training model: supporting early childhood leadership.
In the light of current international and national reforms and the growing formalisation of early childhood education, educators are in need of ongoing leadership training that targets pedagogy and curriculum and strengthens partnerships with families and communities. Siraj-Blatchford and Mannie (2006) express the importance of the quality of leadership training for early childhood educators and raise concerns about their reluctance to take on leadership roles. As part of the Australian National Early Childhood Development Strategy, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) heightened the need to strengthen leadership and interdisciplinary practice and build a stronger early childhood professional workforce with the capacity to support children, parents, carers and communities (COAG, 2009). Still, the disinclination of early childhood educators to engage in leadership and research remains a growing concern as the sector responds to mandatory curriculum frameworks and professional standards.
Recent national early childhood reforms in Australia have led to 'windows of opportunity' and future pathways dependent on leadership training. The Australian Curriculum (AC) (ACARA, 2011), the National Quality Framework (DEEWR, 2010), the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) (DEEWR, 2009), the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) (AITSL, 2011) and the National Quality Standard(NQS) (ACECQA, 2012), prioritise knowledge of leadership, curriculum and pedagogy and the strengthening of family and community partnerships. The NQS identifies 'leadership' as a required Standard, unlike the APST that classify leadership as the fourth and final professional career stage, with no mention of 'leadership' within the first three career stages.
In 2012, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) proposed the following three areas be actioned in Australia: (1) improving qualifications, training and work conditions; (2) engaging families and communities; and (3) advancing data collection, research and monitoring. Still, low recruitment, pay levels, lack of qualified staff specifically in childcare services, diverse workforce qualifications and reluctance to take on leadership roles still exist (Ortlipp, Arthur & Woodrow, 2011). In the last decade, there has been a paucity of research and leadership training specific to family and community leadership (Muijs, Aubrey, Harris & Briggs, 2004). Of recent concern is that a small-scale study reported postgraduate university students lacked deep understanding of family and community partnerships, were trained in pedagogy and curriculum rather than family and community, and viewed themselves primarily as pedagogical leaders rather than leaders of family and community engagement (Campbell-Evans, Stamopoulos & Maloney, 2014). Models of leadership and training remain critical in supporting the development of core leadership capabilities and embedding a research culture that engages with families and communities (Leeson, Campbell-Barr & Ho, 2012). If the three areas proposed by the OECD are to be actioned, then qualifications and training, engagement with families and communities and ongoing research need to be strengthened.
A comprehensive review of the literature examined current models of leadership and professional learning that ranged from linear to cyclical models, emerging models of system leadership and 'layered' leadership approaches (Hopkins, 2007; Warren, 2009). Each model reflected some key aspect of leadership, whether it was the need for training, knowledge of the discipline, recognition of diverse socioeconomic settings, reflective practice, research, change management or willingness to move from within and outside work settings. For example, cyclical models consisted of connected pathways for continual reflection, while some professional development models were grounded in theories of learning. Warren's model, aligned with leadership learning through its inclusion of inquiry-based learning, reflection, conversation, sharing of learning in supportive contexts and its emphasis on trial implementation. It became clear that professional models and frameworks were more likely to succeed when they supported training and practice rather than making scant reference to how leadership should look in practice (Dunlop, 2008). Theoretical and research-based studies that allow models to be tested are long overdue.
In Western Australian schools, early childhood teachers with an early childhood degree work across primary school settings, generally Kindergarten-Year 2. Current reforms require them to apply the EYLF and the NQS when working with children from birth to five years, and the AC and APST (AITSL, 2011), when working with children five to eight years. This means they need to be familiar with two mandated frameworks (EYLF and the AC), one set of Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL, 2011), and the NQS (ACECQA, 2012), unlike their primary colleagues who follow only one mandatory framework (the AC). When children aged five and six years are combined in a kindergarten/pre-primary classroom, the early childhood teacher needs to merge the EYLF with the AC, a task that is perceived as challenging. For them, leading change relies on knowledge of leadership, curriculum and pedagogy, as well as families and communities.
