Critical reflection on the democratic style of leadership in early childhood practice

Critical reflection on the democratic style of leadership in early childhood practice


This essay will reflect on the democratic style of leadership in early childhood practice. According to Kroll and Meier, 2015, p.1) reflective practice is about “reflection, inquiry, and investigating one’s practice are all terms for ways to communicate learning about one’s teaching practice.” Reflection is considered as a vital tool for improvement of practices of education and the teachers’ development process (Kroll and Meier, 2015). Similarly, reflection allows for the checking of the existing teaching process and to suggest critical areas that require improvement to maximize the learning experience of the children (Brookfield, 2017).  In carrying out the reflection on the democratic model of leadership in early childhood, the essay will use the model of reflection by Dewey (Dewey, 1938).

The reflective cycle has five stages which involve finding the problematic situation; perceiving and taming the problem – through evidence gathering; analyzation and objective setting; hypothesis scrutiny; and testing the hypothesis (Dewey, 1938).  The reflective cycle by Dewey (1938) is being used because it follows the process of identifying the main problem, a collection of shreds of evidence about the issue and providing the opportunity to suggest possible solutions to the problem (Rodd, 2013). The reflective cycle also helps the Early Childhood Practitioner to critically analyze the solutions before implementing and to reflect on how it can be put into future practice (Rodd, 2013).

The context of Leadership in Early Childhood Services

According to Anderson (2014) changes have continued to occur in early childhood education and these changes are posing new challenges that must have to be addressed. To be able to transform the early childhood education Anderson (2014) suggests the need to recognize the problems so that positive actions can be taken rather than assume that these challenges do not exist. In a similar argument, Dahlberg et al. (2013) explain that the early childhood education setting is a form of a public forum where both adults and children gather together and that such gathering has social, cultural, political and economic significance on everyone within the conference. Being a public forum where adults and children gather together, healthy relationships are created and nurtured; and valuable knowledge shared (Aubrey et al., 2013). In addition to the children, the early childhood education setting is a forum for collaborative working with the different communities to develop strategies for community cohesion through valuing of diversity (Aubrey et al., 2013). In the light of the changing landscape in early childhood educational settings, Aubrey et al. (2013, p. 8) make the argument for appreciating the tricky work done by childhood leaders in or out of their border jurisdiction and make it a priority. In effect, the teaching professionals and the members of the multidisciplinary teams within the early childhood education settings are seen to occupy leadership positions (Nolan et al., 2012; Clark, 2012, p. 192).  The new understanding of the leadership role of the multidisciplinary team working in the early childhood educational settings further puts the obligation on them to advocate for the interests of children and families in the design of policies and procedures (Woodrow and Busch, 2008) and to promote accountability in policy designs and practices (Osgood, 2010).

Therefore the changes in the landscape of early childhood education make the early childhood practitioner an activist for the children and families (Woodrow and Busch, 2008). Being the activist, the first childhood practitioner is expected to actively negotiate in different perspectives (Sachs, 2000) and to participate in collaborative engagement across the various stakeholders in the childhood education settings and to engage in projects of action and embracing conflicts as part of the change (Woodrow and Busch, 2008, p.90).  While acknowledging the changing landscape in the leadership role of the early childhood practitioner, Mistry, and Sood  2012,) argue that leadership is full of complexities and as such useful leadership model must have to be adopted to be effective. It is, therefore, the changing landscape in the leadership role that creates the need to find out the type of leadership model that can be used by the early childhood education practitioners to meet the demands for their roles as well as support the children to maximize learning experiences in the early childhood education settings.

Leadership and the style for early childhood education

Having recognized the shifting set of leadership as the main factor in the leadership role of the early childhood education practitioner, it is significant to have a rich knowledge of the meaning of leadership and the type of leadership style that is record appropriate in the early childhood education surroundings.  Leadership is a process of guiding, directing, controlling and managing people or a firm (Burman, 2016, p. 11).  Within the early childhood education setting, leadership is an engagement process which involves the leader engaging with other multidisciplinary team and other professionals in ensuring that the best needs of the children and families are met (Davis and Ryder, 2016; Burman, 2016). In the processes of consultations, the leader is expected to adopt consultative approach so that others are carried along and have an equal say in the way that services are designed and implemented (Waniganayake et al., 2017). Therefore leadership in its purest form is the ability to mobilize a group of people to achieve a common goal by valuing their diversities and providing support for them to realize their potentials. Regardless of the definition that may be given or put forward, leadership is about influencing people or others to work together as a team to achieve a common goal and standard for the best interests of the children and their families.

