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Opinion: early-childhood leaders can learn from Old MacDonald

Reflecting on the nature of leadership in early-childhood services with my manager, we joked about the many hats you need to wear throughout the day. Later that morning, I was singing “Old MacDonald” to a group of 2-year-olds, when I began to think about what Old MacDonald had in common with a leader in early childhood.

Old MacDonald, like any early-childhood leader, finds himself in charge of a diverse organisation, full of dynamic roles. No two farms are the same. And while we can have overarching principles of farming in common, our approaches need to reflect our purpose, our values, our environment, our climate – our unique context.

Old MacDonald, like an early childhood leader, is responsible for overseeing many aspects and roles on his farm. They can include:

  • Designing and maintaining the paddocks and barns that our animals spend their lives in (like designing and maintaining our indoor and outdoor learning environments, staff rooms, offices)
  • Producing food to nourish the farm (just as we advocate for our industry and share our program and documentation both within and beyond our community)
  • Nurturing and feeding the inhabitants of the farm (similar to providing professional support, training and empathy for the wellbeing of staff, and support for the children, staff and families)
  • Ensuring the farm meets industry quality standards (early-childhood leaders meet national quality standards, to through the assessment and rating process and create educational programs that reflect the Early Years Learning Framework)

As I began to see the similarities between Old MacDonald and his farm and leadership in early-childhood services, I began to think about the people with whom we work. They can have personalities, strengths and traits as diverse as the animals you may meet on Old MacDonald’s farm.

So put your farmer’s hat on and consider, as an early-childhood leader, do you have the capacity to work with people who may remind you of:

  • A stubborn bull, perhaps a bit resistant to change who have been doing it this way for years
  • A sheep that blindly follows someone without reflecting or questioning their practice
  • Chickens, that may be a bit scared to try something new and seem to fret together at the thought of change
  • Happy Pigs, who are unafraid to jump right into the mud and get down to it
  • Or baby animals, our new graduates, who are capable and arrive to us with all of the survival skills but need nurturing and support to continue to build their confidence and establish their place on the farm.

I began to think about how farms are usually inherited through the generations, was this still how we appointed leaders at our service? In the same way that farms are often taken over by the eldest child, some leadership roles in early-childhood services can be inherited, with minimal consideration given to the specific leadership skills they may require. We need to continue to challenge this more traditional approach to ensure that we are choosing the most suitable people to nurture and expand our services.

For many, the skills required to be an effective leader in early childhood are not just naturally apparent, but honed and developed through experience.

Therefore, building leadership capacity within our organisations is key to ensuring a strong pool of skills and knowledge is available for all to access. We need to find ways to empower those with a clear passion and commitment to take on leadership roles within our early-childhood services.

I hope that sharing my thoughts will generate more conversations about leadership in early childhood and help us become better at sharing our knowledge and experiences with each other.

Like farmers, we work in a dynamic world with many factors influencing us and the decisions we make. We need to remain innovative, open to reflection, curious about learning from others and willing to put on the gumboots and give something new a go.

Meghan Woods is an early-childhood educator at Gumnut Cottage childcare.

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One comment

  1. I think this transcends so many work places and vocations.
    Great article Meg.

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