The PLAR Training Model
In this paper the author reports on a research study and presents a prospective Professional Leadership and Action Research (PLAR) Training Model for early childhood, which is flexible and responsive to individual needs. In the study, the term 'teacher leaders' (TLs) is used to identify the teachers who worked in the early years in AISWA schools, some of whom are early childhood trained and some primary trained. Furthermore, the model individualises leadership training to meet TLs' needs in their local work context. The PLAR Training Model was developed by the author and supported by AISWA, to evaluate its capacity to enhance leadership, pedagogy, and increase research outputs, and to offer support and encourage leadership within and beyond micro and macrosystems. Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems theory identifies five systems or spheres of influence, each embedded within the next larger context: the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem and chronosystem (Rathus, 2006). Ecological Systems theory explains development and learning as the reciprocal influences between individuals and the settings that make up their environment. The PLAR Training Model challenges TLs to move across micro and macrosystems and lead change. The model's six key elements are described below.
Element 1: Five professional learning sessions
The five professional learning sessions (PLS) were spread across the year (March, May, August, September, November), with timelines negotiated to suit TLs' requirements. Each PLS was followed by action research (AR) so theory could be linked to practice. Professional knowledge and capabilities relating to leadership, pedagogy and AR were introduced, reflected upon, critiqued and further explored. Building partnerships with families, communities and professional organisations remained a priority. At the conclusion of the study, TLs completed a literature review and AR report.
Element 2: Action research in each school
AR followed each PLS and was supported by the researcher and AISWA representative through: school and university site visits, phone, email, ICT and networking supports. This element required TLs to examine literature and evidence-based research, select a research topic approved by the school, develop a plan of actions, implement AR and complete a research report. TLs communicated with the principal, school staff, and where applicable, families, communities and professional organisations.
Element 3: Action learning community meetings in each school
Through 'Action learning community' (ALC) meetings, held at least once a term, TLs shared their professional learning with the school team and discussed AR, its implementation and assessment. Key points were documented in a reflective journal and shared with colleagues at the next PLS.
Element 4: Group networking beyond the school
The fourth element was initiated to strengthen confidence in TLs; to move beyond their comfort zone, support students, schools, families, communities and the profession. Some suggested networks included: partnering with families and communities, presenting at conferences and workshops, organising monthly meetings across schools and responding to written submissions. It was hoped that developing multi-faceted approaches to networking would empower TLs to influence all levels of government and advocate for children and the early childhood profession across micro to macrosystems.
Element 5: ICT and networking supports
This infrastructure was considered important in strengthening TLs' ICT knowledge and applying networking skills within and beyond school settings. An Early Years Leaders Online Discussion Forum was developed and supported by AISWA ICT consultants and the researcher to strengthen TLs' capacity to participate in ICT.
Element 6: Leadership and advocacy opportunities
This element offered opportunities for TLs to showcase their leadership work through their own avenues or the following suggested pathways with researcher support: presentation of their AR project alongside the researcher; development of research posters for conferences; and a joint presentation at the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Biennial Conference in Perth, 2012, on the findings of this research study.
The PLAR Training Model was mapped using a Program Logic Model Framework through which inputs, outputs and outcomes could be evaluated (McDavid & Hawthorn, 2006) (see Table 1). The Program Logic Model presented a clear process, TLs' ratings and perceptions, examination of assumptions and influencing factors. The PLAR Training Model investigated TLs' professional needs, identified activities and participants, and outcomes. At the completion of the research study, TLs evaluated the effectiveness of the PLAR Training Model, making suggestions for future refinement.
The research study
In 2011, a one-year research study was initiated to build pedagogical knowledge and generic leadership capacity in TLs working in AISWA schools. Four research questions were developed. This paper examines two of the four stand-alone questions, the findings of which are reported here.
1. What kinds of professional learning needs do teacher leaders perceive they have in contending with any problems relating to new reforms, pedagogy and leadership?
