|Leadership in Early Childhood Education: Cross-cultural perspectives|
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In describing a women"s culture in educational administration in the US, Charol Shakeshaft (1989) says that it is based on Carol Gilligan’s Ethic of Caring (Gilligan, 1982). The perspective is of the morality of response and care, which emphasises maintaining relationships and promoting the welfare of others, whereas the male world uses the perspective of the morality of justice which emphasises individualism, duty and rules. Shakeshaft’s research, which was carried out on 600 administrators in schools in the United States, reflected this. It showed that, in the world of women in administration in schools, relationships with others were central to all actions — women communicated more, motivated more, spent more time with marginal teachers and students: morale was higher and relations with parents were more favourable. Teaching and learning were the main foci: a school climate was developed that was conducive to learning, emphasising instructional programmes and student progress. The women’s style was democratic, participatory and encouraged inclusiveness, and they encouraged a broad view of the curriculum and the whole child. On a more personal level, however, a feeling of marginality overlaid their daily work life: they were always aware of the misogyny of the male world. Further, the line separating the public from the private world was blurred. Women, she found, behave similarly in the public and private spheres whereas men are unlikely to do so (ibid., 197–8).
Shakeshaft points out that the characteristics of women’s ways of leadership fit in with the ideas of how to run successful schools. She says that research shows that principals of successful schools, whether women or men, have a clear vision that focuses on children and their needs, establish appropriate cultures, and monitor and intervene when necessary. They emphasise achievement, set instructional strategies, provide an orderly atmosphere, frequently evaluate student progress, co-ordinate instructional programmes and support teachers. Shakeshaft alleges that women’s leadership style is conducive to promoting good schooling: they have clear educational goals supported by a value system that stresses service, caring and relationships; they are focussed on instructional and educational issues and build a supportive atmosphere; and they monitor, intervene and evaluate more than men. She is supported in this view by Tom Sergiovanni (1992). It is interesting to note that Gosetti and Rusch feel that transformational leadership, which emphasises participation and consensus building, is rendering these leadership characteristics genderless so that they are merging into the male model. They argue that men are co-opting women’s style without acknowledging its source.
Valerie Hall (1996), researching women in leadership in English schools, found that they favoured “power for rather than power over”: that is, power to empower or shared power, particularly with senior colleagues. Typically, they saw power as the ability to make things happen. They also preferred development goals and aimed to create organisational cultures characterised by trust, openness, involvement and a sense of self worth. They showed a commitment to children as well as to education, and had made lifestyle choices that had enabled them to combine their work and their private lives. Nevertheless they were:
“committed to the belief that sharing leadership still required them to take the lead when appropriate ... Their actions for these purposes were collaborative rather than directive but ... included clarifying the direction and ensuring people were reminded of where they were going”. (Hall 1996, 192.)
These findings about women in educational leadership are supported by research in New Zealand. From her study of 16 successful women in education, Neville (1988) has a similar list of leadership characteristics that include power sharing and empowering others, courage and risk taking, emphasis on the educative function, an ability to cope with trivia and a history of capable classroom action. Court (1994) found that the group of leading women in education whom she studied had a holistic, affiliative approach to leadership. They emphasised building relationships, shared decision making and the empowerment of others. They built learning environments through teamwork and open communication, and they emphasised their role in instructional leadership.
Court also points out that women face contradictory expectations in leadership and suggests that these may result from a stereotype of women as nurturant and relationship oriented:
“They are surrounded by expectations that they will fill nurturant rather than authoritative leadership roles... yet they are also expected to lead. Their leadership is expected to employ consultation and democratic decision making strategies, yet these ways of working can often be interpreted as the leader ‘not having a mind of her own’ - perhaps she can’t make up her mind?” (Court 1994, 41.)
Similar findings come from research into women in women"s organisations, where findings are very relevant to early childhood, where the majority of staff (and leaders) are women. A study in New Zealand by Judith Pringle and Sharon Collins (1996) researched the organisational culture of 493 women"s organisations. More than half of the respondents in business organisations and two thirds of those in voluntary organisations described structures that were non-hierarchical, and about the same percentage described leadership that was consultative and interactive. Many responses identified differences from when they had worked in male-run organisations. A typical positive response was:
“…nurturing and supportive environment; warmth and understanding; women are more emotional; problems talked about more; flexibility especially re children support and family; can do several jobs at once; women tend to be more organised” (Pringle & Collins 1996, 417.)
While being professional, efficient and service oriented were seen as important, process and nurturance was also emphasised, rather than the focus being entirely task oriented.
The construction of education as caring has been furthered in the United States by several writers. In particular, Noddings (1992) has argued from a feminist perspective that educational leaders should adopt the ethic of caring, in order to ensure that schools become caring communities that nurture all children, regardless of race, class, gender, ability. She epitomises these as Connections, Context and Concern. Following Noddings, Catherine Marshall et al. suggest that an ethic of caring
“should emphasise connections through responsibility to others rather than rights and rules. It involves fidelity to relationships with others that is based on more than just personal liking or regard. An ethic if caring does not establish a list of guiding principles to blindly follow but rather a moral touchstone for decision making” (Marshall et al. 1996, 277–8.)
Marshall and her associates investigated the ways in which school administrators operating from a perspective of an ethic of caring conducted their daily practice. These administrators were men as well as women; the use of a model derived from women"s theory is not, as we have seen, limited to women. She found that the administrators took pride in their ability to form connections, not only with students, but also with parents, community members and teachers. They tended to put people first and in their response to situations they considered everyone"s perspective. They cared about the well being of the people around them and were sensitive to individual circumstances, even when this perspective was opposed to the bureaucratic emphasis on universal rules and uniformity. But they were strong, assertive, confident people. Marshall quotes Noddings in saying that "there is nothing mushy about caring. It is the strong resilient backbone of human life" (Noddings 1992, 195).
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