The Early Childhood Education sector around the world is constantly changing, whether because of the unprecedented demand for ECE services globally, accelerated social change, or the introduction of pedagogical and regulatory practices. Based upon empirical inquiry, Early Childhood Education Management examines the somewhat controversial concept of operating an early childhood service as a business. It challenges the assumption that an early childhood manager does not require specialist knowledge or skill and discusses which attributes an effective manager should possess.
In this book, which brings together management theory and practice, Moloney and Pettersen address core issues at the heart of the management role, including the relationship between early childhood policy and broader legislative enactments, as well as issues related to the challenges and development of management skills. The book also draws upon real-life examples from practice in order to offer insight into some of the most common topics and challenges related to management practice in Early Childhood Education, such as business acumen and entrepreneurship, recruitment and selection, financial management and budgeting, supervision, mentoring, staff development, curriculum management, collaborative working, and change management.
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This is quite a dense book – the font size is very small which does make it hard to read. However, once I had found my best glasses I was in a better position to get started! Given the amount of material the book contained I concentrated on one chapter ‘Management theory’. I chose this chapter for particular focus because it would be relevant to a wide range of different kinds of early years provisions. Indeed, the theories discussed would be relevant and of interest to managers working in all kinds of situations – not only within education.
Chapter 3, Management Theory
The authors explain that there is no single definition of management and consequently there are multiple management theories. The comment that managers in early years settings tend to “apply a combination of a number of theories” and that managers in time tend to reflect “their work place, purpose and workforce”.
From reading the chapter it is evident that there is not and cannot be a blueprint for early years management. Clearly, one size does not fit all and managers need to be dynamic and responsive as a consequence. They must reflect on what they are doing and evaluate the effect they are having. It is recognised that it is difficult when you are new manager to know exactly what your role will entail until you have started doing it – and yet new tasks will regularly be required, ones which you could not possible have anticipated or included on a job description.
The chapter considers this question ‘what is a manager and what is their role?’. There are thoughts that the role is “to get things done through others” or perhaps “an attempt to influence the behaviour of an individual or a group of people.” The authors suggest that reflective managers should be considering ‘what am I trying to do?’ and should think for themselves ‘how am I going to influence behaviour?’ The idea of the manager as an agent of change is clear – the authors note that successful managers lead by example and encourage their team to feel confidence in them and their capabilities. Whilst a manager cannot always carry out the roles of their workforce (a hospital manager isn’t expected to carry out heart transplants, for example). However, the workforce need to know that their manager understands their role and what it entails. It is important that there is a shared understanding of the difficulties faced but also a shared understanding of the success criteria for the organisation. The authors share an anecdote regarding an early years manager who didn’t understand the issues of her business and was consequently unable to command the confidence of her workforce and so “had to be ‘let go’ before the business suffered irreparably.”
The chapter includes an interesting list of qualities and characteristics often shared by high quality managers; these include:
· Relevant professional knowledge
· Self- knowledge and emotional resilience
These points, and the others included, would be extremely useful to consider if one was writing a ‘person specification’ for the new appointment of and early years manager.
Considered in the chapter are the reasons why people become managers in the first place. The authors explain that whether a person ‘falls into’ the role through situation or circumstance the ongoing success or other depends on the same professional characteristics. They go on to explain how the role encompasses 4 distinct processes:
1. Planning and decision making
In my own experience, these aspects are correctly identified and can be universalised across a range of different types of early years settings. If there is imbalance between them the manager will not be as successful as they would have been had they struck an even balance. I am sure we can all share anecdotes about managers who were too dictatorial or those who spent too long trying to be ‘friends’ with their workforce. Good managers can identify problems, understand how to address them and then put actions into place to tackle them. The chapter discusses the importance of managers recognising when to lead staff and when to give staff some autonomy over their work. Again, we have all experienced being micro-managed when we just want to be given the freedom to just ‘get on with it’. If managers make the business vision clear, and their systems known, to the workforce then staff can be given the freedom to work to their potential. The authors include in the chapter some details about different management styles and it would be a useful exercise for existing mangers to reflect on their own techniques and consider the strengths and weaknesses of what they do and thereby the consequences of their actions on their workforce.
Finally, the aspect of motivation is considered – again giving useful food for thought for existing managers encouraging them to consider what they are doing and whether they are as effective as they can be.
I found this book useful as it encouraged me to reflect on my own management style and the individual styles of managers I have employed and managers I have worked for. I would use the book to help me consider what I am looking for in a new manager – it would help in the recruitment process. Once appointed, I can see that the book would be helpful for managers to read to help them consider their role and the impact they are having.
I was extremely surprised at the high cost of this book – it is not a price that would allow settings to have their own copy. I think the expense is a shame as it discourages a wide readership. Perhaps it is a book that a library or a local authority advisory team might have to help them support their clients.