2. What are early childhood teacher leaders' perceptions about the Professional Leadership and Action Research Training Model they applied in schools?
The researcher adopted a qualitative and quantitative approach to the evaluation. This was informed by symbolic interactionism that embraces multiple voices and perspectives, and phenomenology to collect data, search for patterns, interpret data, seek understanding and evaluate the PLAR Training Model. Multiple methods (triangulation) were used to gather a rich combination of evidence-based data. A range of instruments were applied and data analysed: surveys (pre-survey, informal survey, post-survey), interviews, focus groups, conversations and document analysis (including reflective journals and action research reports).
Twenty-four TLs commenced the study, 17 finished and the remaining seven were still in the process of completion, therefore not in a position to provide post-survey evaluation feedback. This paper reports on 17 TLs--16 who worked in metropolitan districts and one in a rural school. The 17 TLs held teaching experience that ranged from three-and a-half to 34 years practical experience in early childhood settings, with varied responsibilities such as: coordination and support for staff; leading and liaising with school personnel and parents; leading educational reforms in the school; and mentoring others during the change process.
A pre-survey was given to each TL at the commencement of the research study to address: demographic data about their training and professional development needs; and current professional knowledge of leadership, reforms and pedagogy. An informal survey was distributed midway through the study to gauge their progress. A post survey, with questions aligned to the research project, was presented on completion of the research study. Two focus groups were conducted during PLS; individual interviews were planned on five occasions for clarification of survey data, along with TL conversations.
Analysis of the content of TLs' individual action research projects, their reflective journals and final 3000-word report, provided formative and summative data that informed the research study. Data analysis in the study was early, ongoing, inductive and emergent in its approach. Themes and patterns were grounded in the data and emerged largely through a process of inductive reasoning. Three methods (descriptive, interpretative and theory building) were used to analyse data (Strauss & Corban, 1990, cited in Maykut & Morehouse, 1994), evaluate and refine the PLAR Training Model. The study was initiated with appropriate ethical approval from Edith Cowan University and data were de-identified prior to analysis to safeguard anonymity.
This section of the paper reports on TLs' professional learning needs (pre-survey data) and embeds the data in the PLAR Training Model as content. The data provided insight into the professional learning needs of TLs and applied across each of the six PLAR elements.
Professional learning needs
Twenty-four TLs identified training, reforms, curriculum, professional standards, support networks and managing change as needed topics for professional learning. One TL explained, 'Each reform needs to have specific training on how the documents are required to be used and where the flexibility lays (EYLF and National Curriculum, National Quality Standard)' (TL2). A second TL reported challenges in merging the AC with the EYLF: 'Crossover links between Australian Curriculum and EYLF ... support networks for new reforms' (TL8). A third focused on, 'Interpreting what the impact of the reforms is and how they will work in particular contexts' (TL20).
The same 24 TLs prioritised strengthening of leadership capabilities, managing diverse beliefs and resistance to change. More specifically:
How do we present this to a staff [member] who may or may not value early learning? (TL2).
EYLF ... How to convince the principal [of] the need for change and support (TL23).
How to engage followers who aren't receptive to change (TL8).
Twenty-four TLs identified pedagogical needs relating to how pedagogy can be reconceptualised, linked to curriculum frameworks and applied in practice. One TL suggested, 'New thinking/strategies on how knowledge of early childhood pedagogy can fit in with new curriculum demands' (TL18). The second revealed, 'combining the new curriculum with the hands-on experiential pedagogy' (TL11), while the third remained unconvinced change was necessary and sought information on 'what research underpins the current reform changes' (TL3). Surprisingly only one TL identified the need to partner with family and community, which remains an important reform expectation. Pre-survey data provided insight into TLs' needs and was incorporated into the PLAR Training Model.
Evaluation of the PLAR Training Model
This section of the paper presents a post-survey evaluation of the PLAR Training Model and its six elements. The evaluators were 17 TLs who completed the study. The structure of this section begins with a rating, followed by TLs' perceptions of the model.
