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Authentic Leadership in Early Childhood Teaching


The practice of teaching, regardless of the setting, implies the knowledge and skills of teachers to exercise appropriate leadership and enact it in their everyday practice. The context of early childhood education (ECE) has been challenged by the fact that many leaders within the sphere have been unlikely to engage in formal leadership preparation (Cooper, 2014). This points to the need for improving teacher access to professional knowledge of effective leadership in regards to ECE and assisting teachers in fostering leadership in their everyday practice.

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In the current exploration, authentic leadership will become the focus of the reflection. It is concerned with the development of leadership that focuses on building the legitimacy of a leader through fostering close and trusting connections with followers that are built on ethical principles. Early childhood education (ECE) is the context in which the reflection on the role of a teacher as an authentic leader will be presented.

ECE pays attention to how leadership can help enhance learning provision (Cooper, 2014). Engaging the interests of teachers in the study of leadership and authentic leadership, in particular, is expected to boost their knowledge, skills, and attitudes in the context of their everyday practice.

To make the reflection more detailed, and emphasis on five aspects of leadership practice about authentic leadership. The following is the specification of topics to be explored in the reflection:

  • The influence of transactional and transformational leadership on authentic leadership.
  • The characteristics of a pedagogical leader (passion, pride, and self-belief) as applied to authentic leadership.
  • The Sustainable commitment of an authentic leader to the growth and development of others. Achieving these aims as an authentic leader.
  • The strengths of a teacher as an authentic leader and leveraging them to help develop an authentic sense of self.
  • The role of subjectivity in fostering authenticity and its influence on facilitating engagement with others.

The present paper will be divided into five sections for personal reflection connected to the five topic identified topics. Each of the topics will be explored from the perspective of the ECE teaching context as well about specific practical examples.

Transactional and Transformational leadership: Reflection I

When starting to work in the sphere of education, I would have never thought that either transformational or transactional leadership would come into play. These concepts have seemed complex and not suitable to be used during teaching. Upon learning more about the two types of leadership when trying to educate me as to how I can become a more authentic teacher and leader, I understood the difference between them.

To be precise, transactional leadership reflects a unique way in which a leader accomplishes the goals and objectives he or she has set (Marotz & Lawson, 2007). Specific characteristics of this style include extrinsic motivation, change resistance, discouraging independent thinking, reward-based-performance, manipulation, and directivity (Rodd, 2012). Authority and power are used as key tools for gaining the cooperation of followers who are expected to agree with every initiative and assignment. Therefore, transactional readership requires incentive, depending on the situation, or a punitive approach, for ensuring that subordinates follow their leader’s commands.

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Transformational leadership, which I have previously confused with transactional, is concerned with assuming a visionary and creative approach toward their role (Rodd, 2012). Some other styles that fall under the transformational category include servant, spiritual, and emotional leadership. This means that leaders who follow this approach care less for their accomplishments or status and are inspired by initiating significant change and encouraging others to take part in important decision-making (Marotz & Lawson, 2007).

Specific characteristics of the style include self-management, adaptability, inspiration, continuous change, and shared collective consciousness (Marotz & Lawson, 2007). Previously, I confused the two styles since both of them are based on the use of authority to make followers comply with established goals. However, there is a clear distinction between the two: while transactional leadership is about guiding others through instruction, transformational leadership is about guiding through inspiration.

From the perspective of authenticity, understanding the importance of both transformational and transactional leadership is imperative. In early childhood education, neither of these styles is considered ‘right,’ in my view. I have encountered multiple situations in which one student responded better to transactional leadership while his classmate was inspired through transformational. In this case, what Marotz and Lawson (2007) wrote is true: “differences in program structure, geographic location, objectives” and other factors require different types of leadership (p. 66).