Different leadership styles may be used in early childhood education settings such as autocratic leadership style and the democratic leadership style.  In the automatic leadership style, the leader has lots of power over the people and the team. This type of leadership style implies that staff, children and other members of the multidisciplinary team do not have a say or make the contribution in the process of making decisions about procedures and activities (Urban et al., 2011). The autocratic leadership style is most suitable where there are unskilled jobs, and the command of authority or instructions comes from the leader. However, in the early childhood education setting, the leader is expected to provide opportunities for joint professional activities to achieve effectiveness in supporting the children and their families to maximize learning outcomes. This means that early childhood education settings support the type of leadership style that is based on values such as diversity, understanding of professional development and growth and collaborative working to achieve a common goal (Urban et al., 2011).

Reflecting on Democratic leadership

In carrying out reflective practice using the Dewey (1938) model, I am expected to think about a particular experience or issue on the administration to reflect on.  The term democratic leadership describes the behavior that can influence other people known as the followers in such a consistent manner considered to be consistent with democratic principles of inclusiveness and equal participation in deliberations (Dahl, 1989; Fishkin, 1991). This definition tends to describe the democratic leadership as the style of leading people in such a way that those being led or the followers have the equal opportunity to express their feelings and to participate in the decision-making process rather than imposing individual wills on the people or the followers. Certain elements are useful in the understanding of the democratic leadership style in early childhood education settings. These key elements include the authority of the leader, functions of the leader, distribution of leadership and the role of the democratic followers (Castil, 1994). According to Castil (1994) leaders require the authority to function effectively in their role and without these authorities, they are not able to set goals and ensure that these goals are effectively achieved. The democratic leadership style not only gives the leader the authority to function but also ensures that the leader is accountable to the followers so that power is not used to create inequality in the settings (Starhawk, 1986).  In terms of the functions of the democratic leader, Bass (1990) argues that the leader is defined on the basis of functions. These functions include: distributing responsibilities, empowering the membership and aiding in deliberations. The democratic leadership style seeks to distribute responsibilities among the members of the group rather than concentrate the leadership activities and functions on self thereby becoming autocratic (Castil, 1994; Bass, 1990).

The second phase of the Dewey (1938) reflective model involves sharing which is about exchanging of reactions and observation. One key element of democratic leadership style is that the Democratic leadership has to involve others in the decision-making process rather than take unilateral decisions.  This can be taken to mean that the children will have to be given the equal opportunity to say their feelings and for a group decision to be taken on issues rather than an individual decision of the leader. However, the democratic leader does not only ask the members to take responsibility but also demand that people carry out tasks in line with their responsibilities. In the early childhood education setting, this means that the leadership style involves distributing roles among children in the classroom setting and supporting the children to accomplish those group tasks. It also implies that the multidisciplinary early childhood education team members will have different roles assigned to them by the leader. Thus, the democratic leader does not concentrate responsibilities both in the classroom settings as well as when dealing with the different stakeholders in the early childhood education setting; rather ensure that it is evenly distributed among those involved in the different activities.  Another benefit of the democratic leadership style in the early childhood education setting which I found is the distribution of leadership (Castil, 1994).  It is not usually possible for one single leader to effectively carry out the functions within the early childhood education setting and other environments. In recognition of this factor, the democratic leadership style diffuses the leadership functions by creating group leaders who provide leadership functions to the different groups that they serve (Rodd, 2013; Aubrey, 2013). By the creation of the different leadership in the sub-units, each group leader adopts the democratic leadership style and allows participation of the followers in the group in the day to the day decision-making process. In terms of the children, the group leader ensures that the children and/or their parents and guardians are involved in the processes of making decisions.  During those decision-making process, the overriding decision is taken based on the majorities that favor the activity to be performed. In effect, the democratic leadership style has the advantage of allowing involvement of the different stakeholder when decisions are being taken and do not impose decisions on the children and their parents and other members of the multidisciplinary involve in the early childhood education team.