Seven TLs rated the overall PLAR Training Model as 'Excellent' and 10 reported 'Very Good' (Figure 1). In their opinion, the model was flexible, well-structured and responsive to their needs. There was consensus that each of the six elements strengthened their professional knowledge, built infrastructure and support, promoted critical reflection, and offered opportunities through which they could lead and advocate. Here is a small, yet representative, sample of their thoughts:
The model for this course was very successful. The 6 week breaks allowed me to continue working full-time as well as continue my research project (TL8).
It was great to be able to take away what we had learnt/discussed in each session and have time to work on it back in our schools. Also great to get others' opinions and hear their journeys (TL6).
I enjoyed the process of completing the Lit review and learning to use evidence-based research to empower my action research process (TL3).
For 17 TLs, the six elements were achievable, worthwhile and at times challenging. Three share their perceptions:
It has been a valuable journey for me this year, embarking on my changes into formal leadership. It has given me a scaffold and hearing the experiences of others has been invaluable (TL1).
Acceptance by staff because it is research based. Gaining professional knowledge. Practical component means 'something' is actually achieved or accomplished which practically benefits the school (TL16).
Every session offered 'hope' and incentives by way of support to keep the project and the 'leader' motivated to succeed (TL10).
The 17 participants revealed the PLAR Training Model strengthened their knowledge of leadership, pedagogy and research, and was flexible, needs-based and supportive. For two TLs, challenges were context-based. As one explained, 'the whole program was great. My difficulties were with my school not the program. I received great support from all those involved in the professional learning' (TL6).
Evaluation of Element 1: Five professional learning sessions
When asked to rate the overall effectiveness of the five PLS (Figure 2), six said 'Excellent', eight said 'Very Good', two said 'Good' and one made no comment. The 17 TLs believed the five PLS were strategically aligned and distributed evenly across the year to allow ample time for the completion of individual AR projects.
For them, the professional learning structure was supportive of their needs unlike 'one off PLS'. Three TLs elaborated:
A structure to follow with support along the way--an excellent balance between the five professional learning sessions and school based research (TL14).
It was good having time between each session especially trying to combine working and extra load (TL9).
Topics were relevant for each stage of the project; feedback was welcomed and given openly. A total feeling of support was generated within the group (TL10).
Seventeen stated the five PLS and the PLAR Training Model strengthened their capacity to link theory to practice, apply critical analysis, engage in school and group networks, refine ICT skills and strengthen leadership and advocacy. Here is a small sample of their perceptions:
I found sessions where (Elizabeth) shared her findings and other's research on the nature of leadership, problems of leadership and what leadership looks like especially helpful as it identified common problems/ solutions and patterns of behaviour--good to know (TL7).
Network with like-minded peers and I've enjoyed listening to the journeys of other researchers (TL2).
Given new ideas I could use on leading change (TL5).
For one TL, time became a challenge: 'I came away wanting to do more within the school but unable to without being given extra "Duties Other Than Teaching" time, however, inspiring to lead change' (TL11).
Evaluation of Element 2: Action research in each school
When asked to reflect on the effectiveness of the overall AR process (Figure 3), two reported 'Excellent', 11 said 'Very Good', two said 'Good' and two revealed 'Satisfactory'.
The initial inclusion of AR was challenging, as TLs examined literature, evidence-based research and negotiated research priorities with staff. Ongoing support was readily available through consultations and visits to schools. A process of change unfolded as TLs progressively developed the leadership capabilities required for AR. They followed a traditional AR model: articulated an issue, gathered and analysed information, planned strategies and experiences, actioned research in schools and evaluated their effectiveness as leaders. Here are samples of TLs' thoughts:
I felt more empowered as a leader of change (TL3).
Encouraging me to go back and read up on current research--something I have continued to do independently now (TL7).
The knowledge I have gained from my research project has been valuable and will impact the way I teach my students next year (TL17).
Clearly, ongoing support was critical in guiding TLs through the AR process. Encounters varied in complexity, challenging TLs to negate gaps in knowledge and access the literature for guidance. For example:
Educating senior management and executive on the importance of early childhood education (TL3).
