Teacher leadership in the context of early childhood education: Concepts, characteristics and enactment

  • Sanni Karoliina Kahila School of Applied Educational Science and Teacher Education, University of Eastern Finland, 80100 Joensuu, Finland
  • Johanna Heikka School of Applied Educational Science and Teacher Education, University of Eastern Finland, 80100 Joensuu, Finland
  • Nina Sajaniemi School of Applied Educational Science and Teacher Education, University of Eastern Finland, 80100 Joensuu, Finland
Keywords: early childhood education, teacher leadership, leadership, distributed pedagogical leadership


Recent studies have indicated that early childhood education (ECE) teachers’ responsibilities have expanded to include leadership functions. In school contexts the phenomenon is called teacher leadership and the same concept has recently been adopted in ECE research literature. Additionally, there are other concepts and perspectives connected to leadership performed by ECE teachers. This literature review aimed to explore the conceptualization, characteristics, and enactment of leadership performed by ECE teachers. Leadership that ECE teachers perform in their work is characterized as a multidimensional and contextual phenomenon, and as intentional influencing, which is based on collaboration and distribution. The focus is on pedagogical leadership, although teacher leadership is a broader concept, which can also include administrative tasks. The findings of the review suggest investigating teacher leadership more within the distributed leadership perspective by focusing on ECE teachers’ essential role in enhancing other actors’ participation in leadership. The literature review reflects the need to clarify the conceptualization of ECE teacher leadership for developing teacher leadership research, especially in an ECE context.


Bøe, M., & Hognestad, K. (2017). Directing and facilitating distributed pedagogical leadership: best practices in early childhood education. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 20(2), 133–148. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603124.2015.1059488

Campbell-Evans, G., Stamopoulos, E., & Maloney, C. (2014). Building leadership capacity in early childhood pre-service teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(5). https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2014v39n5.3

Caudle, L. A., Moran, M. J., & Hobbs, M. K. (2014). The potential of communities of practice as contexts for the development of agentic teacher leaders: A three-year narrative of one early childhood teacher’s journey. Action in Teacher Education, 36(1), 45–60. https://doi.org/10.1080/01626620.2013.850124

Cheung, A. C. K., Keung, C. P. C., Kwan, P. Y. K., & Cheung, L. Y. S. (2018). Teachers’ perceptions of the effect of selected leadership practices on pre-primary children’s learning in Hong Kong. Early Child Development and Care, 0(0), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2018.1448394

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research methods in education. Oxon: Routledge.

Colmer, K., Waniganayake, M., & Field, L. (2014). Leading professional learning in early childhood centres: Who are the educational leaders? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 39(4), 103–113.

Crawford, P., Roberts, S., & Hickmann, R. (2010). Nurturing early childhood teachers as leaders: Longterm professional development. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 38(3), 31–38.

Dana, N. F., & Yendol-Hoppey, D. (2005). Becoming an early childhood teacher leader and an advocate for social justice: A phenomenological interview study. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 26(3), 191–206.

Danielson, S. (2006). Teacher leadership that strengthens professional practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Davis, G. (2014). Graduate leadership in early childhood education and care settings, the practitioner perspective. Management in Education, 28(4), 156–160.

Douglass, A. (2018). Redefining leadership: Lessons from an Early Education Leadership Development Initiative. Early Childhood Education Journal, 46(4), 387–396. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1007/s10643-017-0871-9

Fairman, J. C., & Mackenzie, S. V. (2015). How teacher leaders influence others and understand their leadership. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 18(1), 61–87. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603124.2014.904002

Fenech, S. (2013). Leadership development during times of reform. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(1), 89.

Fonsén, E. (2014). Pedagoginen johtajuus varhaiskasvatuksessa. Tampere: Tampere University Press.

Fonsén, E., & Ukkonen-Mikkola, T. (2019). Early childhood education teachers’ professional development towards pedagogical leadership. Educational Research, 61(2), 181–196. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131881.2019.1600377

Foong, L., Veloo, P., Dhamotharan, M., & Loh, C. (2018). Private sector early child care and education in Malaysia: Workforce readiness for further education. Kajian Malaysia, 36(1), 127–154. https://doi.org/10.21315/km2018.36.1.6

Gittell, J. H., & Douglass, A. (2012). Relational bureaucracy: Structuring reciprocal relationships into roles. Academy of Management Review, 37(4), 709–733. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2010.0438

Grarock, M., & Morrissey, A.-M. (2013). Teachers’ perceptions of their abilities to be educational leaders in Victorian childcare settings. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(2), 4–12.

Gron, P. (2011). Hybrid configurations of leadership. In A. Bryman, D. Collinson, K. Grint, B. Jackson, & M. Uhl-Bien (Eds.), The Sage handbook of leadership (pp. 437–454). London: Sage.

Halttunen, L., Waniganayake, M., & Heikka, J. (2019). Teacher leadership repertoires in the context of early childhood education team meetings in Finland. Journal of Early Childhood Education Research, 8(1), 143–161. Retrieved from https://jecer.org/fi/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Halttunen-Waniganayake-Heikka-issue8-1.pdf

Harris, A. (2003). Teacher leadership as distributed leadership: Heresy, fantasy or possibility? School Leadership & Management, 23(3), 313–324. https://doi.org/10.1080/1363243032000112801

Heikka, J. (2014). Distributed pedagogical leadership in early childhood education. Retrieved from

Heikka, J., & Hujala, E. (2013). Early childhood leadership through the lens of distributed leadership. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 21(4), 568–580. https://doi.org/10.1080/1350293X.2013.845444

Heikka, J., & Suhonen, K. (2019). Distributed pedagogical leadership functions in early childhood education settings in Finland. Southeast Asia Early Childhood Journal, 8(2), 43–56. Retrieved from http://ojs.upsi.edu.my/index.php/SAECJ/article/view/2794

Heikka, J., & Waniganayake, M. (2011). Pedagogical leadership from a distributed perspective within the context of early childhood education. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 14(4), 499–512. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603124.2011.577909

Heikka, J., Halttunen, L., & Waniganayake, M. (2016). Investigating teacher leadership in ECE centres in Finland. Journal of Early Childhood Education Research, 5(2), 289–309.

