Froebelian Leadership – Fiona Anderson

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Project summary:

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


What does it mean to be a Froebelian in the 21st Century? 

 What it means to be a Froebelian in the 21st century is a relevant and important question raised by Wasmuth (2022).  Through this enquiry, I have not only asked myself this question but also extended this to consider how wider education authorities can reflect Froebelian principles within Early Learning and Childcare strategy.  Through discussion with lead practitioners within my team, we mapped out Froebelian principles onto the Council’s strategic plan and actions to demonstrate that the Early Years strategy within the council reflects these principles. The exercise not only highlighted a 21st century example of Froebelian principles in action but equally important, my role in supporting their further development and embedding with practice across the sector.    

Before beginning the enquiry, I felt it was important to re-evaluate my own leadership styles relevant to my changed role as a strategic lead within a local education authority.  Having been a Head Teacher for over twelve years and completed further studies around leadership and management, I had a good understanding of my leadership competencies, both strengths and areas for development.   Much of these focussed on Goleman’s six leadership styles (Lindberg: 2023) and the proportionate use of each depending on the situation.  Having been within the same setting for nine years, and established strong relationships with the staff team, much of my leadership actions were within democratic, affiliative and coaching spheres.  Reflecting on Wheatley’s (2005) work, and my changed role, I undertook a reflective exercise to see if my leadership style had slipped into command and control.  Alongside five members of the team, we considered levels of trust, risk taking, transparency, decision-making and policy making.   Although there was a clear recognition that the sphere of advisors and decision makers had shifted from my previous role, the same values and leadership styles were still present with the same energy, passion and enthusiasm.   

Froebel himself stated that he ‘must look for help outside myself and try to gain from others the knowledge and skill I needed’ (Lilly: 1967 pg. 34). By looking outside of myself through discussions with team members and colleagues within the sector, I have gathered qualitative data to support my belief that my leadership styles have remained consistent while moving into my different role. A recent evaluation of the Early Level Leadership Forum (of which I have strategic oversight and development of) had an average rating of 4 out 5 from over 85 respondents.  Comments from respondents, team members and colleagues support my assertion that I uphold many of Froebel’s leadership qualities including being a visionary communicator, reflexive, democratic, co-operative and indeed sometimes slightly disruptive and activist.  These are underpinned by Goleman’s five domain components of emotional intelligence that include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills (Resilient Educator: 2022)    

Within the Early Years team there is a continued dialogue around how Froebelian principles and practice are reflected in the overall strategy of the Early Years service within the Council. Commentary focuses on whether the principles drive service priorities or whether the service naturally reflects Froebelian principles. To decide which position was more accurate, a plan was made to look at the service plan and cross-reference it to the eight Froebelian principles.  This was undertaken over a four-week period with various members of the team. 

Through the project, it was established that fundamentally, the local outcomes of the strategy evidence the key values and principles of Froebel.  As stated in the section of the plan  ‘Our promise, Our purpose’, the main outcome for children is to ensure they are well settled, contented and emotionally fulfilled during their time at nursery with their needs well met to allow them to demonstrate a broad range of attributes. Parents are highlighted as key partners and the workforce aims to have an increased knowledge and understanding of children’s emotional and social development and use effective strategies to feel safe, nurtured and capable.   All of these pair succinctly with how Froebelian principles are articulated by Bruce (Bruce: 1987) in terms of the whole child being considered to be important (in particular mental and physical health),  the people (both adults and children) with whom the child interacts are of central importance and that quality education focusses on three things, the child, context and knowledge and understanding.   

Drilling down further, the project team then looked at the output and actions of the strategy and drew connections to Froebel’s eight key principles (see Appendix A).   Using a strategic lens, it is clear that the actions and outputs from the service plan reflect all eight of Froebel’s key principles as guided and led by leaders and practitioners within the local authority.  Further analysis also reflected that almost all of these actions were attributable to members of the central team, practitioners and leaders within the Council, demonstrating the depth of distributed leadership driving the strategic vision and plan forward.   As highlighted by Harris (2009) evidence shows that distributed leadership has a greater impact upon organizational development where certain structural and cultural barriers are removed.    