Getting teachers to commit time and effort was difficult because the two teachers involved worked on different days and were not always committed to spending time reading some of the research materials I provided (TL16).
Difficulty with a change of leadership, causing a dramatic change in staff collaboration (TL15).
The AR process challenged TLs to engage in reflective thinking and enhance professional knowledge:
In making me viewmyself as a professional with academic background was a valuable way to analyse and contribute in the context of my role in the school--very useful(TL7).
I learned more about myself and what drives me as a teacher. I was able to pass on enthusiasm in teaching to my fellow colleagues (TL8).
The research enabled me to improve my professional knowledge. It was like going back to Uni (TL16).
Internal school networks and connecting with the outside community remained important in developing leadership capacity. One TL sought internal support and 'tried many avenues but even staff already in leadership roles failed to provide the help needed' (TL6). Another TL revealed, 'I became more aware of what's happening outside the school community and saw challenges of leaders that were very different from my own' (TL11).
Evaluation of Element 3: Action learning community meetings in each school
When asked to rate the overall effectiveness of the ALC meetings (Figure 4), two said 'Excellent', seven said 'Very Good', three said 'Good', three reported 'Satisfactory', while two said 'Poor'.
The sequence of PLS and AR, followed by ALC meetings, was perceived by all TLs as valuable. They believed this combination strengthened their capacity to lead change. As one explained: 'I was able to do well as I had spent time in research beforehand, so was able to present to staff in [a] positive light' (TL13). A second TL reported, 'having a research base prior to this meant I was confident in discussing the project with staff' (TL14). This view was confirmed by three TLs:
I personally approached people and emailed. I gave teachers some say in when/how/what happened (TL5).
Determined to keep finding alternative strategies to create a positive situation and outcome. Eventually it meant appearing to [step] aside to let others lead as that was the only way they'd contribute (TL10).
I think I was quite effective in that all the full-time and support staff were very supportive and willing to assist me and were happy to see changes being adopted in the school (TL8).
Reaching shared consensus proved challenging for one TL who revealed, 'staff felt a little overwhelmed with expectations and putting professional learning into place in the classroom' (TL1). A second, 'tried really hard to listen and empathise while trying not to take things personally but to develop the skills necessary to see the action research through' (TL12). A third explained: 'I presented research-based information and this made it convincing to a degree. Scepticism was expressed by one of the teachers due to her perception that there exists a gap between academics and practical experience' (TL16). A fourth exclaimed there were, 'Too many challenges! This work (all in my own time) was not valued at all. There was a very clear shift in dynamics with the change of leadership' (TL15).
Negating gaps in leadership and accessing support was important. One TL 'engaged AISWA reps to support findings for school' (TL4). Accessing a 'critical friend' supported their leadership journey, strengthened confidence and brought positive outcomes. In their words:
I went back and collected more evidence to back up my proposals and ideas and re-presented it (TL3).
Presenting my research clearly and in a non-threatening way. Allowing people to take ownership of what we were doing (TL12).
I felt confident when suggesting my ideas at a K-2 coord. meeting and at the initial meeting with [the] Head of Junior School and Dept. (TL2).
Two TLs rated this element as 'Poor', explaining their evaluation was not related to the structure of the PLAR Training Model but was 'ineffective due to lack of support and school changing the direction of my research' (TL6) and 'resistance to change was high and support low so whilst I could articulate the change its effectiveness is dubious' (TL10).
Evaluation of Element 4: Group networking beyond the school
When asked to rate the overall group networking beyond the school (Figure 5), five said 'Very Good', three said 'Good', three said 'Satisfactory', one said 'Poor' and five said 'N/A' or 'Not involved'. The TL who responded 'Poor' believed her involvement was limited to her 'school and with other teachers at the EC leadership PL' (TL3).
