There is a growing understanding, internationally, that effective leadership has an influence on the quality of early childhood education programs. The leadership research agenda has expanded accordingly but despite this expansion there is little empirical research on the emergence and development of leadership in early childhood education. The article focuses primarily on the methodological challenge of studying the phenomena of emerging and developing leadership. We describe the innovative methods for data generation that were used to address these challenges for an Australian study of leading within early childhood education sites. We explain in detail two of the methods—a field observation tool and the Dialogic Café. Some findings, that serve to highlight the benefits of the method, are shared. We conclude by advocating for the use of innovative methods to understand the phenomenon of emerging leadership and development in early childhood education sites.


Dialogic Café, Early Childhood Education, Field Observation Tool, Mini-Ethnographic Case Study, Leadership, Leadership Emergence, World Café

Author Bio(s)

Leanne Gibbs is a PhD candidate at Charles Sturt University in Australia. She holds the position of Senior Manager, Engagement and Translation with Early Start, University of Wollongong. Leanne has held leadership positions in the delivery of early childhood education, professional development and advocacy. Her research interests are leadership and policy in early childhood education. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: to lgibbs@csu.edu.au.

Frances Press is Professor of Early Childhood and Education Policy at Manchester Metropolitan University and a Partner Investigator in the ARC Linkage Study Exemplary Early Childhood Educators at Work (ARCLP 160100532). Frances is interested in the ways in which policy frameworks and framings enable and constrain social justice in early childhood education and care. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: f.press@mmu.ac.uk.

Sandie Wong is an Associate Professor at Macquarie University. Sandie is committed to working in collaborative, strengths-based ways, with academics from a range of disciplines, early childhood organisations and practitioners, and governments, to lead and support high quality research, evaluation and practitioner enquiry, that contributes to best practice in early childhood. Her current work investigates early childhood practices; workforce issues; educator well-being; and the history of early childhood internationally. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: sandie.wong@mq.edu.au.

Tamara Cumming is a Lecturer with the School of Teacher Education, and a CSU Research Fellow (2018-2020). Tamara’s research concerns the complexity of early childhood practice, and the well-being and sustainability of the early childhood workforce. She is co-leader of the Early Childhood Educator Well-being Project and an active member of the multidisciplinary CSU Workplace Well-being Research Unit. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: tcumming@csu.edu.au.


The authors wish to thank the leaders and educators of the case study site where the World Café was conducted. They generously shared ideas, knowledge and perspectives on leading and leadership in early childhood education. The field work for this study was completed with the assistance of Charles Sturt University scholarship funds.

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