One of the challenges that arose during the project was the discussion around the key drivers for strategy within the Council.   The project team held robust discussions around this over the period of the project.   It was recognised that there is a strong Froebelian influence within the strategy but some colleagues questioned whether the principles were the drivers or were these under a wider sphere of influence.  Wasmuth (2022: pg. 31-32) succinctly states that to be a Froebelian today does not mean being narrow-minded and focused on Froebelian thinking only and that to question as to which pedagogy is better seems pointless.  Wasmuth explains that as a Froebelian it is important to listen to other ideas to expand critical thinking and questing the current status of ECEC (Early Years).  As Wasmuth concludes Froebel himself would have been thrilled by a profession that advocates for young children’s well-being, dignity and play as the means of young children’s self-active learning as the appropriate way to make sense of the world (ibid:  pg. 34).  By viewing the strategy through Wasmuth’s thinking, the driver for the strategy is not as important as the intended outcome on quality early learning experiences for children.    

One of the key aspects of this project, which unintentionally will have one of the greatest impacts on the wider understanding of Froebelian principles by leaders and practitioners within the Council, is the future use of the mapping document (Appendix A).   

 There are occasions when leaders and practitioners within the Council will state that they ‘aren’t Frobelian’ as they haven’t undertaken any professional learning around Froebel.  This thinking can act as a barrier to discussions around pedagogy due to the strong focus of professional learning within the Council around Froebel and a perceived sense of ‘lack of belonging’.  Wasmuth (2022) suggests that the intellectual exchange with Froebelian ideas can help practitioners and leaders to become aware of alternative ideas and conversations within the early years.   The project group identified that the mapping document could be used as a provocation tool to support discussions around pedagogy and develop links for leaders and practitioners to Froebelian principles and wider service strategy beyond recognised professional learning programmes.   Wasmuth suggests that Froebelians (or in this case the mapping tool) can play a role in asking genuine questions around what does play mean and rethink our image of the child, adult’s relationships and advocating for high quality.   The project group agreed that by sharing the map through various networks, this will support a wider sector understanding of Froebelian principles and how these are embedded within the Council’s vision and aims for the sector.    

 Having reflected on my own leadership within this project and the wider Froebelian Leadership course I am able to identify key areas of learning and the impact this will have in the future.     Firstly, through feedback from the project team, my leadership skills remain consistent with the spheres of democratic, affiliative and coaching styles.   The project team reiterated that my use of emotional intelligence, particularly around motivation, empathy managing relationship is a strength within the team.  Looking wider to comments from professional learning networks, this was also reiterated through positive feedback.  However, I do recognise, through self-reflection, that there are times when I could make better use of self-regulation techniques.   There can be occasions when I may not anticipate consequences before acting on impulse or control my emotions.    In recognition of this I have recently undertaken professional learning around David Rock’s SCARF model (Mindtools: 2023).  Based on neuroscience research, the model explains that status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness activate threat and response reactions in the brain and influence behaviour in social situations.  This learning, which I have also shared with the wider team, has supported me to minimise perceived threats and maximise positivity to collaborate better, to coach people and to be even more effective as a leader.  It is my intention to continue to engage in learning around the SCARF model and apply this to my own leadership and support others to learn how this model can support them. 

The role of strategic lead for Quality Improvement and Pedagogy in Early Years in a local authority can be rewarding and bring its own challenges.   Participation in the Froebelian Leadership course has offered the opportunity to reflect on both my personal leadership skills and also how these impact on wider service strategy through a Froebelian lens.  I am looking forward to progressing my learning forward through this experience.   

 Works Cited 

Bruce , T. (1995). Early Childhood Education. Hatchette. London 

Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence theory: Explanation and examples: Resilient educator (2022) Available at: (Accessed: April 19, 2023). 

Distributed leadership: What we know – researchgate (no date). Available at: (Accessed: April 19, 2023). 

Fröbel Friedrich and Lilley, I.M. (1967) Friedrich Froebel: A selection from his writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Harris, Alma. (2009). Distributed Leadership: What We Know. 10.1007/978-1-4020-9737-9_2. (accessed 10.04.2023) 

Lindberg, C. (2020) The Six Leadership Styles by Daniel Goleman – Leadership Ahoy!, Leadership Ahoy! Available at: Accessed 14.04.2023  

Lindon, J and Lindon, L (2012) Leadership and early years professionalism: linking theory and practice. UK: Hodder Education 

 MindTools. Available at: (Accessed: April 19, 2023).  

Munroe, M. (2014) The Power of Character in Leadership. Accessed from: 






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