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ECE Leadership in a Time of Change

Emotional Intelligence & Communities of Practice.

“…..there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct…. than to set up as a leader in the introduction of change…. (Machiavelli, 1469-1527).

There is no doubt that the early childhood education sector in Ireland has experienced a significant amount of change over the last couple of years. With the publication of Nurturing Skills the workforce development plan earlier in 2022, the era of change in the ECE sector looks set to continue for the next number of years. Changes which are set to be introduced include changes to minimum qualifications for lead educators and managers, the requirements for which are to be increased to Level 7 by 2028, along with recently announced changes to funding arrangements. As with all change, a mix of both acceptance and resistance is sure to ensue, which adds to the difficulty in managing the implementation of change effectively. For practitioners, managers and providers on the ground, effective leadership during this time of change, will be imperative to actualise and implement the many changes which are coming down the line for ECE.

It is well recognised that the role of manager in ECE is not a straightforward one. Many managers also engage in pedagogical practice and work directly with children in addition to their administrative and managerial workload. This may cause significant time pressure and a build-up of administrative tasks and ultimately may lead to feelings of stress. When managers feel stress, this can have a subsequent impact on the entire staff team and ultimately impact on the quality of experiences for children. So, how can those in management and leadership positions in ECE prepare themselves to engage with the significant plans for change which are coming their way?

Managing the successful implementation of change in any organisation requires both management and leadership skills. The management aspect will keep the administrative tasks in check and ensure the smooth running of the setting from day to day and week to week. Leadership, on the other hand, is vital when a new system or way of doing things is to be successfully integrated (Kotter, 1995). Both management and leadership are extremely important to the success of an organisation or setting. However, when it comes to successful implementation of change, the leader must show the way and engage the organisation on a journey from where it is now to where it will be in the future. Gill (2001) describes the leader’s role as galvanising the hearts and minds of the organisation to move together and align towards a common goal. A valuable skill which will support the leader to do this effectively, is emotional intelligence, which is “the ability to understand oneself and other people, display self-control and self-confidence, and to respond to others in appropriate ways” (Gill, 2002).

Useful tools which managers and leaders can utilise to develop emotional intelligence is to engage in self-reflection and observation in relation to how they react to others, understanding what motivates them in their role, how they react to stress and if they consider the impact of their actions on others. Understanding how the managers emotions and subsequent actions impact those around them is key to developing emotional intelligence and gaining the confidence and support of the entire organisation, which is imperative to lead change within the setting and move together towards a common goal (Gill, 2002).

Another important action which managers can take, is to engage with others in a similar position, through a community of practice. Research by Hujala and Eskelinen (2013) highlighted a link between managers who engaged with a network of peers and quality of the service provision in their setting. By sharing ideas, knowledge and concerns with others in a similar position, advice can be sought and gained and a networking community can be built to provide support and reassurance (Aubrey, 2007).

Promoting a shared set of values among ECE leaders and managers, a strong community of practice, with a shared commitment to the vision of the future of quality ECE in Ireland is vitally important for success (Gill, 2002) and will support the next steps towards the professionalisation of the sector. When a shared set of values is absent, dysfunction can result (Drucker, 1999). By creating a positive shared sense of identity and belonging within the ECE sector, which can be developed through a community of practice, the likelihood of successfully implementing change is increased as managers and leaders galvanise together, align their values and adapt. All of which are necessary to successful change management (World Economic Forum, 2000).

Engage with a Community of Practice:

If you are interested in sharing knowledge and ideas in a community of practice, check out the Twitter page @ECEQualityIrl – a community of professionals sharing ideas and knowledge on all things quality, pedagogy and professional practice in ECEC in Ireland.

About the Author:

Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (, where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator


Aubrey, C. (2011). Leading and Managing in the Early Years (2nd ed.). London, England: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Drucker, P. F. (1999) ‘Managing Oneself’, Harvard Business Review, March–April, 65–74.

Gill, R. (2002) ‘Towards an Integrative Theory of Leadership’, paper presented at the Workshop on Leadership Research, European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management, Oxford, 16th–17th December.

Hujala, E. & Eskelinen, M. (2013) Leadership Tasks in Early Childhood Education. In. E. Hujala, M. Waniganayake & J. Rodd (eds.). Researching Leadership in Early Childhood Education. Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press.

Kotter, J. P. (1995a) ‘Leading Change’, Harvard Business Review, March–April.

World Economic Forum (2000) Creating the Organizational Capacity for Renewal. Booz Allen & Hamilton/World Economic Forum, New York.

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