Developing collaborative leadership practices in the Singapore early childhood education (ECE) context through professional learning communities (PLCs)
Leadership in early childhood education (ECE) has been promoted as a collaborative process in which all teachers, rather than just the positional leader, are involved (Thornton, 2010). Collaborative leadership practices are not well understood within the Singapore ECE context. Beyond mandatory leadership training, little is known how leaders are supported to strengthen their leadership practices and involve others in leadership activities. School-based literature suggests that learning through professional learning communities (PLCs) expands the collective capacity of organisations, however, literature on PLCs in ECE is limited. Located within an interpretive paradigm, this study employed a primarily qualitative approach with a supplementary quantitative strand. This mixed method design, encapsulated within a single embedded exploratory case study, embedded both face-to-face and online PLC processes over a period of 8 months. Qualitative data included both face-to-face and online activities whereas for the quantitative data the study used an adapted version of the PLCA-R survey designed by Olivier, Hipp and Huffman (2010). Participants in two PLCs established as part of this study were six principals from an anchor group childcare provider and five principals from private childcare centres in Singapore. Two teachers working with each of the respective principals were also involved in focus group interviews to ascertain if there were changes in their principals’ leadership practices. Data were collected from PLC meetings, online reflections, pre- and post-PLC interviews with the principals and follow-up focus group discussions with the teachers. Key findings suggest that praxis as a result of participation in their PLC led to some shifts in principals’ thinking about collaborative leadership practices and resulted in changes to their leadership approaches, sharing of practices, distribution of leadership and improved collegiality and collaborative learning for teachers. Principals who participated in the study also indicated that the collaborative learning culture fostered through their PLC reduced their professional isolation and helped them to integrate ideas into practice. The study contributes to an understanding that considering and implementing collaborative leadership practices through PLCs, a collaborative learning model contextualised in Anglo-American settings, in the Singapore ECE context requires sensitivity towards Asian Singapore socio-cultural values related to hierarchy and economic pragmatism.