Froebelian Leadership – Dyan Spence

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Project summary:

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

Breakfast foods laid out on a tablecloth


 ‘Leadership’ is a concept that can be defined in so many ways and means something different to so many within the Early Years workforce. Within this assignment the concept of empowering a staff team through a relational pedagogy while promoting distributive leadership will be explored. It was clear while reflecting on my own leadership and the autonomy, and leadership of the team within my establishment, that empowering the team through nurturing dialogues and supportive pedagogy was the most effective way of advancing the most positive outcomes for the staff and therefore the children. It is vitally important that practitioners are empowered to be leaders in their own right to successfully implement all developments in the learning environment to support the children’s learning. Froebel asserts ‘To learn a thing in life through doing is much more developing, cultivating and strengthening than to learn it merely through the verbal communication of ideas’. (Froebel 1885:2)  


 It is all a unity; everything is based on unity, strives towards and comes back to unity’. (Froebel in Lilley 1967:45) Through interactions with the team and through regular nurturing dialogues, it was clear that staff’s unity and connectedness should be valued and respected when considering areas for development within the life of the nursery. As Froebel emphasises, the diversity and uniqueness of individuals makes a varied community for children to learn and thrive. The staff team have life experiences, core principles and values that should be nurtured and supported in order to empower them to lead and enhance the children’s provision. Within my role as a leader, I promoted the team’s empowerment through regular reflections on the learning environment, observations of the children’s participation and engagement levels using the Leuven’s scale. The collective consultation to identify the required area of change enabled the team to communicate freely and successfully; however, a facilitator was required to initiate the concept and as a result the team were not yet fully empowered. (Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Manni, L, 2012) This challenged me as a leader in order to promote the autonomy of the staff team and I reflected using the theories of relational pedagogy in Realising the Ambition and Froebel’s key principles of Autonomous Learners. (Scottish Government, 2020) (Rodd, 2013) I had to ensure that the staff team used their own concepts as a base, rather than a concept that was pre-determined, to ensure that ownership was a key factor in the change process. Rodd (2013) asserts that practitioners’ agency and liberation will sustain their willingness to accept change and therefore it is imperative that a leader of change recognises this for each practitioner. It was through the collaborative and combined approach to change that enabled and encouraged the team to be leaders in the change process. (Solly, 2018)  


 The area for development and change was identified by the staff team when discussing the outdoor provision and the idea of providing an outdoor lunch area was suggested at our weekly staff meeting. The practitioners had the idea as they had been observing the children’s interactions in the outdoor area and a number of children who became hesitant to leave the outdoor environment to come into the indoor lunch area. As Woods (2012) asserts, practitioners with a sense of responsibility and ownership are more enthusiastic and more likely to embrace the change. This was a test of my leadership skills as my instinct was to become involved and to physically support the team with the plan and design of the outdoor lunch area. I continued to reflect on Froebel’s principle of Unity and Connectedness and relational pedagogy as well as national documentation and self-evaluation success criteria such as How Good Is Our Early Learning and Childcare? (Education Scotland, 2016) and Realising the Ambition (Scottish Government, 2020). Through these reflections it was clear to me that the most effective use of relational pedagogy was to offer support and facilitate opportunities for practitioners to define clear roles in the creation of this quality mealtime experience. This type of leadership can be recognised as ‘distributive’ style leadership where leader and practitioner work together to promote the best outcomes for all involved. (O’Sullivan, 2009) This type of leadership enables the practitioner to have a pro-active, liberated approach to their own practice with a leader who supports and enhances their role. The practitioners planned, shared ideas and suggestions as well as discussed, the practicalities of how a quality mealtimes can be facilitated in the outdoor area. Clear roles, responsibilities and an action plan was created by the team which strongly highlighted the clear autonomy and agency that was being developed and shown by the team.  My role as leader was reaffirmed to me to support, guide, inform and empower practitioners which would create mutually beneficial outcomes for the practitioners and children. (Stein, 2009). The staff team implementing the changes within the outdoor environment were fully empowered to create a quality mealtime experience that supported the needs of the children. Practitioners worked collaboratively with the children when creating these environments in order to gain an insight into their reactions to the learning environment. Observations of play were key at this stage to ensure the involvement of all children in their learning environment. (Kotter, 2012). Children were ‘listened to’ during their interactions in the new learning environment, recording their engagement, responses to the mealtime experiences using a ‘Froebelian’ audit. The term ‘listening to children’ can be identified as more than just a technique, but a process of seeing the child’s voice and meaning through their eyes (Fisher, 2016) As Froebel affirms ‘A new world of ideas and objects opens before him. For one begins to understand that which one strives to represent’. (Froebel in Lilley 1967:87) 

