A study of practices enabling the emergence and development of leading within exemplary Australian early childhood education sites

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

817 Downloads (Pure)


Leaders have a powerful influence on the quality of early childhood education (ECE) programs. In turn, high-quality ECE programs have a formidable impact on children’s academic, emotional, and social outcomes and life trajectories and therefore play a role in the development of civil and economically productive societies. Despite the connection between effective leadership and the quality of ECE programs, there is a lack of research on the phenomena of leadership emergence and development. Furthermore, leadership cultivation faces several persistent challenges. Challenges include inadequate preparation for positional leadership roles, few opportunities for professional development for emerging leaders, and an absence of workforce planning for the cultivation of leaders within the ECE profession. These persistent challenges jeopardise the growth of effective leadership, a sustainable leadership pipeline for the early childhood education profession, and positive outcomes for children.
This thesis reports on a research study that addressed the challenges of ECE leadership cultivation; it generates new possibilities for the emergence and development of leading within ECE organisations. The original contribution to the literature on ECE leadership, as a result of the study, includes a re-conceptualisation of leading, innovation in researching leadership emergence, and new approaches to fostering leadership within ECE organisations. The contributions disrupt a discourse that prioritises the development of a single leader who charismatically inspires and independently drives changes to individual and organisational behaviour.
The research investigated the phenomena of emerging leadership and the development of leading in three Australian ECE sites. The study, situated in an ontological frame of complexity leadership theory within complex adaptive systems, examined patterns of emergence, interactions, and the nature of unexpected outcomes. These are typical characteristics of ECE settings. Additionally, leadership was conceptualised as an ecology of dynamic practices that can be undertaken by anyone and is not limited to those in positional leadership roles. This conceptualisation recognises that the interactions and connections between any two individuals provide an opportunity for leading where educators learn and grow collectively. Therefore, by engaging in or enabling the practice of ‘leading’, a collective momentum occurs around the project of leadership.
Mini-ethnographic case study was employed as the methodology for the research study. Methods comprised: fieldwork using direct observation and unstructured interviews, document analysis and dialogic cafes. The gathering of data and subsequent analysis were conducted within a framework of the theory of practice architectures. The analysis, using the theory, illuminated how the emergence and development of leading were enabled and constrained by the cultural-discursive, material-economic, and social-political arrangements evident at each site. The cultural-discursive arrangements (evident in language and culture), the material-economic arrangements (evident in action and space), and the social-political arrangements (evident in power and relationships) are prefigured and shaped by the practice architectures characteristic of the individual sites.
The research findings supported the re-conceptualisation of leadership as a dynamic collective practice, open to everyone. This practice acts as a foundation for positional leadership roles and contributes to the achievement of high-quality early childhood education. The findings identified the distinct arrangements of language and culture, physical space, resource allocation and social relationships that support the cultivation of such leadership. Findings also indicate that organisations should resist a formulaic approach to leadership development. Instead, they can focus on the cultural-discursive, material-economic, and social-political arrangements for leadership cultivation and development whilst considering the unique influence their governance practices and traditions can make to leadership development.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Cumming, Tamara, Principal Supervisor
  • Press, Frances, Co-Supervisor
  • Wong, Sandie, Co-Supervisor
Award date16 Mar 2021
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'A study of practices enabling the emergence and development of leading within exemplary Australian early childhood education sites'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this