My Froebelian Leadership Story

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Action research and reflection on leadership from a Froebelian perspective in an early earning and childcare community," and tick the Category "Leadership

‘We ignore people’s need to participate at our own peril. If they’re involved, they will create a future that
already has them in it. People support what they create.’ Margaret Wheatley, Bringing Life to Organisational
Change (1998)

It’s the middle part of this quote that really resonates with me and is (I believe) what is at the core of good leadership – the idea of creating the future by involving the people around you! I believe that good leadership begins with good relationships and that good relationships are built on trust. Stephen Covey talks about change happening at the ‘speed of trust’ and I wanted to hold onto this (and other) ideas as I began to think of my leadership project. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of listening to Santiago Rincón-Gallardo speaking about leadership in a very simple and poetic way. Santiago spoke about mobilising three things – hearts, heads and hands in order to create positive change in any organisation or situation. He went on to explain that mobilising hearts allows individuals to ‘forge a unity of purpose’, while mobilising heads and hands reflects our collective commitment to learning continuously and is symbolic of collaboration and working alongside each other. Santiago’s words inspired me to really think about how I could do that as a leader and motivated me to find my ‘own power to learn and to ignite minds, hearts and hands to live learning as a practice of freedom’ and to lead the provision for EAL learners in our settings forward and onwards and upwards. (


Froebel’s unity and connectedness principle aligns with the key leadership skills of effective communication, supportive relationships, and a shared understanding of what we know and what we need to grow. (more about this idea later) I knew that incorporating these principles in my project would encourage collaboration and participation amongst the participants.

Froebel’s next two principles of autonomous learners and valuing childhood in its own right align with the leadership skills of empowering individuals and encouraging continuous learning. I knew that valuing both the unique skills and knowledge of each colleague together with their contribution to the strength and spirit of the whole group needed to be reflected in my project.

Froebel’s principle that relationships matter is echoed in the leader who understands the importance of relationships and who inspires a sense of connectedness and shared commitment to success and I am very sure this is who I am and am becoming. Froebel’s emphasis on creativity and the power of symbols links to a leadership style that recognises the importance of innovative thinking and helped me to foster an environment, within the project, where ideas flourished.

Froebel’s principle of engaging with nature is probably the one I had most difficulty linking to a leadership style yet there was relevance in the sustainability and sense of balance in what I was attempting to create. I hope my project will continue to have an impact on the participants and the learners in the settings after the sessions finish.

Froebel’s principle of knowledgeable and nurturing educators is perhaps the most aligned with all the aspects of leadership I hope to demonstrate in my leadership project – as a mentor and enabler of growth, a provider of guidance and expertise, the creator of a learning environment where team members feel valued, encouraged, and empowered to reach their potential. I wanted to facilitate continuous learning, foster a culture of trust, loyalty and commitment to professional development and personal growth. (I think I did)

Although I had an idea about my leadership project early on in the leadership course it wasn’t until I’d reflected on the Froebelian principles alongside Rincon-Gallardo’s heart, head and hands principle that I really began to shape what I would do. My leadership project is professional learning offer for Early Years colleagues working in Early Learning and
Childcare Settings in Glasgow. The professional learning offer is called EAL Pedagogy into Practice and is based on the principles of practitioner inquiry, encouraging educators to reflect on their practice and engage in collaborative dialogue that leads to them making evidence-based changes to their practice, that positively impact on the learning experiences for EAL Learners and their families.

I knew that in the first (of five) sessions I wanted to establish a ‘contract’ that acknowledged different starting place in terms of our understanding of EAL Pedagogy but that united us in a journey where we would share a common goal. I felt it could be important for colleagues to somehow position themselves in terms of their EAL knowledge, their ability to put
their EAL Pedagogy into practice and their ability to support other colleagues to put EAL pedagogy into practice before we started so that they could map their own journey at their own pace. I shared a mentimeter with the group. (appendix 1)

I knew the importance of creating time to reflect and time to think and we began by chatting in small groups about how things really were for the EAL learners in our settings. I was with Simon and Lynn at a session in Glasgow Trades Halls recently and they introduced me to a model for professional dialogue that I found particularly helpful. I don’t know if it’s got a name but I call it the ‘talking trios’. I particularly enjoyed it because I didn’t think I would! It encouraged active participation and a sharing of perspectives, and I knew I wanted to incorporate it in my project. Colleagues sat in rotating groups of three to talk and share thoughts on what was happening in their settings for the EAL learners and their families, in fact gradually shaping their own ideas in the process. It was in this way that the course participants took agency and ownership of the inquiry process. I created two spaces to record some of this thinking – ‘what we know’ and ‘need to grow’ and encouraged colleagues to post notes in each space to help us shape the upcoming sessions. (appendix 2 and 3)

By distilling the ‘need to grow’ thinking and carefully considering it alongside the UNCRC guidance and the How Good is our Early Learning and Childcare Quality Indicators I began to shape our collective thinking. The ‘need to grow’ statements fell into four distinct categories, and I created a summative statement that represented each category. (appendix 4)

My aim for this project was to realise the importance of reflection, collaboration, and a ‘head, heart and hands’ commitment to being, belonging and becoming and it strongly chimes with Froebel’s ideas on knowledgeable and nurturing educators. I introduced the metaphor and imagery of a ‘big ball of wool’ and encouraged practitioners to think about how, if I provided the wool, they could ‘knit’ something of their own. In this way I was supporting practitioners to translate pedagogical theories into practical, impactful ‘doing’. Each session began with sharing and reflection from the previous session (practitioners had a takeaway task each time) (appendix 5) I called this bit ‘something from you’ and it led to sharing of new ideas and thinking related to supporting the provision for EAL learners and families. The sharing of learning and the curiosity about what could be next illuminated each practitioner’s individual leadership journey. Together we celebrated the successes and ‘becoming’ of a community of learners, a community of leaders and a community of love!

Being a leader, or at least the kind of leader that I want to be is well summed up by the words of Eleanor Roosevelt – a good leader ‘inspires people to have confidence in the leader while a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves’. I also love Michael Fullan’s reasoning that successful leaders are those who ‘prioritise building strong relationships, fostering collaboration, and empowering others to contribute their best efforts’. (Fullan, M. (2007). Leading In A Culture Of Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass)

From the beginning of the project, I set out to build relationships with the practitioners who attended and to make sure that our time spend together was infused with a shared understanding that every perspective was valued and that every voice would be heard, thereby reinforcing a sense of Froebelian unity and connectedness.

I particularly enjoyed the ‘something from me and something from you’ metaphorical narrative because it shared the responsibility for thinking between us all and quite definitely invited ownership and leadership of change from the participants. The metaphor supported me to ‘lead’ the kind of experience I started off thinking about where my colleagues were looking at future experiences, interactions and spaces that they were already a part of. But what kind of leader am I and what did my colleagues think of my leadership style. The mentimeter was repeated and the scores all jumped up to eights and nines, so I know colleagues have learned stuff and are now more confident in their EAL practice. I was more interested in understanding how people were feeling. I shared some images and asked which one are you and why? (more metaphor) This unlocked the ‘feeling’ part of the participant’s leadership journey. The words enthusiastic, safe, valued, hopeful, energetic, calm, peaceful floated in the room and confirmed something to me that I heard as a young teacher – no matter what the question is relationships are the answer!

Q. What’s next for me and my big ball of wool?
A. To use this pattern again and do Pedagogy into Practice as a regular professional learning offer!



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