Froebelian Leadership – Liz Kerr

Project author:

Project summary:

Action Research and reflection on leadership from a Froebelian perspective in an early learning and chldcare community.



 Within my local authority practitioners can participate in Froebel in childhood practice training. Some successfully embed their knowledge of Froebelian principles within their setting. 

 Last year I was appointed as strategic lead for Froebelian practice within North Lanarkshire Council. 

 Throughout this project, I examined my leadership skills while working directly with one Family Learning Centre to build a community of practice empowering others to lead. 

 Taking time to consider that “The interconnectivity between the concepts of freedom and guidance are key to understanding Froebel’s philosophy of education” (Bruce, 2018), I realise this is not consistently evident in my practice when leading others. One of the main aims was to create time and space for others to grow and develop rather than being driven by data and outcomes. 


 The leadership questions explored through this project were based on discussion with the Head of Centre around her vision, values and aims for the setting. She is currently studying  

Froebel in Childhood practice and would love to move the setting to become fully Froebelian. 

 We are exploring the Froebelian principles of knowledgeable, nurturing educators who engage in their own learning and believe in principled and reflective practice; facilitate and guide, rather than instruct. It takes time to transfer personal skills when collaborating and leading adults. I know that at times I go too fast and was really mindful to take this project at the pace of the team rather than following my agenda. 

 Relationships matter! This is so true for this team! We discovered this in the first session working together. Using the Iceberg tool to facilitate discussion, we quickly identified that the current reality for this team is that they are working in really challenging times due to the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare. At times the staff team are under pressure but the one thing they do really well is care for each other and their children and families. They believe in the value of teamwork and although quietly proud of all that they do, they know exactly what their ‘Future Vision’ looks like. 

 “Good teams are made– they aren’t born. For a group to achieve magnificent results, first it must learn to grow and mature collectively and hopefully, these union and friendly surroundings would generate a better long-term outcome.” (Senge, P, 1990) 


 The project was built on the desire to work closely with a Head of Family Learning Centre who I have been directly line managing for just under a year. While working with her, I have endeavoured to build her self-confidence and empower her to really believe in herself. I fully agree that “the secret to change is to make sure that everyone has the support and capacity needed to implement the change successfully.” (Sergiovanni, T. 2005, p9) 

 In a planned discussion, I took time to share the Froebelian Leadership course information and also the project I had in mind. 

 The reason for choosing this particular setting is that both the Head of Centre and Equity and Excellence Lead have been participating in the Froebel in Childhood Practice Course this year and have been developing their own knowledge while taking their team on a journey of change. Looking to develop a strong identity within their setting. Working together we looked at where the setting is and where the staff would like it to be.  

“Reflecting upon the leadership of change, winning hearts and minds of the organisational members” (Skerlavaj, M. 2022) 

 Their vision is powerful in that they want their staff to build a Froebelian community that is inclusive, democratic, and unique. The first steps have already been taken as the children experience several of Froebel’s occupations. The environment supports the central importance of play indoors and outdoors where children engage with nature. 

 We began by planning dates and times to meet that worked for the setting. 

The first session was about sharing information and we used the Iceberg model which is a diagnostic tool that is used to analyse systemic structures and identify blind spots that cause a team to collectively reproduce results that no one wants.  

 The Iceberg Model makes underlying structures, paradigms of thought, and sources visible. This tool provided an opportunity for everyone to contribute and look at the behaviour, process and structures, paradigms of thought. The debate and dialogue were rich, and I was careful not to interrupt the flow between the team. 

 From that we moved on to a fishbone diagram in our next session. The beauty of this tool is that everyone had a voice and an equal opportunity to contribute. It was important to me that they all felt valued. The team commented on the effectiveness of this way of recording together and it led on to compiling a bank of collective strengths. 

 At this point in the project, we have only considered one of the strengths in detail and still have another few to look at. I am delighted that the team are embracing the opportunity and finding the time spent on this worthwhile. 

