Froebelian leadership – Tracey Magee

Project author:

Project summary:

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

Inclusive practice



As a team we co-designed a short inquiry around current policy and procedures linked to key pedagogical approaches which aimed to include all staff, children, parents, and the wider community in a community of practice approach (Wenger, 2002) which centred around child-led (Education Scotland, 2020) play-based activities and real-life experiences. Throughout the process the team developed distributed leadership roles which aimed to reflect and embed Froebelian principles and develop the concept of collective responsibility. Through scaffolding, practitioners were enabled to nurture effective leadership qualities by exploring and reflecting on strengths and areas for growth.  


Throughout the project we planned to explore how Froebelian our leadership practices are as individuals and collectively while reflecting on who should take part in leadership roles and how this should be supported within our setting. We are a new team with different knowledge and skills and while the setting has an established shared ‘vision and values’ practitioners within the setting have varying interest and knowledge of Froebelian principles and practices with one practitioner having completed the ‘Froebel in Childhood Practice’ course. Practitioners have expressed that previous experiences have left them with a lack of confidence when taking on a leadership role and this has resulted in them feeling apprehensive about how they will be supported to involve and lead children, peers, parents and the community in a collaborative partnership. Moreover, previous practice within the setting has reflected a more top down rather than a bottom up approach to leadership which has led to a lack of connectedness and as a result a lack of ownership. As a new team this project has provided valuable time for practitioners to reflect together and is beginning to build understanding relationships (Education Scotland, 2020) between practitioners, parents and the community. While also developing mutual respect and fostering support for others to build trust between members of the team and stakeholders. 


I have led the team to grow the project using a participative leadership style (Goleman, 2000) to develop our key objectives which centred on the interests of the children (United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2005) and included all practitioner’s thoughts and ideas as identified through reflective discussions and observations of current pedagogy. Many of the team were initially inspired by a training session led by a ‘Froebel Network’ webinar which demonstrated good practice that embedded Froebelian principles. The honest and reflective conversations this facilitated were the foundation for the project and helped to identify everyone’s leadership role. Practitioners embraced the opportunity to take on a distributed leadership (Lindon and Lindon, 2012) role and stepped outside their usual practice allowing them to see things from a different perspective. I aimed to lead in a democratic and co-operative manner by incorporating continuously reflective practice and I introduce the team to the PDSA model (The Early Years Collaborative, 2014) to help focus their experience. Practice was further developed as I encouraged practitioners to share their skills and knowledge with peers and guided individuals in different ways which helped to develop their leadership skills including directing them to relevant training opportunities (Scottish Social Services Council, 2016). As the project developed, I became more aware that a Froebelian approach to leadership would involve me thinking of practitioners in a similar way to that of the children by focusing and building on what they can do rather than focusing on what they can’t do. I feel that practitioners gained in confidence as I reinforced the Froebelian ethos of using mistakes to positively reflect on their own learning (Tovey, 2017). Furthermore, it became more obvious that people support what they create (Wheatley, 1998) and this was reflected in their sense of connection and ownership. The team reported positive feedback on the project which they felt promoted a sense of achievement and pride in their work and recognised the successes of everyone in the team. There was also positive feedback for the project from parents, children and even Care Inspectorate who visited during the project, for the elements relating to SIMOA (Care Inspectorate, 2022) in particular. The project identified some areas that we can build on such as development of basic IT skills and increasing knowledge and understanding of Froebelian principles in practice. It was also identified that more time spent as a team to reflect on experiences, share practice, support each other and develop a slow pedagogical approach (Clark, 2023) rather than being restricted by focusing on external factors, should be carried forward into our future practice. Some of the challenges faced included quality time for the team to communicate and spend together to share knowledge and practice and not be driven by the need to spend lots of time filling in paperwork. Practitioners found leadership roles more challenging because of lack of previous experience and time to facilitate and develop their skills. I found the distributed leadership roles challenging at times as it required an element of cultural change for some practitioners who are used to a top-down model and find it more difficult to take the lead and confidently make decisions and take responsibility for their actions. 