The majority of TLs networked at their own pace with known colleagues. For example, one preferred to 'have conversations with others from different schools and glean some ideas' (TL16), a second 'was able to inspire and give a colleague who was participating in the action research advice and ideas' (TL17), and a third, 'was able to present to a committee on 1 occasion and spoke to other teachers about the project on a 1-1 basis during PD' (TL8).
Group networking beyond the school was a slow transition, as TLs reported various challenges. For example:
I found that this was very difficult because of the time. There were so many things happening that year that keeping on top of the project was hard (TL12).
My very limited skill with online communication tools and my lack of inclination to be involved in this format (TL16).
TLs' confidence also declined when they were approached by individuals with an agenda who were more confident than they were and made their role more daunting. They faced 'staff divisions, resistance and no interest in listening to change' (TL15). For one TL, group networking had been 'very unsuccessful', seven made no comment and one responded, 'not applicable'.
When asked to reflect on what they would do differently to improve group networking beyond the school, three TLs revealed:
Bring more 'outsiders' into the school to speak as authorities instead of conveying information myself (TL10).
Be more broadly prepared to share my philosophy and back up my ideas (TL1).
I probably would follow the same pattern because my other roles in the school worked well; staff supported me because of the project and its benefits to the school community (TL8).
One TL's reluctance to continue her leadership role diminished as she accessed researcher support. Another challenged herself to network beyond the school context, experienced positive outcomes and concluded, 'this course has re-inspired me to become more involved in the network meetings organised by AISWA/Independent Primary School Heads of Australia (IPSHA) on a regular basis. I have also tried networking with a local state school (limited success)' (TL7).
Evaluation of Element 5: ICT and networking supports
TLs were asked to rate the overall effectiveness of their use of ICT for networking (Figure 6). Two said 'Excellent', five said 'Very Good', six said 'Good', three said 'Satisfactory' and one said 'Poor'.
Despite a high ranking, most were still hesitant to use ICT for networking, due to limited time and training. To support TLs, AISWA set up a secure Early Years Leaders Online Discussion Forum, which provided professional learning and ongoing ICT support.
TLs did not raise criticism of the site but rather the factors that impacted on their capacity to become involved, for example, time and limited IT knowledge. Most used the site as observers, benefiting from this experience. Common responses were: 'limited use due to my lack of time to access the site and unfamiliarity with the new technology' (TL7); or, 'my topic was different from others so no discussion took place' (TL11). Time, inadequate ICT skills and lack of confidence continued to be expressed as impediments. More specifically:
Again, it had potential; time prevented me from maximising its networking possibilities (TL10).
It was great so that we could keep in contact with others. I did not use it, however, due to time restraints and I did not feel confident (have experience) using it (TL17).
I did not participate in this as I am not a user of this form of technology (TL16).
One TL believed the AISWA discussion site was 'useful to see others' projects and share resources' (TL4), while a second explained, 'it was great to see how others were going and what challenges they were facing' (TL6). Clearly, some TLs lacked the capacity to use ICT for networking and the confidence to become capable leaders in this area.
Evaluation of Element 6: Leadership and advocacy
TLs were asked to rate their leadership and advocacy role (Figure 7). One said 'Excellent', seven said 'Very Good', six said 'Good', two said 'Satisfactory' and one said 'Poor'. The TL who responded 'Poor' explained her reason: 'There is much to be done in terms of educational reforms at my current place of employment' (TL5).
This element offered opportunities for TLs to take on leadership roles with researcher support. Five of the 17 accepted an invitation to co-present with the researcher at an ECA WA branch meeting; two developed posters for the ECA Biennial Conference in Perth (2012); and one presented alongside the researcher during the ECA Biennial Conference in Perth (2012).
Furthermore, eight said they presented or advocated at other events or forums, while nine said 'No'. One explained: 'Discussed my project with EY staff at a staff meeting and met a couple of times with Head of Primary Area meetings, leadership meetings, parent workshops, staff meetings' (TL7). Another said: 'Early Childhood Australia and Independent Primary School Heads of Australia (IPSHA) networks' (TL1). A third added: 'Parent information evenings. Led a committee to re-develop play areas and organised fundraising events [and] busy-bees' (TL9). When asked if they would consider leading and advocating again, 12 said 'Yes', one said 'No' and four said 'Unsure'. No reasons were provided.
