Where Have All the ECE Leaders Gone?

This is a guest blog post by Adwina Armstrong, Education Personnel's specialist ECE recruitment consultant. This is the first of a two part blog series discussing leadership in the Early Childhood sector. 

Many years ago when I was studying for my ECE qualification, the lecturer had asked us first year students, how many of us were interested in becoming a Centre Manager or owner. To my surprise, as well as the lecturer's, only two of us raised our hands. This became a long discussion and a very engaging topic. My fellow classmates felt that the continuous changes in policies and procedures were the main reasons on top of the never ending paper work. "We just want to be teachers" was the common consensus. I thought to myself, surely this would change as they gain more experience and realised the contribution they can make to the quality of children's learning and development. 

I felt this way on reflection of my own journey. I started my first ECE experience as an unqualified ECE teacher at a private centre. The only experience I had was raising my own two daughters who were both under five then. With mentoring and support from the manager and owners I quickly learned. Two years later, I was asked to join a large international school overseas to become part of their Preschool (two to six year olds) team. I was very excited and accepted this new challenge. I grew as a teacher and had more passion for bringing quality learning.

My manager moved on after a year and I was asked to step up. This frightened me because I was working at an international school where the teachers and children were from overseas and had high expectations. I took on yet another challenge. My manager, parents and colleagues gave me complete support and trust. I became the Preschool Vice Principal and coordinated six international preschools for seven years and have taken on other leadership roles.

Now, I am an Education Recruitment Consultant with ECE as one of my specialisations. I am saddened that the opinions my classmates voiced don't seem to have changed among ECE teachers. There is definitely a shortage of ECE leaders. I often hear of the frustrations centres across the country have in searching for a Centre Manager. They tell me that they have been looking for months. It has caused a disruption within the centre among children, whanau and teachers. One centre had to offer this position to a new graduate I was working with! The candidate declined. She felt that she needed more experience. 

The question now is how much experience do you need and what does it take to become a leader? Sadly, they don't teach you this at university. There aren't any classes offered on Leadership in ECE. This has been acknowledged by the New Zealand Teachers Council Te Pouherenga Kaiako o Aotearoa. Their published paper, Conceptualising Leadership in Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand, focused on ECE leadership in our country and the risk the lack in leadership strategy has to quality teaching.

Maria Johnson, President of the Early Childhood Council and owner of four Little School centres, also recognises that there is a gap, especially since there are many new centres opening. Maria has kindly agreed to answer any questions teachers may have around ECE leadership, an opportunity which we'll let you know more about next month.

In my next blog, I'll be talking to current Centre Managers about how they got to where they are, what experience they had taking that first step, and what advice they have for future leaders.  

In the meantime, you are most welcome to contact me at adwina@edperson.co.nz or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. I'd love to hear from you. 


Check out the second blog in this series here