Mentorship and Leadership in Early Childhood Education

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I have been doing a lot of thinking about mentorship and leadership for some time now. Last May, I had the privilege of presenting at a conference in Manitoba with my friend of many years, Cindy Green. We spent much of our time talking to our new friends Drew and Peter from Storypark about the complexities of our profession from the perspective of seasoned early childhood education “leaders”. One of the highlights of our time in Winnipeg was meeting Julie Hansen, a young, emerging ECE leader. Cindy and I are both passionate about supporting and mentoring emerging leaders. We are very excited about a pilot project with Upper Canada Child Care Centres that is designed to build leadership capacity within that organization. A couple of weeks ago when Cindy visited me at my cottage in Grand Bend, Ontario, where I am stashed away trying to write, I took time from our beach walks to participate as a committee member in a Western University thesis defense from another young, emerging leader; Heather Beaudin.

Grand Bend 1

In this blog post I will be discussing mentorship and leadership in ECE by featuring the work and words of both Julie and Heather. According to Thornton “mentoring is an important strategy for supporting new and aspiring teachers, as well as experienced leaders. It is also an effective leadership approach that enhances professional learning and practice”. For Julie, mentorship is about giving back. As an experienced educator it is a priority for you to give back and support those entering the profession. Early learning students should be encouraged to seek guidance and wisdom from those with years of experience. She asks this important question; “are we supporting the growth and development of the profession from within?” For Julie, mentorship can be as simple as asking new educators what they need or how they feel. Those simple inquiry questions have the power to spark wonderful, thought-provoking dialogue. These conversations can shift perspectives, instil knowledge, offer opportunities for reflection and hopefully inspire.

Julie inspires me! She reminds me of the importance of leadership in early childhood education. She has inspired me to think and search. I found this article by Stamopoulos (2012) on reframing early childhood leadership to be a fascinating read. Stamopoulos speaks to the fact that research on ECE leadership is sparse and the voice of the ECE professional remains marginalized. Early childhood educators are not just teaching children, they need to be leading with intent, mentoring and advocating. I love the metaphor of reframing and have written about it before . We need to stop looking at leadership from a hierarchical perspective but to consider shared leadership that is inclusive of all those who work with young children. This will provide us with the multiple perspectives we need to change, grow, mentor and lead. Stamopoulos identifies four aspects of the change process.

Four Aspects of the Change Process

According to Stamopoulos, leaders who pursue change require professional knowledge of research, leadership and pedagogy. To develop professional identity, early childhood leaders need to think in alternative ways, to reshape and reconstruct who they are, what they stand for, and what they want to achieve. An interpretative lens looks to include all stakeholders in the organization. Relational trust involves motivation and empowerment in the creation of collaborative alliances. What inspired me about Heather’s dissertation; Navigating the changing landscape of early education within a preschool setting was her focus on distributed leadership which refers to the collaboration of several educators’ knowledge and skill sets as a key resource for guiding change. Heather included these quotes in her thesis:

Distributed leadership in theoretical terms means multiple sources of guidance and direction, following the contours of expertise in an organization, made coherent through a common culture (Harris, 2005, p.81).

The responsibilities and demands of early childhood care and education are such that they cannot be adequately met by one person working alone (Jones & Pound, 2008, p. 25).