In my opinion, choosing between transactional or transformational leadership is akin to intuition: by being moral and responsible, a teacher can capitalize on his or her strengths and therefore be truly authentic. This is what Duignan (2014) considered authentic leadership in the educational context – being driven by ethics and high performing learning environments. I think that a teacher can truly be considered an authentic leader when he or she uses all of the existing knowledge to create a unique blend of characteristics, including transformational and transactional leadership, that can benefit the educational setting.

An example from my practice concerned with the application of transformational and transactional leadership relates to having to deal with an unfamiliar group of early age students. As I was the main teacher in one group, I was asked to take up another class as extra work because their teacher could not continue her practice. I gladly agreed because saw this as an opportunity to gain new skills as well as earn more. However, the situation turned not in my favor as the first interaction with the group ended very unsuccessfully. I have prepared a short story to read for them and was trying to engage students in playing a short game during which they will introduce themselves to me. For instance: “My name is … and I am … years old. I have a puppy.”

Most of the students looked at me will a glare of dissatisfaction and boredom, which slowly progressed into them playing with one another, ignoring what I had to say. My support for group dialogue and open-to-learning conversations showed to be ineffective despite its positive praise in the research literature (Duignan, 2014). After the interaction, I spoke to my colleagues as to what I could have possibly done wrong. They could not give me any other advice apart from “trying to be firm and strict.” While this perspective did not offer a positive prospect for learning interactions with the new class, I decided to try it just to experiment. During my next interaction, I followed a strict plan, which included a group assignment with direct learning outcomes.

At the beginning of the class, I presented my short plan to the students and said that their engagement and efforts would be evaluated at the end of the class and reported to their parents. To my surprise, the students complied with the strict but fair rules and completed my assignment with minor distractions. Upon reflecting on this experience, I understood one important takeaway: what works for students who are used to transformational leadership as the main educational and learning tool may not work for others.

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I had no prior information regarding how the new class was taught before and what problems had it exhibited. Only by trying one approach and failing, I noticed that a dramatic change was needed. Therefore, no specific style of leadership is better suited for teaching; rather, as an educator, my future work will be focused on adapting leadership styles to specific situations.

Growth and Development of Others through Authentic Leadership: Reflection II

As a leader operating in the sphere of education, considering the development and growth of other people is considered essential. This suggestion correlates with the theory of servant leadership, the model that puts serving others as the main priority, as mentioned by Smith (2005). Servant-leadership takes place when a leader takes the position of a servant when interacting with followers. Authentic leadership arises “not from the exercise of a power or self-interested actions, but from a fundamental desire to first help others” (Smith, 2005, p. 4). Interestingly, I have previously not considered this style to be linked to leadership; however, upon some reflection, I realized that it made extreme sense in an educational setting.

When teaching, I always put the interests of my students first. I try transferring my own experience to students by engaging my life story and making sense of leadership as a vehicle for growth and transformation (O’Loughlin, 2009). To a great degree, the concept of authentic leadership implies the extensive exploration of personal ideas, beliefs, and perspectives to facilitate leadership in different contexts (Nicholson & Carroll, 2013).

As an educator, my own beliefs and perceptions shape the way I approach not only leadership overall but also the specific idea that the interests of students and their learning development should be a priority. The support for the development of others is achieved through the facilitation of several competencies that range from listening to community building, which I found to be very important in teaching (Smith, 2005).

The example of servant leadership application to practice relates to my experience working with a highly capable and talented child who came to my class in the middle of the year. The boy, only five years old, instantly showed higher levels of development compared to his classmates and therefore was uninterested in most simple topics that were covered. The foresight competency as applied to servant-leadership worked in my favor as I understood that in the nearest future the boy would begin missing classes (Smith, 2005). I contacted his parents as soon as I could and explained the situation; they were not aware of their son’s capabilities.

Soon after this, they found a new specialized facility that their son could attend and develop excellent skills at an advanced level. This situation showed that sometimes the interests of others should be put first to facilitate their development. I saw servant leadership as an opportunity to make sure that the new student learned in a suitable environment for him. In my view, this leadership style is extremely suitable for the learning context as it encourages educators to reflect on each situation separately and finding ways in which every student’s needs are met. In the future, when practicing authentic leadership, I would be eager to apply servant leadership since my experience showed a positive outcome of this approach.

