My Froebelian Leadership Story

Project author:

Project summary:

Action research and reflection on leadership from a Froebelian perspective in an early earning and childcare community


Leadership is complex and requires the ability to be flexible, adaptable, and
highly responsive on a daily basis. By participating in the Froebelian
leadership course I have begun to rethink leadership through a lens focused
on Froebelian principles. Through this project I focused on my responses and
how as a leader I influenced the process. Was I supportive and stimulating, or
restrictive and doubtful?

Two opportunities arose, one leading from the other, one led by a teacher,
the other with children taking the lead. As with many opportunities for
change, this small project began with an idea from a teacher. They were
thinking about how we could create a new fixed space for our ephemeral

Teachers taking the lead. We engaged in a discussion about possibilities,
and spent time toying with different ideas about how the current spaces
could be utilised to accommodate the resources and how to make a new
work space. We were joined in the discussion by another teacher who
contributed another option which while valid had some drawbacks. Another
teacher joined, they seemed rattled by the thought of any change. After
sharing the different ideas we created a new space that proved to be very
What was happening. (Image)

Scenario 2. Children as leaders.
Teachers noticed that children regularly brought home corner items out into
the larger spaces within in the indoor area. As we observed, we pondered
“what are the children telling us through their actions?”
Teachers deliberated over time, wondering what the reason was. We
speculated that perhaps the space was too cluttered. Collectively we
decided to make some subtle changes and see what happened. Pretty
swiftly it became apparent that what we thought was the problem wasn’t.
Another teacher joined in, offering another solution which was implemented.
And wow! The space is transformed.
What occurred to me:
• Collaboration
• Observation
• Being where the learner (teacher) is at
• Trial and Error
• Freedom with guidance
• Children as leaders
• Teachers as leaders
• Leaders as learners
• The importance of language and the words we use.

In the past I reflected on my leadership practice, I realised I was very
attached to how our environment is setup. Over time I have actively tried to
relinquish control over our space (which I recognised that I was unconsciously
holding) and teachers do suggest and try new ideas. Through the leadership
course I have come to understand the importance of professional
knowledge, practice and pedagogy, it is here that trust flourishes. Through
this small project I could see that teachers used their knowledge of children,
our philosophy, and pedagogy to make informed change. I recognise the
contribution from all teachers as we teach, drawing on our curriculum and
philosophy for learning, and more recently Froebelian principles. Our
philosophy continues to grow and evolve as we grow and develop as
teachers and reflects our continual becoming.
I have discovered that leaders need to be good observers. Just like teachers
observing children, leaders must observe their learners, the teachers. In
Aotearoa, New Zealand, akonga, in te reo Māori means learner, leaders,
children and teachers all as learners. Ako, means teaching and learning,
where teachers and akonga teach and learn from each other. As a leader it
is my responsibility to support teachers to take chances and make decisions
for themselves from the stage they are at. As a leader I need to create and
ensure there is a safe and supportive environment for teachers to express
themselves and to try new things as autonomous learners. Just like children,
teachers learn through experience and making adjustments when things
don’t go to plan. As a leader it is my role to mentor teachers through their
teaching and learning.
Both changes were made with children at the centre with two different
groups leading change.
1. Teachers as the leader. Introducing a new art form – ephemeral art that
incorporates the Froebelian principle of learning through nature, and forms of
knowledge, the law of opposites, forms of beauty, patterning, and forms of
life, the shells from the local beach.
2. Children as the leader. The space was not supporting play, children’s
actions were telling teachers what it was they needed for their developing
Feedback from colleagues through this process has helped me to reflect on
my experience. Teacher (a) has observed my passion for children’s
wellbeing and learning and that I want a team that shares this same passion,
adding that I give teachers the same opportunities within the centre that I
would like to have myself. I am described as being transparent with my vision
for our centre, discussing and sharing this, while listening to and
understanding the views and ideas of others. Teacher (b) values my ability to
challenge teachers own ideas, encouraging thinking outside the box, that it
doesn’t have to be this way, to try something new and see how it works.
Giving time to visit new ideas and time to reflect and think.

