Professionals who care for and teach young children are often treated with disrespect, and their voices go unheard. The role of the early childhood educator is not valued. Advocacy efforts for children’s and women’s rights by early childhood educators are rare, resulting in children being placed in unsafe care, and early childhood educators working in environments where they are often bullied, devalued, and silenced. Given this context, it is necessary to ask what role early childhood education (ECE) leaders play in the effort to advocate for change.
While research on leadership as position is plentiful, inquiry into the topic of leadership as practice in early learning and child care (ELCC) is limited. The purpose of this study was to explore child care directors’ understanding of leadership and how, or if, it is connected to their role as social justice advocates. Through individual interviews with five child care directors and the telling of their stories, the study explored and considered different views and ideas of leadership as it related to their role as child care directors. The findings indicate that the participants’ understanding of leadership closely aligned with the business model of leadership, that is, leadership as position, with a top-down hierarchical and supervisory approach. Findings also indicate that participants’ advocacy efforts beyond the program level were rare. Participants were overwhelmed with managing their programs, and the practice of advocating for their own rights or those of children and families as a part of their leadership practice was nonexistent. Participants acknowledged a lack of confidence, skill, and knowledge, along with a fear of speaking out or supporting change. This study highlights the need for further exploration and understanding of leadership as practice, along with specific knowledge related to advocating for social justice issues in child care. Furthermore, this study reinforces the urgency for significant change in government investment and societal values as they pertain to early years education and care.