 Further Collective Strengths to consider: 

  • Parents now within the nursery setting feeling more secure and building relationships. 
  • Head Of Centre has supported and shows a caring attitude. 
  • Management cover/flexibility e.g., Woodwork Wednesdays 
  • Flexibility in areas e.g. longer periods of time for children and staff to continue on their journey together 
  • Grow our own network of Froebelians that can provide training/information sessions for staff and settings. 

  Project outcomes (non-leadership 

 The full team commented on the impact of having the protected time to explore and share the vision for their centre. It has been a great opportunity to reflect as a leadership team with a solution focussed approach. 

 The Head of Centre is currently thinking about how to lead a whole team approach to embedding Froebelian practice, as there is little knowledge about this among the team. She is looking at the challenge of how to upskill the team in this area while still learning herself. 

 The sessions helped the team to see just how person centred they are as a service and that this is a strong foundation to build upon. “Our Paradigms are the way we “see” the world or circumstances — not in terms of our visual sense of sight, but in terms of perceiving, understanding, and interpreting. Paradigms are inseparable from character. And what we see is highly interrelated to what we are. We can’t go very far to change our seeing without simultaneously changing our being, and vice versa.” (Covey, S. 2020 p14) 

 Final reflections  

 From this project I learned that a real gift is working with a team who are ready and willing is a fantastic starting point. When reading about the work of Laloux, he highlighted how “Many organisations chose to experiment and test new methods within one unit to learn and build excitement. The next question then becomes: which unit? Many criteria can be relevant to choosing a good candidate. I believe the most important one might simply be: which one has the most energy? Which unit has a leader who is raring to get started?” (Laloux, F. 2016, p143) The work with this team is not yet finished. I would say we are halfway through this piece of work. It will be really exciting to watch as this centre heads off on their Froebelian journey.  

 The biggest pieces of learning about my leadership from participation in the Froebelian Leadership course is the importance of unity and connectedness. Throughout the sessions, I listened to the presenters, took the opportunity to read and absorb the course materials and really looked forward to networking with colleagues. The discussions with like minded Froebelians was truly inspirational. 

  The project provided a clear focus for my work with one of the staff teams I am linked with and enabled me to prioritise time with them.  “A systemic perspective finds causality through feedback cycles. Feedback is any flow of reciprocal influence. Reinforcing feedback speeds up a trend in a given process. If the trend is positive, positive feedback accelerates growth.” (Sengey, P. 1990, p14) 

 Email feedback I received from the Head of Centre one evening read: 

“I just wanted to say thank you for the session this afternoon, I’ve been having one of those weeks and been feeling a bit disillusioned but the session this afternoon helped me remember why we do what we do and that although we can’t control everything there is still things we can find solutions for. It was also nice to hear from the girls how far we have come too so thank you for giving us the time and space and helping us think about things in a more strategic way. Looking forward to the next session” 

 When I asked directly for feedback in a more formal way, I received the following comments: 

  • Your leadership in these sessions has been fantastic.  
  • You created a safe space for us to reflect as a management team and supported us to stay on task.  
  • Your leadership in the sessions led us to think about our current challenges in a different way, with a more solution focused approach. I am looking forward to seeing where these sessions take us. 

 Stephen Covey describes the circle of influence. This resonates with me as I would like to empower those I work with and have the luxury of leading to become immersed in their own learning and embrace the opportunities they receive in the same way I do.


 The Fifth Discipline: the art & practice of the learning organization Peter m. Senge, 1990 

 The Virtues of Leadership, Sergiovanni, Thomas J The Educational Forum; Winter 2005; 69, 2; ProQuest  

 What does it mean to be a Froebelian in the 21st century? An essay Helge Wasmuth Mercy College (USA) 

 Post-Heroic Leadership Context, Process and Outcomes, Miha Skerlavaj, Norway 2022 

 Reinventing Organisations, Frederic Laloux, 2016 

 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” Stephen Covey, May 2020 





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