Pedagogical leaders play a demanding double role

It is challenging to be the pedagogical leader at a kindergarten. One is supposed to lead adults and children alike, while carrying the responsibility for both practical and educational work.



It is early morning in the toddlers’ unit. The pedagogical leader and two assistants sit on the floor in a circle together with the children, who are busy playing with toy cars and building blocks, and reading books.

Once everyone is present, the pedagogical leader informs the assistants about what is on the schedule for the day. She suggests that they can have play groups, and then they discuss the content of these groups, and how the children should be distributed.

While this spontaneous meeting is taking place on the floor, staff members alternate between talking with the children and with each other. Once the meeting is concluded, the assistants get up and start organising the various activities they have been put in charge of. The pedagogical leader helps them get the children sorted into the right groups.

Shadowing pedagogical leaders

This is how the two researchers, Marit Bøe and Karin Hognestad, describe an ordinary morning in a kindergarten. They feel the situation is a good illustration of day-to-day personnel management.

The researchers have been interested in studying seasoned pedagogical leaders. What is distinctive about their personnel management? What knowledge underlies their actions? What is special about this type of management?

The researchers applied a method called qualitative shadowing, which is used in leadership research, but rather less often in kindergarten research.

Bøe and Hognestad trailed six pedagogical leaders for one week each. They observed and filmed situations of the leaders talking with their co-workers. Afterwards, they sat down with the pedagogical leaders, watched the video clips together, and then rehashed what had been said and done.

Leadership emerges spontaneously

The researchers noted that the day-to-day work in kindergartens is varied and complex. A pedagogical leader moves quickly from one thing to the next. For these leaders, personnel management takes place spontaneously and is reflected in the practical and pedagogical work they do. The acts of leadership reflect the variation in the tasks that arise during the course of the day.

A pedagogical leader must navigate different requirements and deal with a multitude of ethical dilemmas. In one incident from the video material, a pedagogical leader was talking to an assistant in the cloakroom while the children were involved in different activities. When a challenging situation developed in the play group for which the assistant was responsible, she turned to the pedagogical leader for help.

That particular pedagogical leader sees her role as follows:

‘When I get involved in a situation, I immediately try to remind myself to turn it into a teaching opportunity. This is where the real work is done. This is where we have the best potential for training the assistants in here-and-now situations.

Taking advantage of routine situations

The pedagogical leader explains to the researchers that she considers it important to take advantage of routine situations to provide learning opportunities for the assistants. At the same time, this is complicated. She must interpret situations then and there, as they unfold. She must also figure out how to answer the query in a way that can help the assistant deal with the play group and the children in a satisfactory manner.

Since the pedagogical leader leads children and adults alike, she must take both these parties into account when interpreting and understanding how to lead.

The researchers recommend that the kindergartens themselves start using shadowing as a method for leadership development.

‘At that point, I think of what I have learned about children and social intelligence, and I apply that to personnel leadership.’

When the pedagogical leaders tried to explain why they did things the way they did when managing the assistants, they explained that take their lead from what they know about children. In other words, they use their pedagogical knowledge for support.

A complex double role

The pedagogical leader does much of the same type of practical and pedagogical work as the other staff members. At the same time, she is responsible for leading the educational efforts in compliance with the Framework Plan. This means that she has a double role, combining a hierarchical and a democratic style of leadership.

By being a colleague at the same time as she is a leader, she ensures that the pedagogical work is done in a satisfactory manner.

Must be acknowledged and get plenty of support

Mastery of both these roles is a complex task, according to Bøe and Hognestad.

To succeed, a pedagogical leader must be present and close – both as a leader and as a kindergarten teacher. She must be an inclusive leader who strikes a balance between trust, influence, participation and support, all the while with sufficient control and authority. In addition, she must lead a staff that ranges from trained teachers to inexperienced assistants.

‘This is where the pedagogical leader really puts her knowledge of personnel management to good use’, says Bøe with conviction.

She believes it is very important that pedagogical leaders not be drawn away from the units to do administrative work. To accomplish this, they need considerable support from head teachers and owners.

‘The pedagogical leader must be recognised as a hybrid. This means that she is a core member of a team as well as the leader of a community of practice. In addition, she is a bridge builder between the organisation’s objectives, the core values of pedagogical leadership, and learning in a community of practice’, Bøe continues.

Shadowing as leadership development?

‘Our informants stated that they had learned a great deal about themselves and their own leadership by being shadowed and filmed with a camcorder. We would venture to say that shadowing may also be a method for leadership development that takes its point of departure in ECEC practice. Shadowing helps bring to light what pedagogical leaders can do, and what they do indeed do’, smiles Bøe.