Servant leadership in early childhood education : a multi-site case study

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Robertson, Karyn
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Master of Educational Leadership and Management
Unitec Institute of Technology
Youngs, Howard
Masters Thesis
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
early childhood education
servant leadership
Robertson, K. (2012). Servant leadership in early childhood education: A multi-site case study. A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Educational Leadership and Management, UNITEC Institute of Technology, New Zealand.
Leadership in early childhood education (ECE) is an under-researched area and there is little to support those in leadership roles by way of literature to contribute to their understanding of the role. My experiences have led to a belief that leadership in ECE is about much more than a position, power or status. Servant leadership offers a perspective of leadership that considers the idea of being motivated by a genuine desire to serve others and seeks to encourage and support others. The aims of this study were: 1. To define and critically discuss the concept of servant leadership. 2. To investigate the way in which leaders of three early childhood education services perceive and demonstrate servant leadership. 3. To explore the way in which staff and parents of three early childhood education services perceive and experience servant leadership in practice. To carry out this study a purposive sampling method was used to select the early childhood centres to be studied. Three centres, all espousing aspects of servant leadership from the literature such as, collaboration, relational leadership, and an ethic of care towards staff, children and parents were selected. The centre leaders, staff and parents were invited to participate through an interview, focus group and a questionnaire respectively. The findings were compared across the individual centres as well as across the different roles of the participants. Key findings from the research revealed that servant leadership involved spiritual foundations, certain responsibilities, relationships and a number of specific attributes of the person who is the leader such as integrity, altruism, and humility. The espoused views of servant leadership generally aligned to the practice of servant leadership within the centres and the participants had many examples of how they had either demonstrated or experienced this. Throughout the study, the term servant leadership was used in a variety of ways: as a concept; a style of leadership; a valid theory of leadership; and a way of being. The research highlighted a number of connections between the views of what makes an effective leader in ECE and the concept of servant leadership. It also identified some similarities between the principles and strands of the New Zealand early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki and servant leadership, such as the concepts of relationships, empowerment, belonging, communication, and family and community (Ministry of Education, 1996). Through being involved in the research, the participants gained a greater understanding of servant leadership as a concept as well as a greater awareness of the way in which this was practiced in their centres. This study has contributed to the wider body of literature on servant leadership and leadership in ECE. It has also provided a case for presenting servant leadership as a valid form of leadership within ECE.
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