Leadership in Early Childhood Education: The Journey of Pasifika Educators
Leadership theory and practice are well developed in the business sector, corporate organisations and in the compulsory schooling sector. However, leadership in the early childhood sector lacks direction and effective support from Government (Cooper, 2014; Thornton, 2005). Furthermore, these mainly Western notions of educational leadership, in relation to a definition and guidelines for practice, are predominant in contrast to literature concerning the cultural paradigms and indigenous ways of leading that are yet to be fully acknowledged (Fitzgerald, 2003).
Statistics collected by the Ministry of Education about early childhood teachers reveal that, of the six percent of teachers from Pasifika ethnic groups working in the sector, an even smaller proportion of this statistic accounts for Pasifika educators in leadership roles (Ministry of Education, 2014). The purpose of this study was to critically examine the aspirations and perspectives of Pasifika educators in regard to leadership in early childhood education, in order to identify the factors that have led to the appointment of leadership roles among these educators, and the challenges they have faced along the way. A qualitative research methodology was employed in this research to emphasise the voices of Pasifika leaders and educators in examining the issue of the under-representation of Pasifika women in leadership roles in the early childhood sector.
The major findings from this study indicate that traditional Pasifika approaches to leadership that apply to male leaders are at odds with the early childhood sector in which females dominate. Women tend to be relational in their leadership approach and several authors canvas the need to develop a leadership model that emphasises the strengths of women and that aligns with early childhood pedagogical approaches (Cooper, 2014; Fitzgerald, 2006; Thornton, 2005; Thornton et. al., 2009).
This study concurs with the position of Scrivens (2003) who argues, that women prefer leadership models that embrace power for rather than power over people.
The findings highlighted several challenges faced by Pasifika women in leadership in early childhood education. The most significant challenge that most Pasifika women face has been described as “walking between two worlds” (Fitzgerald, 2006, 2010). As Indigenous women in stereotypically male dominated leadership structures and as Indigenous Pasifika women working and living in a Western society, whilst trying to preserve their cultural values, beliefs and identity (Fitzgerald, 2006, 2010).
The findings also suggest that professional development specific to leadership is integral for future leadership development within the sector. Professional mentoring and coaching offers a starting point to building and sustaining Pasifika leadership in early childhood education. Furthermore, this study indicates that models for leadership should be developed that recognises: Indigenous ways of leading, in order to address the issues of uncertainty and reluctance of educators to participate in leadership, and to promote leadership among Pasifika educators in early childhood education. This study has provided insight into the association between leadership in the cultural contexts of Pasifika leadership and the concept of servant leadership in early child education. It is concluded that servant leadership offers a valid culturally appropriate paradigm of leadership that may inform the future development of Indigenous ways of leading in the early childhood sector. This research study affirms a structure of direction and effective support that aligns with the statement by Thornton (2005); “There is not just one way to be a leader and leadership will vary from culture to culture and situation to situation” (p. 2).