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Who? & What? - Pedagogical Leadership in ECEC

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Who me? No!

I suspect that if you were to ask a lot of ECEC practitioners how they exhibit leadership within their role, many would tell you that leadership is not part of their role and that they don’t really identify themselves as leaders. Initially, fingers would probably be pointed at the manager as the leader within the setting. This is not unusual in the ECEC sector as many practitioners do not see themselves through a leadership lens. Research suggests a few reasons for this such as the lack of clear definitions of what leadership is and traditional associations between leadership and power, which perhaps do not align with the caring and nurturing element of the ECEC practitioners role (Rodd, 2013). However, a term which is becoming increasingly associated with the re-definition of leadership relative to the ECEC the sector is “pedagogical leadership”.

Say what?

So what is it? When we start to think about leadership in any context we usually think of “manager, boss, business, entrepreneur” and these terms really relate to the organisational management or the “business side” of running a setting. However, pedagogical leadership is different, it relates to the style of leader who enables educators to act with autonomy within ECEC practice, curriculum planning and development. The pedagogical leader will provide opportunities for the distribution of leadership tasks, engage in conversations and interactions with other educators and act as a guide and mentor within professional ECEC practice. By being supportive and enabling others to take the lead in various situations, this will help to distribute the leadership and allow educators to develop their own leadership skills.

Distribute the Leadership

When pedagogical leadership is present, it can create an environment where there is a community of practice and where professional educators can share ideas and knowledge and engage in peer learning. This in turn supports professional practice, continuing professional development and ultimately provide for best outcomes and quality ECEC for children and their families who attend the ECEC setting (Heikka et al, 2019) . The concept of pedagogical leadership means that everyone has an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way and supports the development of teamwork and reflective practice. When this approach is considered alongside the Síolta quality standards of consultation, interactions, organisation and professional practice, the importance and value of pedagogical leadership becomes clear.

Everyone is doing it, so what can’t I?

As early childhood educators it is important to recognise the professional value of our role. All practitioners and educators have the potential to take the lead in various situations and should be encouraged and enabled to do so by a pedagogical leader. So, the next time you think about leadership or someone asks if you have leadership skills, don’t reach for the default response just because you aren’t the manager. If you engage in curriculum planning, developing the learning environment, implementing observations to determine children’s interests and using the information to improve practice….then you are engaging in activities which require leadership. If you are empowering others to take the lead, mentoring others in their role and providing opportunities through the distribution of leadership tasks, then you are engaging in pedagogical leadership. We all have the potential to be leaders…..yes, even you!

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. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter Contact Paula: LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator.


Heikka, J., Pitkäniemi, H., Kettukangas, T. & Hyttinen, T. (2019): Distributed pedagogical leadership and teacher leadership in early childhood education contexts, International Journal of Leadership in Education, 24 (3), pp. 1-16.

Rodd, J. (2013). Leadership in early childhood: The pathway to professionalism (4 ed.). Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

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