The Role of Subjectivity: Reflection III

Subjectivity has never been the concept to which I had given any particular weight. Nevertheless, reflections on my everyday practice show that subjectivity influences most of the interactions with students: my feelings, tastes, and opinions are directly reflected in my work as a teacher. In regards to this, a question of how subjectivity influences the development of authenticity and the subsequent engagement of others. In my view, the answer is easy to find: it is the sense of integrity and identity in teaching that allows teachers to be subjective while also capitalizing on their authentic development as leaders (Palmer, 1997).

This idea is reflected in the fact that good and effective teaching can never be reduced to a specific style or technique, such as transactional leadership because efficient teaching comes from the sense of identity and integrity (Palmer, 1997). Thus, there is nothing wrong with being subjective when teaching since the key aim is ensuring that the personal experiences and perspectives are applied with integrity and attention to one’s identity.

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An example of how subjectivity helped me to become an authentic leader who facilitates the engagement of others dates back to the first year of my practice. I was given a very tough group of children who showed high levels of delinquency during lessons, and this disrupted the entire learning process. While I had tried to approach the situation from the ethical leadership perspective and give students some freedom, nothing worked (Starratt, 2004).

I had a sense that without sharing my concerns with the class I would not succeed. One day I finally decided to be subjective and put the focus on students’ engagement behind. I expressed my frustration and dissatisfaction with how everything was going and ensured the children that I would refuse working with them if everything continued the same. I was vulnerable and tried to express my personal feelings as well as I could without thinking about the consequences.

To my surprise, they listened. Several children said that they were sorry about their behavior and would try to be more engaged in the lessons. We instantly resolved everything and started playing a new game. While this approach did not work for all students simultaneously, my honesty and subjectivity allowed me to become better as an educator. This situation allowed me to develop the knowledge of self, my belief and value systems, and engage in critical self-reflection prompted by subjectivity (Notman, 2010). In the future, I will always remember that the engagement of students in the learning process can be supported with the help of an honest dialogue held with integrity.

Pedagogical Leader Characteristics and Authentic Leadership: Reflection IV

In my practice as an early childhood educator, I have recognized that teaching is a calling. However, without capitalizing on the qualities a person already has and developing new skills and competencies, becoming successful in the practice is almost impossible (Gibbs, 2006). The development of authentic teacher identity takes place when a pedagogical leader is at ease with who he or she is, with teacher identity, and how they teach (Gibbs, 2006).

The characteristics of a pedagogical leader that include passion, pride, and self-belief are all qualities that do not appear from the very beginning as it is the complexity of the practice itself that can encourage the shaping of effective characteristics that would improve the overall practice (Gibbs, 2006). To me, it was not a secret that leaders who are admired the most are honest, competent, and fair in their work but such characteristics as pride or self-belief had never come to mind (Evans, 2000). These qualities of a pedagogical leader developed gradually as a response to my everyday practice of working with children students.

A practice example that relates to the topic of this reflection occurred during my interactions with other educators rather than students. During some of our breaks, I have often talked to my colleagues to ask for advice, offer some perspective, or just share experiences. In an overarching number of instances, I have heard from teachers that they were exhausted, unmotivated, and considered changing careers.

This had always surprised me because I was eager to teach lessons every day, always prided myself for helping children develop valuable life skills, and had belief in myself even at times of doubt. This reflection allowed me to be more honest with myself as a leader and educator. The sense of authenticity in my leadership came alongside with the realization that my work makes others better, it gives them power and strength.

Therefore, by reflecting on the perspectives of my colleagues, I realized that I possessed qualities that pedagogical leaders need. When working, I have felt tired or unmotivated; however, being a teacher inspired me tremendously as positive experiences outweigh the negative most of the time. I agree with Clarkin-Phillips’ (2009) view that pedagogical leadership is associated with attending to “the behaviors of teachers as they engage in activities directly affecting the growth of students” (p. 22).