My reflection

It was interesting to read that Froebel had charge of Keilhau and that if
practitioners disagreed with him, they left (Wasmuth, 2022). He wanted a
close number of devoted followers. This makes me think about holding true
as a leader. I hold steady the philosophy of this place, our essence, tone or
pulse. Bruce (2024) says “good leaders do not become sidetracked from
their vision” (p.3). Like in Froebel’s time, maybe teachers that don’t align with
our philosophy will also leave, or aren’t drawn to us. Teachers work within the
guidelines of the philosophy, echoing Froebelian principle of freedom with
guidance. Our philosophy is malleable but not to a point that it becomes

As a leader, I liken my role to what Mbolekwa & Bruce (2024) refer to as
apprenticeships, not transferring my knowledge to akonga, but rather having
freedom with guidance, empowering teachers to think things through for
themselves and explore for themselves, while offering a framework that
supports our collective practice. Creating a space for trial and error, making
mistakes, acknowledging and celebrating failures and successes both as

There is a lot to leadership. As a leader I can create an environment that
grows beyond my own sole thinking and knowledge.. Senge (cited in
Scharmer, 2016) refers to achieving profound change by creating the right
setting for releasing collective energy. He reflects on the organisational
structure we create that then hold us prisoner within the systems we made. I
do feel constrained by paper trails and policy, conducting regulatory internal
evaluations, this can halt the spontaneous spark of learning revelations that
happen daily. Conversations, discussions, informal, not documented are also
valuable, as teachers share and exchange ideas freely and without scrutiny
through brainstorming ideas. I struggle with the convoluted process of
internal evaluation documentation, feeling the loss of the moment when
there is a ridged format to be adhered to. However, reading Scharmer
(2016) I am beginning to understand the necessity of inquiring deeply into
what is happening, and that there is a place for structure to effect deep
change. My own shortcoming is to reflect back and evaluate the outcomes
of change.
Becoming. “There are two sources of learning: the past and the emerging
future” (Scharmer, 2016 p. 54) – as Froebelians we might refer to this as our
becoming. I feel myself slowing down, similarly following slow pedagogy,
and supporting akonga to do the same.

I am left wondering about how we create new knowledge, or new ways of
doing and being. How do we approach situations in ways that don’t repeat
the past (Scharmer, 2016). I wonder about my role as leader, to develop
each teacher as a leader in the same manner as I am learning, to take them
with me on this leadership journey. As new leaders emerge my role is to
ensure they are not beholden to leaderships myths. It is my role as leader not
just to lead the teachers in their teaching practice, but to lead the
evolutional change of teachers into leadership as we know it can be. It is a
tricky dance in early childhood education, as teachers often “fall” into the
role of leader. Maria Cooper (2020) refers to the dual teacher-leader
identity, she maintains that all teachers have the ability to lead and influence
others, whether in an official role as leader or not. Further, she refers to
leadership as ‘the dynamic collaborative processes of professionals with
diverse knowledge and skills as they interact during joint activity” (p2.).

I will work at aligning my leadership style reflecting on The Froebel Trust UK
charter for commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality. Acknowledging
that while we share this context and our identity, “this does not mean we are
the same; our lived experiences make us – and our contributions [] unique.
Furthermore, that every teacher enriches us as a whole. What I am learning is
that together we are more than we are individually. I don’t have to know
everything, and I can rest in the knowledge that I work with and alongside
other professional teachers, guided by our curriculum, and more lately by
Froebelian principles. Leaders, as teachers do with children, must embrace
the individual in their totality, Froebel (citied in Wasmuth, 2022) so they can
grow as who they are but also within our philosophy.

Now I am at the end, and I am ready to hand in my project. As I reflect, I
notice that my leadership focus has been on leading change, but what I
really have learnt that leadership is about leading growth. Leaders hold true
to their vision; it’s how you get there that matters.

This is where I leave this assignment, echoing Scharmer’s (2016) question,
“How can one learn from the future? (p. 54). There is much to learn but what
wonderful guidance we have to draw from.

Bruce, T. (2024). General introduction. Connections, disconnections,
reconnecting and interconnecting. In T. Bruce, Y. Nishida, S. Powell, H.
Wasmuth & J. Whinnett (Eds) The Bloomsbury handbook to Friedrich
Froebel. Bloomsbury.
Cooper, M. (2020). Teachers grappling with a teacher-leader identity:
Complexities and tensions in early childhood education. International
Journal of Leadership in Education, 26(1), 54-74.
Mbolekwa, S., & Bruce, T. (2024). From Freire to Froebel. In T. Bruce, Y. Nishida,
S. Powell, H. Wasmuth & J. Whinnett (Eds) The Bloomsbury handbook to
Friedrich Froebel. Bloomsbury.
Scharmer, C., (2016). Theory U: Learning from the future as it emerges. BerrettKoehler Publishers.
Wasmuth, H. (2022). What does it mean to be a Froebelian in the 21st
century? Global Education Review, 9(2), 23-37

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