 Project Outcomes  

As a result of the empowerment of the practitioners through relational pedagogy the outdoor lunch area was created and implemented with the children. The children responded very well to this area and were nurtured through a quality mealtime experience that was adapted and changed in order to support all the children. When reflecting on the resources provided (shown in appendix 1) the children’s and staff Unity and Connectedness was well supported and the cultural inspirations had been represented. The result of distributive leadership within this area of practice relational pedagogy was promoted within the staff team and a sense of ownership and pride was embedded. As we continually evaluate the learning environment, the areas was continually accessed using the ‘How Good is Our Early Learning and Childcare’ Quality Indicators as well as Froebel’s principles to ensure the quality provision. By examining Quality Indicators 2.7 Partnerships – How do we communicate, plan and work together to support engagement in children’s learning, an evaluation and action plan was created to designate roles and responsibilities within the change process. (Education Scotland, 2016) The importance of the children’s engagement in the environment was highlighted through the action plan and was emphasised as the heart of the change process. (Davis, 2012) Using this child-friendly approach, along with the practitioners, to evaluate the learning environment increases the collaborative approach to improvement. (Murray, J. & McDowall Clark, R., 2012). 

To ensure that families were involved in the new mealtime area the practitioners suggested a ‘have lunch with me’ opportunity for families to come into the nursery and enjoy lunch with their child in the new area. The practitioners had a clear vision to share this practice with the families to highlight the success and enthusiasm of the children. (Stein, 2009) Throughout the event the practitionersconfidently shared and celebrated the successes and answered any questions that care givers had. My role within this was to ensure that support was available if needed, but the quality and trusting interactions between practitioners and care givers demonstrated clear relational pedagogy. As Thornton and Brunton (2010) asserts, the importance of quality, trusting relationships between parent and care giver is developed and maintained through strong, trustworthy interactions.  

As a result of this initiative, many of the children who learn more frequently in the outdoor environment and were previously hesitant to come indoor to eat their meals, have responded very positively to the outdoor meal provision. This has created an encouraging systematic change that has impacted both the indoor and outdoor mealtimes as children are eating in an area they are most comfortable. The practitioners are empowered with the changes they have made and as a result are continuing to review and adapt the area to nurture the children’s needs.  

Final Reflections  

When deciding to begin the Froebelian Leadership course last year, I was both excited and a little unsure of how the Froebelian principles could be implemented with a leadership role. As both a pedagogical leader and member of senior management, I have always considered myself to be supportive and nurturing within my role. However, the Froebelian leadership course and this project in particular have encouraged me to consider the Unity and Connectedness and agency of the practitioners in order for empowerment and ownership to be present. (O’Sullivan, 2009) As a result of the leadership and ownership that the practitioners have developed throughout this initiative, the outdoor mealtime area is being very successfully accessed by children on a daily basis.  

As the concept of ‘Leadership’ has been explored within the team and many of the team still view ‘Leadership’ as management, we have identified this as an area for development. This will be explored as part of a working group and children’s, staff, parents’ and partner’s leadership will be identified as part of a research project.  

The Frobelian Leadership course has cemented my belief in relational and loving pedagogy in supporting and nurturing a team by building trusting, reciprocal relationships. I look forward to continuing this journey to building leaders within the team and the exciting opportunities this will provide for our children.  


 Davis, G. (2012). A documentary analysis of the use of leadership and change theory in changing practice in early years settings. Early Years, 266-276. 

Education Scotland. (2016). How good is our early learning and childcare? Glasgow: Author   

Kotter, J. (2012). Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School. 

Lilley,I (1967) Fredrick Froebel – A Selection from His Writings,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 

Murray, J. & McDowall Clark, R., (2012). Reconceptualizing Leadership in the Early Years. Maidenhead: Open University Press. 

O’Sullivan, J. (2009). Successful Leadership in the Early Years. London: Bloomsbury. 

Rodd, J. (2015). Leadership in early childhood: the pathway to professionalism. Maidenhead: Open University Press. 

Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Manni, L. (2012). Effective Leadership in the Early Years Sector. London: Insititue of Education, University of London. 

Solly, B. (2018) Distributed leadership explained. New York: Harvard Business 

Stein, M. (2009). Quality matters in children’s services: Messages from research. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers 

The Scottish Government (2020), Realising the Ambition Edinburgh: Author  

Thornton, L & Brunton, P. (2010). Bringing the Reggio Approach to your Early Years Practise. London : Routledge 

Wood, E., & Attfield, J. (2012). Play Learning and Early Childhood Curriculum. London: Sage.  



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