Furthermore, I think that pedagogical leadership implies the qualities that eventually motivate and convince leaders to do things differently as well as produce evidence that any changes are beneficial and worthwhile. This means that both teachers and their students benefit from pedagogical leadership because it focuses on utilizing the strengths of everyone regardless of skills, level of experience, engagement, or inspiration (Buckingham, 2007). In my future practice, I will always remember to use the most positive outcomes of pedagogical leadership to my advantage not only to engage students in the educational process but also to become a truly authentic leader.

Authentic Leader Developing the Sense of Self: Reflection V

The development of an authentic leader self implies leveraging all existing strengths developed as a result of the teaching practice. As mentioned by Gardner and Anderson (2015), authenticity should and can be nurtured while an “authentic person must recognize that he or she can self-create only relative to given circumstances and personal context” (p. 2). Therefore, an authentic person is the one who can recognize that he or she is always responsible for one’s actions.

In Lee’s (2010) view, leaders within an educational setting can develop one’s sense of self through deeply engaging in their learning through the improvement of children’s outcomes. The sense of authenticity is created through teachers being able to collaborate and share results in their inquiry. The shared sense of purpose exercised between teachers and their students represents several opportunities for learning and constructive change. In the exploration of authenticity in the context of developing a sense of self, authenticity is considered ideal that is achieved not through artificial manufacturing but discovery (Evans, 2000).

Thus, the following question arises: how a teacher can become an authentic leader? From my experience, I discovered my sense of self when I closely collaborated with students. This collaboration allowed me to be more open to different perspectives. Importantly, despite the students being very young, they managed to teach me a lot about what it takes to be truly authentic.

Examples from practice for illustrating the perspective of authenticity and the development of the sense of self are vast and occur almost during every lesson. In my everyday interactions with children, I have fostered the environment of collaboration in which my students were encouraged to share their small experiences. My students learned to reflect, collaborate, and communicate. This helped to establish a positive atmosphere in which feelings played a significant role.

When my students are in positive moods, their perceptions are more favorable, with them being more prone to remember positive information (George, 2000). Collaboration with my students during lessons fostered a sense of honesty as I never deceived them and tried to tell the truth. In my opinion, this facilitated the development of integrity and character in educational settings (Kouzes & Posner, 2007). The collaboration with students allowed teachers to develop a self-sustaining team outcome in which teachers acted not only as educators but also as facilitators (Jordan, 2008).

During one of my short lessons, I engaged students in a collaborative activity for them to develop their ideal of a friend. Divided into groups, my class participated in the assignment by sharing their perspectives on what the ideal friend should look like. For instance, a true friend should be “fun to play with, share his or her toys, be friendly.” I reviewed their ideas in the end and commented on them to make sure that each student had the opportunity to learn from my perspective.

At the end of the lesson, my class and I created a collaborative image of the “perfect friend.” Tasks like this help me to involve as many students as possible in creating a sense of community (Tamati, Hond-Flavell, Korewha, & Piripono, 2008). In my future practice as an authentic leader, I will always pay attention to collaborative learning and team empowerment (Fry, 2003). My authentic sense of self was something that was discovered during communicating with my students, listening to them, and offering advice as to how they can become better in their learning.

Concluding Thoughts

Therefore, authentic leadership is something that does not come easily to a teacher. The current reflection on my practice in early childhood education allowed me to that there are multiple aspects to becoming an authentic leader. It requires dedication, inspiration, and the capitalization of one’s strengths. I discovered that my sense of authentic leadership developed through time as I experienced different complex situations.

My perspective has always been changing as a result of my professional work, with weaknesses becoming my strengths. In my future practice, I will implement the same strategies that I have applied in my previous work to become a truly authentic leader, hoping to transfer my experiences to fellow educators.


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