Heikka, J., Halttunen, L., & Waniganayake, M. (2018). Perceptions of early childhood education professionals on teacher leadership in Finland. Early Child Development and Care, 188(2), 143–156. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2016.1207066

Heikka, J., Pitkäniemi, H., Kettukangas, T., & Hyttinen, T. (2019). Distributed pedagogical leadership and teacher leadership in early childhood education contexts. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 0(0), 1–16.

Ho, D. (2010). Teacher participation in curriculum and pedagogical decisions: Insights into curriculum leadership. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 38(5), 613–624. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143210373739

Ho, D. (2011). Identifying leadership roles for quality in early childhood education programmes. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 14(1), 47–59. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603120903387561

Ho, D., & Lee, M. (2016). Capacity building for school development: Current problems and future challenges. School Leadership & Management, 36(5), 493–507. https://doi.org/10.1080/13632434.2016.1247040

Ho, D., & Tikly, L. P. (2012). Conceptualizing teacher leadership in a Chinese, policy-driven context: A research agenda. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 23(4), 401–416. https://doi.org/10.1080/09243453.2012.678861

Hognestad, K., & Boe, M. (2014). Knowledge development through hybrid leadership practices. Nordisk Barnehageforskning, 8(4), 1.14.

Hujala, E., Waniganayake, M., & Rodd, J. (2013). Researching leadership in early childhood education. Tampere: Tampere university Press.

Kangas, J., Venninen, T., & Ojala, M. (2016). Distributed leadership as administrative practice in Finnish early childhood education and care. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 44(4), 617–631.

Katzenmeyer, M., & Moller, G. (2009). Awakening the sleeping giant: Helping teachers develop as leaders (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Ca: Corwin Press.

Li, Y. L. (2015). The culture of teacher leadership: A survey of teachers’ views in Hong Kong early childhood settings. Early Childhood Education Journal, 43(5), 435–445. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-014-0674-1

Little, J. W. (2003). Constructions of teacher leadership in three periods of policy and reform activism. School Leadership & Management, 23(4), 401–419. https://doi.org/10.1080/1363243032000150944

Muijs, D., & Harris, A. (2006). Teacher led school improvement: Teacher leadership in the UK. Teaching and Teacher Education, 22(8), 961–972. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2006.04.010

Murphy, J. (2005). Connecting teacher leadership and school improvement. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
Niron, M., Suyata, S., & Suardiman, S. (2017). Teacher’s leadership in learning processes at kindergartens. Jurnal Pembangunan Pendidikan: Fondasi dan Aplikasi, 5(1), 52–65. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.21831/jppfa.v5i1.14470

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Frels, R. K. (2016). Seven steps to a comprehensive literature review: A multimodal and cultural approach. London: Sage.

Rönnerman, K., Edwards-Groves, C., & Grootenboer, P. (2015). Opening up communicative spaces for discussion ‘quality practices’ in early childhood education through middle leadership. Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy, 2015(3), 30098. https://doi.org/10.3402/nstep.v1.30098

Ryan, S., & Hornbeck, A. (2004). Mentoring for quality improvement: A case study of a mentor teacher in the reform process. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 19(1), 79–96. https://doi.org/10.1080/02568540409595056

Silva, D. Y., Gimbert, B., & Nolan, J. (2000). Sliding the doors: Locking and unlocking possibilities for teacher leadership. Teachers College Record, 102(49), 779–804.

Sims, M., Forrest, R., Semann, A., & Slattery, C. (2015). Conceptions of early childhood leadership: Driving new professionalism? International Journal of Leadership in Education, 18(2), 149–166. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603124.2014.962101

Sims, M., Waniganayake, M., & Hadley, D. F. (2018). Educational leadership: An evolving role in Australian early childhood settings. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 46(6), 960–979. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143217714254

Vlasov, J., Salminen, J., Repo, L., Karila, K., Kinnunen, S., Mattila, V., … Sulonen, H. (2018). Varhaiskasvatuksen laadun arvioinnin perusteet ja suositukset. Retrieved from https://karvi.fi/app/uploads/2018/10/KARVI_vaka_laadun-arvioinnin-perusteet-ja-suositukset.pdf

Wang, M., & Ho, D. (2018). Making sense of teacher leadership in early childhood education in China. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 0(0), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603124.2018.1529821

Waniganayake, M. (2014). Being and becoming early childhood leaders: Reflections on leadership studies in early childhood education and the future leadership research agenda. Journal of Early Childhood Education Research, 3(1), 66–81.

Wenner, J. A., & Campbell, T. (2017). The theoretical and empirical basis of teacher leadership: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 87(1), 134–171. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654316653478

York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings From two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255–316. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543074003255
How to Cite
Kahila, S. K., Heikka, J., & Sajaniemi, N. (2020). Teacher leadership in the context of early childhood education: Concepts, characteristics and enactment. Southeast Asia Early Childhood Journal, 9(1), 28-43. Retrieved from https://ejournal.upsi.edu.my/index.php/SAECJ/article/view/3301