College of Education and Behavioral Sciences; School of Special Education
University of Northern Colorado
Type of Resources
Place of Publication
University of Northern Colorado
Leadership is a vital component of any thriving system. Effective leadership is widely regarded as pivotal to the vitality of organizations. In early childhood (EC) and early childhood special education (ECSE) programs, strong leadership is particularly critical because directors and service providers are the gatekeepers of quality. Developing leadership among EC and ECSE professionals has become increasingly important as investing in EC education has been regarded as a public and private, national and international priority. However, the fields of EC and ECSE continue to struggle with the challenges of being overlooked when it comes to the leadership potentials, qualities, and challenges of leaders in the field. Yet, to date, little leadership literature and research is available for EC and ECSE professionals, in particular for those who are closer to practice. This study aimed to investigate district-level and county-level EC and ECSE leadership practices in the state of Colorado to identify (a) who the leaders are in terms of their leadership qualifications and background, (b) the current leadership implementation state, (c) the challenges and barriers that affect the leaders’ performance, and (d) the support these leaders need to practice quality leadership development and sustainability in the field. An explanatory sequential mixed-methods research approach was used to answer the enumerated questions. Two hundred ninety district-level and county-level EC and ECSE leaders from state or federally funded EC/ECSE programs participated in the online survey (Phase I), and 4 state-level EC/ECSE leaders participated in individual qualitative interviews (Phase II). The findings of Phase I of this study provided valuable insight into districtlevel/ county-level EC/ECSE leadership profiles, leadership implementation and barriers to leadership development in EC/ECSE as well as state and local and state leadership alignment and coordination. The hyper-feminine nature of the leadership at the local level, the lack of diversity among the leaders, and the absence of a specific EC/ECSE leadership license/endorsement which can be considered as the overarching theme from the other main findings in terms of leadership implementation, challenges, and professional development needs. In addition, the vague understanding and few opportunities for local directors to practice leadership vs. management, absence of any targeted leadership preparation in EC/ECSE, and lack of leadership development opportunities in Colorado that consequently impact local leaders’ knowledge, competencies, skills, and expertise were other highlights among the findings. These findings well-aligned with the Phase II state-level leaders’ perceptions in terms of the absence of any formal preparation or specific certification/licensure in EC/ECSE leadership to prepare the local leaders for their leadership roles as the overarching barrier which results in a lack of strength in local quality leadership and leadership capacity building in the field. Other barriers that the state leaders mentioned included lack of accountability and rigor in leadership competencies, lack of collaboration within and across the systems, and multiple responsibilities for local leaders to deal with, which according to them, were all byproducts of the lack of preparation in leadership development specific to the fields of EC/ECSE. This study adds to the scant literature in EC/ECSE leadership and provides support for future research and practice to further investigate leadership practices in EC/ECSE programs. The field of EC/ECSE is constantly changing as it continually seeks to improve the ways to serve children and families and support and strengthen the workforce and EC/ECSE systems. Growing public attention to the importance of high quality EC/ECSE programs has added to the pace of change (Kagan & Kauerz, 2012). In these times of rapid change, it is critical to know how to lead effectively and to improve quality in ways that strengthen the field. There is no need to reinvent the wheel to fix the persistence challenges of quality leadership in the EC/ECSE sector. By applying lessons on leadership and change from across EC/ECSE and other disciplines, the field can learn how to support and nurture a strong, diverse, and resilient leadership and workforce to lead change, improvement, and innovations in EC/ECSE systems.
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