“Thrown into the deep end with little mentoring”: Filling the gap with pre-service early childhood teachers transitioning to leadership roles in early childhood education settings.

Year: 2019

Author: Mok, Angel, Elliott, Sue

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Leadership is much debated in early childhood education (ECE) and crucial to the provision of high-quality ECE services. In Australia, demographic and geographical differences, varied service management and funding models, as well as state/territory and federal policies have resulted in huge sector diversity, and these complicate the context for understanding leadership roles and responsibilities. Introduced in 2012, a key target of the National Quality Framework (NQF) was to improve the quality of the ECE workforce by raising the qualifications of the early childhood educators. Services are now required to employ a 4-year degree qualified Early Childhood Teacher (ECT) when enrolments of 25 children or more occur. This requirement means new ECT graduates are most likely to take up leadership responsibilities soon after they are appointed. Since 2017, ECTs have been required to seek professional accreditation at the proficientlevel according to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (The Standards). We have identified that while university studies have prepared them to be accredited as proficient teachers, in fact, their ECT position often requires them to take up leadership responsibilities as lead teachers, the highest level in The Standards. This anomalous gap, plus our experiences with pre-service students in ECT degree courses and concerns about sector diversity and student demographic inequities led to a pilot study implementation. Data were collected from an online professional development program, questionnaires and online focus groups.

Here we report on our findings about leadership perceptions and understandings among final-stage pre-service ECTs and current ECE directors in regional NSW, Australia. Further, we elicited final-stage pre-service ECTs’ concerns which included: 1. Despite undertaking two university leadership units, the students had great concerns about the leadership roles they would assume upon graduation; and, 2. Ongoing mentoring support to build their leadership capacities was sought and perceived as highly desirable. By referring to The Standards as the framework for discussion, we interrogate the gap between the expectations of new ECT graduates and the actual leadership responsibilities they may assume in ECE settings. We aim to highlight the often unrealistic expectations for new graduates as lead teachers and argue that increased support from both federal and state/territory government levels and management bodies generally is urgently needed to promote the leadership capacities of early career ECTs and a sustained ECE workforce providing high-quality ECE services.