 Project outcomes  

My colleagues learned the importance of developing a family centred practice and implementing a slow pedagogical approach which delivers a relational responsive pedagogy. The importance of a family like atmosphere and a professional, loving approach to teaching our youngest children and their families became more evident. As a team we developed a better understanding of how this can be done using collective responsibility (Rodd, 2013) and awareness was gained of the constructive impact this has on the acquisition of skills (Scottish Government, 2014) and positive outcomes for the whole community. I feel that my colleges gained a better understanding of how they can lead children, families and the team to develop and grow together by creating an environment which constructively enables and encourages confidence and leadership. Some Froebelian principles are already present in the ethos of how we think about our children and throughout the project I supported my colleagues to think about why we choose to do things and encouraged them to ask what impact (Tovey, 2022) it has on others. This has begun a Froebelian journey within our setting where all stakeholders in the setting influence what is experienced in a more meaningful way. I have encouraged practitioners to take on training and share training with others to develop collaborative working with other practitioners, children and parents to share knowledge and skills and build a community approach based on secure relationships. Having initiated systems of supporting leadership roles and developing Froebelian principles within the setting I hope to continue to support these through further training and reflections on practice. To embed these principles in practice I will offer sustained continuous focus in my leadership (Bruce, 2021) of the team, to continue our Froebelian journey. 

 Final reflections  

My main pieces of learning about my leadership during this project is my ability to offer freedom with guidance to others and facilitate a shared leadership approach where they can take control and lead in their own way. I feel that I have the capacity to support them to grow their ideas and encourage them to become nurturing and knowledgeable practitioners. This is reinforced by my belief that not all leaders are at the top and leadership should be open to everyone (Scottish Executive, 2006). I have further developed my understanding of the importance of relationships within an early year setting and this was evident in this project through interactions and learning involving the children, parents, wider community and the staff in the setting. An area for growth within our setting would be to focus on what practitioners can do and build on that to support them to grow while being conscious of what motivates (Maslow, 1943) them. I have learned to recognise ‘social loafing’ (Arda, 2019) and aim to support those individuals with more task orientated support to encourage their full participation in future projects. As someone who is new to my current leadership role, I feel that there is much to reflect on and take forward as a leader. Importantly, following this course, I will do this through a Froebelian lens and continue to develop my awareness of Froebelian practice and pedagogy through reading, training and practical experiences. My next steps as a leader would be to continue to reflect on my practice and implement any identified improvements. I will continue to develop my leadership skills by supporting my team to grow and develop their own skills. 


To conclude, the project effectively enabled us to develop leadership roles within our team to the benefit of the whole community. The project brought everyone together and strengthened relationships starting with the children and growing together through play based and real-life experiences. As a team we reflected on Froebelian principles throughout and this inspired constructive and progressive discussions. As a result, children and practitioners felt listened to and parents, families and community felt involved in the life of the children and the setting. 


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Bruce, T. 2021 Friedrich Frobel A Critical Introduction to Key Themes and Debates. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 

Care Inspectorate (2022) Practice Note. Keeping children safe: Supporting transitions in early learning and childcare (ELC). Dundee: Communications. 

Clark, A. (2023) Slow knowledge and the unhurried child: time for slow pedagogies in early childhood education. Abingdon: Routledge. 

Education Scotland (2020) Realising the Ambition: Being Me. Education Scotland: Livingston. 

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Rodd, J. (2013) Leading Collectively: cultivating collective responsibility. In: Leadership in early childhood. Maidenhead: Open University Press. 

Scottish Executive (2006) Changing lives: report of the 21st century social work review (pdf) 

Scottish Government (2014) Building the Ambition. National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare Children and Young People (Scotland) Act (2014). Edinburgh: Scottish Government. 

SSSC (2016) Codes of Practice. (Revised) Dundee: SSSC. 

Tovey, H. (2022) An Introduction to Froebel, children and Nature 

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UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2005) UN convention on the child. 

The Early Years Collaborative (EYC), 2014. The Early Years Collaborative in South Lanarkshire. Annual Report 2013-14. [PDF] Available at:www.[Accessed: 12 July 2021]. 

Wenger, E. (2002) Cultivating Communities of Practice: A guide to Managing Knowledge. Harvard Business School Press. 

Wheatley, M. (1998) Bringing life to organisational change. Journal for Strategic Performance Measurement. April                              

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