Leadership at All Levels
Highly effective leadership is essential to ensure high quality practice which meets the needs of our children and young people. ELC professionals at every level, and in all forms of ELC provision, have a role to play in this.
Whether you are responsible for heading up a setting, managing a team, or supporting the development of the children in your setting, it is important that you have a clear recognition of what is meant by 'highly effective leadership', what this looks like in practice for you and your setting, and how it can be continuously improved.
We know that when an organisation supports a culture for the development of leadership at all levels - often referred to as distributed leadership - outcomes for people who use services are improved. By enhancing your leadership knowledge and skills, you can empower your colleagues and work more effectively to support positive life outcomes for children and their families. Strong leaders are able to build and sustain relationships, encourage and motivate staff, improve understanding and skills sets, confidently manage change, and much more.
This section of the resource has been developed specifically to aid those staff at the early stages of the leadership journey; to guide you in recognising leadership qualities in the workplace and to support effective practice day to day. Separate guidance is also currently being developed for those ELC professionals looking to progress or refresh their skills and knowledge.
Whilst managerial responsibilities relate to the operational implementation and maintenance of practices and systems, leadership is enabling yourself – and supporting others - to enhance abilities to achieve goals. In ELC, this means creating and being part of a culture where professionals deliver improved outcomes for children and their families.
The SSSC notes that social services including ELC need effective leadership at all levels. Individuals must commit to continuously develop their own leadership skills and capability, while employers must ensure their organisations develop a supportive organisational culture where individuals can use and enhance their leadership skills. This includes empowering people working in and using social services, and encouraging professional autonomy, creativity, measured risk-taking and initiative. To support the sector in meeting this need, the SSSC has identified 6 key leadership capabilities, covered in more detail on page 16.
There are many different approaches, tools and resources to support leadership development in both the ELC and teaching sectors. Much of this is applicable to multiple professions and can be transferred and applied to a range of roles. It is open to you to choose whichever pathway, tools and resources you find most helpful for you on your leadership journey. Equally there are many different types and styles of leadership, and you will recognise which elements of your knowledge and practice to develop to best meet the needs of the children within your setting.
Recognising that research shows that children have the best experience in ELC where there is a range of staff with complementary skills and higher level qualifications, Scottish Government has provided funding to local authorities to develop a new leadership role within ELC since 2018 – the Equity and Excellence Lead. Here is a case study from an experienced ELC professional explaining how she has been able to develop her leadership capabilities to improve practice and achieve positive outcomes:
Gemma Paterson – Equity and Excellence Lead in Grangemouth
"I've been in the role of Equity and Excellence Lead in Falkirk (called Early Years Pedagogue locally) since August 2018. My role focused on supporting the least advantaged children. The Equity and Excellence Lead post enables me to take this to another level by using research and improvement science to capture and develop areas of high-quality practice. It's these initiatives and policies that can really impact our wee people, ensuring they have the best start in life.
I've undertaken the Scottish Coaching Leadership and Improvement Programme (SCLIP). This provided insight on improvement science, specifically how this could be applied to research within my setting and covers a range of topics such as data analysis, coaching teams and developing leadership methodology, all of which I use every day. As we implement improvement science, it's important we are creative with our approaches and remember each child has different needs.
I am extremely lucky to work with an amazing team of enthusiastic and committed practitioners and we work collaboratively to ensure our wee people's early experiences are of the highest quality. Each day is different; some working with practitioners on projects such as 'Marvellous Mealtimes' and others sharing knowledge and experiences at leadership events or hosting other colleagues at our setting.
My role includes: facilitating high quality play, developing personal interests and introducing health and wellbeing approaches, all of which allow me to experience my favourite part of the role; seeing each child's creativity shine in their own unique way. I enjoy working with children and their families to develop trusting and respectful relationships to create a platform to help address the attainment gap.
The role allows me to be innovative, take chances and empower my colleagues; all factors that will help close the attainment gap."
Key Capabilities and Attributes
To help professionals recognise the key elements considered as central to strong leadership the SSSC has defined the following 6 key leadership capabilities:
vision, creativity & innovation, self-leadership, collaboration & influencing, motivation & inspiring, empowering
Similarly, the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) Professional Standards define leadership as the ability to:
- develop a vision for change which leads to improvements in outcomes for learners, and is based on shared values and robust evaluation of evidence of current practice and outcomes; and
- mobilise, enable and support others to develop and follow through on strategies for achieving that change.
There are a range of behaviours and actions which can demonstrate these capabilities. Familiarising yourself with them will help you to recognise the key elements of a strong leader, and assist you in reflecting on your existing skills and knowledge. Demonstrating highly effective leadership might not relate to a grand project, but may instead be part of your day to day practice. Here are some examples:
- Using your initiative to support individuals and families to achieve their goals
- Inspiring colleagues to think differently
- Supporting others to learn and develop.
Leadership skills are necessary at all levels of practice, and should be developed continuously.
This video of 'Sarah's Story' provides a case study for how one practitioner displays the key attributes of leadership, particularly 'self-leadership' and 'collaboration and influencing': ELC & Me - Sarah's story - YouTube
A further illustration of the types of attributes and other factors that might be found in a strong leader in ELC, can be found in the (SSSC) Leadership Logic Model.
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