Parents and guardians ought to be happy with the development process of their children’s leadership education because they were involved in every step of the process. In addition, education adds the necessary skills and knowledge to improve the child’s leadership qualities.  Finally, the democratic leadership style tends to indicate where the children are given the opportunity to participate so that they can give their views concerning issues within the classroom. Giving the children such opportunities will boost their self-confidence as well as make them have the good feeling that they are being included in the school environment. According to Carr (2004), involvement and participation in social care and supports promotes good relationships and service user empowerment. Another major advantage for the use of the democratic leadership style in the early childhood education setting is the role of the followers in the leadership functions. According to Castil (1994), the followers have lots of responsibilities for the democratic leadership style to be effective in ensuring equal participation. This responsibility is in terms of the willingness to participate in the activities and decision-making process rather than feel unconcerned which will make the leader become autocratic. In most cases, the leader may have the mind to follow the democratic leadership style but where the members are not willing to participate and show commitments, the democratic leader gradually slips into an autocratic leader and taking decisions without consulting the followers.

In reflecting on the issue of practice, the practitioner is expected to use the observations and views to critique the practices identified (Dewey, 1938). In making the critiquing, on the perceived advantages for the democratic leadership style in the early childhood education settings, I acknowledge that the model is not perfect and has some pitfalls. One of the arguments against the democratic leadership style within the classroom setting is that the children may have the knowledge that they have rights they can demand more rights which may negatively influence the learning process (Howe and Covell, 2005). Whilst the maybe atom of reality that when individuals perceive that they have rights they may demand more; I am of the view that current evidence tends to suggest that children in the early education do not usually concern themselves with demands for more rights. Rather existing pieces of evidence tend to suggest that children who know their rights tend to use such knowledge for self- respect and so to know the boundaries in dealing with other people (Howe and Covell, 2005).  Another argument against the Democratic leadership is that taking decisions on the basis of a majority in the early childhood education setting is likely to put diversity at crossroads. This argument is based on the belief that diversity accepts that people are different and that they should be respected for the differences. However, my greatest concern is that in a situation that a decision is being taken based on majority and at the expense of diversity certain people will be put at a disadvantage thereby infringing on some of the nine protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. Whilst this my argument may seem to be weighty, the fact remains that the democratic leadership style supports the followers and empowers everyone through training, the training sessions should have provided everyone with the appropriate information on equality, diversity, rights, and discrimination.  But this means that the organization has to be able to train the employees and increase awareness of diversity among the workforce.

On the basis of the outcomes of the reflections on the issue, Dewey (1938) expects the individual to be able to apply the knowledge for future practices.  Having critically analyzed the advantages of the democratic leadership style and the possible pitfalls, I have concluded that the democratic leadership style is preferred to the autocratic style within the early childhood education settings; and that I will apply this leadership style in my practice as a practitioner. I have come to this conclusion because the early childhood education setting requires collaborative working with the different stakeholders and other professional colleagues in order to achieve a common goal for the best interests of the children and their families. In addition, being able to make positive impact as an activist means that I need the support of the children and their families; so not giving them the equal opportunity to say their views and to participate in making decisions concerning them will make it almost impossible for me to effectively in the changing landscape of leadership roles in early childhood education settings.


This reflective practice focused on democratic leadership style. As an individual, I do have the belief that everyone should be given the equal opportunity to participate so that they are not put at a disadvantage. It is in view of this my personal belief that I had chosen to reflect in-depth about the democratic leadership style. From the outcomes of my reflection, early childhood education is a key factor in developing children mentally and equipping them with skills tailored to suit every child’s need for education. When people participate, they are empowered to make decisions because they will be given sufficient information to make informed decisions. One major pitfall that I have recognized through this reflective practice is that participate will usually create the problem of slowing down decision making which may affect the child; but from the discussions in the works of literature I have come to realize that I can actually act as activist on behalf of children to ensure that they are not put at a disadvantage due to delays in decision making about their wellbeing. In my future practices in education, I will continue to follow democratic leadership because it helps to actively engage across the boundaries of communities, parents and professional colleagues.




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