In Heather’s own words; “as early educators we believe that our role is to be a co-constructor of knowledge and this belief should be upheld and weaved throughout our organization”. The early years sector does demand strong leadership to move forward into the 21st century. Leadership is required to raise the entire profile of the profession. Both Julie and Heather give me hope that when Cindy and I are truly retired that our profession will be well served by others. When I shared this blog post with Cindy prior to publishing she suggested we share who our mentors have been. Cindy says that early in her career she was mentored by an amazing physiotherapist who truly embraced therapeutic play and the competence of each child. Together they offered a nursery school program for children with exceptionalities. To this day Cindy credits her understanding of holistic child development to her first mentor. Cindy states that “if you were to ask me now who my pedagogical mentor is, I would whole heartily respond with Diane Kashin, my colleague and critical friend. We still nudge one another forward as we continue to navigate this professional journey with passion and curiosity!” I (Diane) concur. I am very lucky to have Cindy in my life for all her good-spirited nudging! Early in my career, my most memorable mentor was Nancy Brown. When I started teaching ECE I had so much to learn but I didn’t want to be “taught”! Nancy, a more experienced educator had a way of making me feel like I had so much to offer and at the same time, showed me how important it was to challenge the status quo so as to give children the rich play and learning environments and experiences that they deserve. Who are your mentors? Mention them in the comment section! Who are the emerging leaders in ECE that you have come to know? Mention them in the comment section! Let’s rise by lifting others!



8 thoughts on “Mentorship and Leadership in Early Childhood Education

  1. I too am looking forward to hearing about who your mentors are or have been. And, how did they support you on your pedagogical journey?


  2. Thanks for this inspiring and well need post. My first mentor was Lisa Fox, who at the time encouraged me to be who I am as I worked with young children and their families. It was about applying my knowledge as I developed and grew within the field. Later as I educated myself I learned through observation and guidance of leaders such as you Diane, Geraldine Lyn-Piluso, my field placement hosts and peers who I learned beside. “It takes a village to raise a child”
    And I believe it takes a village of people within our profession to motivate and give us the privilege to learn with and alongside.
    I believe as ECEs we have so much to offer each other and if we can get pass the hierarchy barriers there is so much that we can offer each other from the well seasoned professional to the new and emerging grads. Thank you again and I will share this post.


    • Geraldine continues to be a friend and mentor to me too! It is always inspiring to hear from former students who are continuing to work and be passionate in this wonderful profession!


  3. Hi Diane. I am in the unique position of balancing a 30+ year career with the prospect of retirement and “passing on the torch” of center director to a colleague in my employ. The mantle of mentor is one I heartily subscribe to as I see the knowing spark in this colleague’s eye after attending the Opal School summer Symposium this year. She reminds me of me as my passion for the field ignited, and I feel renewed by listening, questioning, and debating topics with her. I found this post timely and provocative as I continue to explore my new place in this field I love.


  4. Diane, you have always been such an inspiration to me going back to the beginning all those years ago in class. The other day I was going through my College transcript and noticed that you only taught me in one class yet you made the biggest impact in my life… I’ve been out of the field for a few years but you are one of the reasons I’m still very much a part of this world…. doesn’t seem to leave my heart. Thank you xo


  5. Pingback: Mentors and Coaches Are Out There | The road traveled

  6. Even though I’ve been in the field a long time, and teach aspiring teachers as an adjunct, my mentor and inspiring leader has been Sandra Redmore, the director of Clarendon Child Care Center in Arlington, VA. Sandra mentors and guides a staff of teachers at the center, but encourages team teaching, and insists on airing everyone’s views of the curriculum, and on the children in daily meetings. The entire approach is collaborative and supportive. Teachers need that.


  7. I have been in the ECE Field for 15 years. My mentors in my time were Mary Alice Namox who taught me how to teach the Wet’suwet’en Language to the children. Sue Anne VanTunen who was and is still a great I/T Teacher. Edna Dennis, taught me so much in the Preschool/pre-K and reaching out to other organizations for networking to help the children’s development. My recent work place I was mentored by Joan Hunt who has shown me so much in the field around making the program my program and embracing the Wet’suwet’en Teachings and passing it down to the children and families that come through my program now. With my current student life I am coming to the end of my ECE Diploma and am currently mentoring two young and willing to learn students so when I move into the I/T Sector they will be running the preschool/preK Program. I am excited for this process and although we have tried many times before to pass this program on, I am excited to have this opportunity to move forward in due time for the betterment of the children and families in need within our community.


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