Teachers’ collective activity: A prime site for the unfolding of agency and leadership

1.3 Learning, knowledge and agency
Paper in a Symposium (Symp)
4:50 PM, Tuesday 29 Aug 2017 (30 minutes)
What might teachers’ collective activity in early childhood education reveal about agency and leadership practice? Leadership is argued to be a significant lever for enhancing the quality of early childhood education (Waniganayake, Cheeseman, Fenech, Hadley, & Shepherd, 2012). Yet, the leadership field to date has remained largely dominated by leader-centric notions, which present leadership as situated in the individual, as a range of typologies of decontextualised skills, knowledge and styles, and as an assigned position. While the leadership field in both theory and research is expansive, a recent turn in the literature reveals a shift in focus from the individual leader to leadership as an evolving and fluid form of social activity. A practice-based perspective of leadership, therefore, assumes leadership does not exist a priori in people, as in the case of a leader’s qualities, attributes, and style. Rather, it unfolds during day-to-day, goal-oriented activity as people interact, and coordinate their joint activity together (Raelin, 2016). In this manner, leadership is a process of negotiated collective activity, an idea which has relevance to the context of early childhood education where a team-based approach characterises many early childhood settings internationally. An ongoing concern, however, may be that teachers in the sector hesitate to identify with leadership, whatever form it takes, and may have minimal access to leadership constructs theorised in relation to the actual practice of early childhood teaching. This presentation draws on data generated from a qualitative interpretivist doctoral study undertaken in a large urban early childhood centre in Aotearoa-NZ. Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT: Engeström, 1987) and Edward’s (2005) notion of relational agency framed the study, which explored early childhood teachers’ collective activity for the presence of “everyday teacher leadership” (Cooper, 2014). This presentation reports on a CHAT analysis of teachers’ intersecting practices during group mealtimes with infants and toddlers, which I argue set the scene for the unfolding of everyday teacher leadership. The presentation provides a practice-based perspective of teachers’ engagement in an underrecognised form of leadership and illuminates the potential of teachers’ collective activity as a prime site for the unfolding of agency and leadership practice. 
Monash University
University of Auckland
University of Auckland, New Zealand
Brooklyn College