Evaluation, discussion and conclusion
Seventeen TLs evaluated the overall PLAR Training Model, rating its effectiveness in strengthening leadership, pedagogy and research output across its six elements. The perceptions of TLs are presented in Table 2.
TLs revealed the PLAR Training Model built a more intentional and action-based view of pedagogical leadership that connected to practice, strengthened leadership and research capabilities and recognised the importance of relationship building, networking and infrastructure. Time and confidence in using ICT were documented as barriers which impacted on positive outcomes. The development of the PLAR Training Model, and close partnerships between Edith Cowan University and AISWA, afforded numerous opportunities to strengthen pedagogical knowledge, leadership capacity and reflect on career trajectories.
A study by O'Gorman and Hard (2013) reported most teachers did not see themselves as leaders, nor did they describe formal leadership training, yet were expected to lead in challenging contexts. On completion of this research study, 17 TLs perceived themselves as leaders, researchers and writers, while seven commenced a Master of Education at Edith Cowan University. Each TL endorsed the PLAR Training Model and its elements; understanding leadership was complex.
The six elements of PLAR provided a process through which TLs transitioned from one element to the next, and for many this was beyond their comfort zone. For example, TLs felt less threatened attending five PLS rather than applying AR for the first time in their school. ALC meetings within their individual school were less threatening than group networking beyond the school. ICT, networking, leadership and advocacy proved challenging, reducing TL involvement. With each challenge came the need to negate gaps in knowledge, read literature and research, network with others and lead change.
The PLAR Training Model was perceived by TLs as more than a 'one size fits all' model. Pre-survey data was incorporated in each element to initiate a culture of professional inquiry, generate new ways of thinking and leading, build communities of learning and opportunities for ongoing dialogue. They expressed empowerment through training and support as they enabled school staff to grow as leaders and participate in research within their school setting. AR challenged them to align theory with practice, identify factors that supported or impeded their work, and contextualise learning. Teacher leaders and school staff experienced first-hand data collection, research and monitoring (OECD, 2012) and the completion of an AR report. Throughout this process, communication between the researcher, AISWA representative and TLs was continuous, supportive and reflective of their ongoing professional learning needs.
A range of factors impacted on TLs' capacity to lead beyond school settings and their comfort zone. Support was critical as networking was fragile and complex to sustain (Stamopoulos, 2012). Networks were important in sharing professional knowledge and empowering TLs (Evans & Stone-Johnson, 2010). Insufficient time and knowledge of ICT and networking reduced some TLs' confidence. By the conclusion of the study, 12 expressed a willingness to lead and advocate, one said 'No' and four were 'Unsure'. In two schools, internal supports were unavailable, which led to ongoing challenges. In these instances, TLs relied on support from the researcher, AISWA consultants and colleagues. As Aubrey, Godfrey and Harris (2013) conclude, priority needs to be given to complex and diverse burdens being placed on TLs, within and beyond their work environment and with few support structures available.
Training institutions, such as universities, are accountable for the quality of training and the development of potential leaders (Clark, 2012; Mistry & Sood, 2012). The exclusion of graduates taking on leadership roles until their final career stage may signal to training institutions that leadership in undergraduate courses is not as important. For example, AITSL lists four professional career stages for teachers (Graduate, Proficient, Highly accomplished, Lead) while the NQS immediately embraces leadership from the very beginning. As schools move towards integrated services on school sites, TLs will require further leadership training as they engage in more intricate multi-professional teams and strengthen their ties with families and communities (Muijs et al., 2004; Siraj-Blatchford & Manni, 2006). An analysis of TLs' AR projects revealed five of the 17 incorporated parents in their research, with one producing a comprehensive and 'much needed early learning Handbook that was informative and responded to parents' questions' (TL9).
