Over the span of more than two decades immersed in the field of Early Childhood Education, my career as an educator has allowed me to taste the potent power of successful leadership within this field. It has gifted me a front-row seat to the impact of leadership — the exquisite act of directing classrooms, overseeing the bustle of school operations, birthing and nurturing numerous preschool centres, transplanting an international preschool abroad, imparting wisdom at educational institutions, crafting innovative teacher training programs, harmonising with a myriad of preschool stakeholders, and proactively partnering with NGOs.
From this rich tapestry of experiences, I've distilled the quintessential importance of a leadership style that is imbued with grace.
In a world that often tends to lead towards the louder end of the spectrum, ‘grace’ is not a term that frequently shares a sentence with ‘leadership’. The notion of leadership has been cloaked with a veneer of dominance, and a rigid exercise of positional power. Yet, as I navigated the waters of this mostly female-centric domain, I discovered a different facet of leadership. One that's wrapped in the fabric of grace — a quality capable of leaving an indelible imprint on the canvas of young minds and the broader Early Childhood Education landscape.
When Tony Schwartz claimed in a 2012 Harvard Business Review piece that "Women bring leadership a more complete range of the qualities modern leaders need, including self-awareness, emotional attunement, humility, and authenticity," he touched on the essence of what I identify as graceful leadership. This concept chips away at traditional stereotypes, inviting a narrative that resonates with characteristics commonly affiliated with women's leadership styles.
In the vocabulary of language, grace is described as 'simple elegance and refinement of movement' or 'elegance, poise, or finesse in manner.' As paradoxical as it is, leaders who exude grace may be misconstrued as fragile or impressionable. However, in leadership practice, being graceful isn't about pandering for approval; it calls for a leader to still their mind, lend an ear, and listen deeply. Graceful leaders harbour the knowledge that their emotions, thoughts, and insights can find a voice in gently delivered words.
From the Early Childhood Education context, grace is not merely a decorative feature. It is central to the task of role-modelling and crucial in kindling empathy. Graceful leaders recognise the importance of empathetic connection — bridging the emotional divide between themselves and children, parents, and colleagues, stepping into their shoes to comprehend their vantage points and needs.
Empathy is a cornerstone of education, especially in the early years. It equips educators to establish a haven where children feel seen, heard, and appreciated. By showcasing empathy, leaders in Early Childhood Education can cultivate robust relationships with children and their parents, laying the groundwork for trust and clear communication. This facilitates better teacher-parent cooperation and a more comprehensive and effective approach to education.
Coupled with elegance, a graceful leader embraces change, viewing it as a fertile ground for growth. Aware of the ever-changing education landscape, they are prepared to revise their strategies to cater to the fluctuating needs of young learners. Their openness to fresh thoughts, methods, and technologies ensure that they offer top-tier educational experiences to children.
In the same vein, a leader graced with elegance will view leadership as an act of service, placing their team's growth and development at the forefront of their priorities. By nurturing an environment that promotes continuous learning and professional growth, they foster a community of educators who are not only passionate about their work but also committed to providing high-quality education. They value the wisdom that can be gleaned from diverse perspectives and experiences, embracing opportunities to collaborate and learn from colleagues both within and outside the realm of Early Childhood Education. They understand that the pursuit of knowledge is a collective journey, and thus, they eagerly foster relationships that allow for the exchange of insights across various fields.
My decades of experience in Early Childhood Education has crystallised my belief in the potency of graceful leadership. Grace, embodied in simple elegance, poised manner, and the capacity to deeply listen, breaks away from the traditional stereotypes of leadership, inviting a narrative that echoes the subtle power of feminine leadership styles. This nuanced approach not only sparks empathy, fostering robust relationships with children, parents, and colleagues, but also stimulates an environment where continuous learning and professional growth are celebrated. Leaders who demonstrate this graceful elegance adapt to change, seek wisdom from diverse perspectives, and passionately serve their teams, all the while committing to delivering high-quality education.
Therefore, the path towards effective leadership in Early Childhood Education is one that intertwines the strength of knowledge, the power of empathy, and the elegance of grace, guiding us towards a future where we inspire and nurture the next generation of leaders.
Azura Abrasid is an experienced and passionate Academic and Project Leader in the field of Early Childhood Education. She has conducted various ECE workshops, talks, forums, and seminars globally, and has influenced generations of preschool teachers as a university lecturer since 2008. She is committed to designing programmes to enhance the professionalism of Early Childhood practitioners and unlocking every child’s potential through patience, humour, and respect for differences. Azura is currently the Head of Early Childhood Programmes at Veritas University College. She also holds various professional certificates and awards, is a member of several organisations, and has conducted talks and training for various educational institutions.
Teaching is a noble profession, and with it comes the responsibility and conscious duty to not only impart knowledge to students, but to influence and motivate the generation of tomorrow.
If you would like to know more about Early Childhood Education programmes, and how you can play a part in shaping and nurturing young minds, do visit https://www.bac.edu.my/bac/education-early-childhood/