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Supportive Leadership: Relationship-Building Between ECE Staff & Directors

Supporting and caring for the wellbeing of educators in the same way that we do for children, contributes to a high-quality classroom and a shared sense of community and purpose.  Building meaningful relationships with staff is similar to building relationships with young children. Both educators and children thrive in environments that allow them to learn and try new things under the supervision of a supportive leader. And, when educators are supported by their managers, they are better able to provide high-quality care for the children and families in their classrooms.

In this article, we describe opportunities for ECE supervisors to support educators and their teams to create a collaborative, high-quality early learning environment for every member of the learning community.

The Impact of Leadership

Debra Pacchiano, Vice President of translational research at Start Early, recently shared her research in the webinar, How to Cultivate Teacher Well-Being & Improve Child Outcomes in Turbulent Times. In her presentation, she spoke about optimizing school performance, explaining that (1) the strength of the leader and (2) the frequency and quality of collective dialogue are the best predictors of performance over time. According to Pacchiano’s research, trusting interactions between teachers and supervisors and the discourse between the two had the biggest impact on performance, for individual students and for the school as a whole.

Pacchiano also called out the importance of elevating the sense of community among staff members by highlighting the important work that educators do. This can help to create a sense of team-wide commitment and collective community responsibility. When teachers report feeling confident in their work and in their classroom community, the result is increased child engagement and higher quality interactions between teachers and children.

What are the Key Elements of Supportive Leadership?

A Shared Vision

A book by Cassandra O’Neill and Monica Brinkerhoff entitled The Five Elements of Collective Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals points out that the most effective leaders and managers invite their staff members to contribute to an organizational vision by sharing goals, ideas, and hopes for the future of their program and their classroom. They note that the process of collaborating to develop a shared vision is a critical component of engaging and supporting educators.

Collective Wisdom

In their book, O’Neill and Brinkerhoff  add that “a collective wisdom and intelligence exists that is deeper than individual intelligence; one person cannot hold all of the knowledge.” This means that we must rotate/share roles and responsibilities, and identify and build on the strengths of each of the team members in our communities. When each person has an opportunity to utilize his or her unique talents and skill-sets, the whole community benefits. Click here to get a printable version of the chart, The 5 Elements of Collective Leadership, from Early Childhood Webinars.

Supporting Teachers, As We Support Children

Leading educators and caring for a classroom of children are certainly distinct activities, but in both cases, an emphasis on support and community leads to more positive outcomes.  The following passage from NAEYC’s article, What Does It Mean to Be a Director? explains some of the parallels between supporting educators and supporting children:

“A teacher’s job is to create a classroom community where children feel safe to independently learn, problem solve, and take risks, and a director needs to create the same type of space for the teachers in her program. Just as teachers see each child as an individual with unique strengths and challenges, directors should recognize the same in each teacher. Deep learning occurs for both children and adults when they have opportunities to try new things, can make mistakes that they can learn from, and are supported by others…At any age, we all feel more motivated and invested in our learning when our voices are included in the process, whether that means letting a child choose which center to visit first that day or giving teachers the flexibility to choose materials for their classroom.”

Genuine Trust and Respect

An article by Margie Carter, What Do Teachers Need Most From Their Directors? highlights the importance of educators feeling a sense of mutual respect between themselves and the management team. She explains, “Teachers say they usually feel respected when someone really listens to them, trying to understand and be responsive…But they are quick to add that respect and trust means being given the time, support, and tools they need, not leaving them alone to sink or swim but neither hovering or micromanaging… Trust comes more quickly when we work from both our heads and our hearts. As we become clear about our values and ideas, and learn to communicate them with a blend of honesty and empathy, respect for different points of view can grow.”

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