Models of leadership, such as the PLAR Training Model, are important in strengthening professional knowledge and leadership capabilities, promoting action research, networking, ICT skills, leadership and advocacy. Given the challenges above, nurturing leadership capacity remains an ongoing concern and an enigma for many who remain under-led and under-trained (Rodd, 2013). The absence of strong early childhood educational leadership models continues to be an ongoing challenge (Grarock & Morrissey, 2013), as do those that focus on families and communities. Transitioning from a focus on school practice to family and community practice adds another layer of difficulty requiring ongoing support and leadership capabilities (Campbell-Evans et al., 2014). The findings of this study hold implications for professional learning, teacher training, research output and student outcomes.
Edith Cowan University
This research has relied on the support of AISWA, their representative Crescentia Anthony, principals of participating independent schools and the generosity and goodwill of the early childhood teacher participants. I would personally like to acknowledge the diligent work provided by Crescentia Anthony, who sadly passed away in 2013.
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Table 2. Teacher leaders' evaluation of the PLAR Training Model Outcomes: Teacher leader's evaluation of the PLAR Training Model Ratings Perceptions Teacher leaders Overall PLAR Flexible, well- ratings perceptions Training Model structured and of the PLAR Training Excellent (7) needs-based. Model Very Good (10) Strengthened professional knowledge, built infrastructure and support. Promoted critical reflection, action research and offered opportunities for leadership and advocacy. Challenges: Change in school leadership Element 1: 5PLS Structure of five Excellent (6) PLS, evenly aligned Very Good (8) and distributed Good (2) across year. AR No Comment (1) applied in schools, completion of literature review. In-depth content was needs-based. Leadership capabilities strengthened and refined through ongoing support. Challenges: Time. Element 2: AR Built AR as TLs Excellent (2) examined literature, Very Good (11) negotiated AR Good (2) priorities, applied Satisfactory (2) change and completed final AR report. Initially, very challenging as AR was new. Reflective thinking and ongoing support was important. Challenges: Absence of internal supports in two schools Element 3: ALC Sound sequence-- meetings PLS, AR and ALC Excellent (2) meetings supported Very Good (7) their work and Good (3) brought greater Satisfactory (3) credibility, easier Poor (2) to convince staff. PLS content aligned well to AR and ALC meeting. Option of 'critical friend' for support was good. Challenges: Reaching shared consensus due to diverse beliefs and resistance, lack of support due to changes in leadership and research direction. Element 4: Group Teacher leaders networking networked at own Very Good (8) pace with known Good (3) colleagues. Satisfactory (3) Initially slow Poor (1) transition due to lack of confidence when faced with divisions, resistance and indifference. One teacher said group networking was 'very unsuccessful'; seven made no comment; one said N/A. Challenges: Time, internet experiences, resistance, staff divisions. Element 5: ICT and Initially used site networking support as observers, those with good ICT skills Excellent (2) engaged more in Very Good (5) AISWA Early Years Good (6) Leaders Online Satisfactory (3) Discussion Forum and Poor (1) other sources. Challenges: Limited time, inadequate ICT skills, confidence. Element 6: Leadership Six TLs engaged in and advocacy leadership and advocacy as co/ Excellent (1) presenters with the Very Good (7) researcher, while Good (6) two developed Satisfactory (2) posters which they Poor (1) presented. Eight said they presented at other events/ forums while nine said 'No'. Twelve considered leading again, one said 'no' and four said 'unsure '. Challenges: None. Assumptions: Factors: Internal and external Leadership Time, leadership capabilities, capacity, support professional structures, exposure knowledge, leading to ICT and change, knowledge of networking supports, early childhood confidence in education, action transitioning from research, group micro to macro networking beyond settings, partnering schools, applying with family and ICT and networks, community, initiating leading and action research, advocating, policies managing diverse and reforms, level contexts and of training beliefs, quality of school leadership structure, articulation of roles and responsibilities
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|Publication:||Australasian Journal of Early Childhood|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2015|
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