Building leaders from the ground up at Bradford Pre- Primary School

| June 28, 2017 | 0 Comments

BY NGONI SAGIYA

Educators can play a significant role in developing and nurturing leadership talent during the early childhood years.

Developing highly capable business and political leaders does not start when one enrols for a highly recognised leadership course or a degree at tertiary education level. Even at a young age, children exhibit leadership skills, and these skills need to be nurtured and developed through experiential learning.

Leadership capabilities can be professionally developed, but true leadership skills are nurtured as early as early childhood level. Leadership starts when a child learns to handle a loss and moves forward, when a friend wins a game, or when someone else is elected class monitor. Leaders must learn to handle both failure and success successfully; hence, it is important to expose rather than protect future leaders from disappointment. When children learn how to use their diaries, they acquire personal organisational skills; when they participate and learn to take responsibility within a group, they start getting “into the leadership mindset”. When an educator encourages group/team activities, leadership skills are cultivated. This also extends to the development of listening skills, when pre-literate children are encouraged to sit attentively and listen to a story, which they are later asked to relate or to answer/ask story questions. Good leaders are good communicators, and this can be encouraged from an early age by working on reading and speaking.

Nurture leadership skills as soon as possible

The teaching of leadership skills at an early age is based on the principle that young children are much more able to acquire and retain leadership skills throughout their lives. Indeed, during childhood, their attitude, personality and skills are more malleable than they are in adulthood.

Nurturing leadership talent in early childhood education has and always will be a priority, because of the link between highcalibre leadership qualities and better development outcomes for young children. From an educator’s perspective, early childhood is the foundation upon which all future development depends, and therefore it is absolutely vital to make each child’s experience the very best possible. Early childhood centres have a responsibility to offer children opportunities to learn about leadership. Helping children to nurture their leadership talent sets them on a path to a happier, more fulfilling personal life. Within a group setting, an educator can identify children who are going to be the leaders in the class, and those who will be the followers.

Parents must play their part

One of the big questions that comes to most parents’ minds is that “it’s tough enough to get children to follow: how should parents teach children to lead?” The answer is simple and straightforward: developing children’s leadership potential may seem a daunting task, but is an important part of childhood development that parents cannot overlook. This role is regarded as one of the key attributes of effective parenting. This role is simplified by the fact that the teaching process involves the surrounding environment and situations that families come across in their daily settings. Allowing children to perform various chores and household tasks – such as baby-sitting (provided they are old enough), making their own bed, allowing them to communicate directly to a waiter when placing orders during a family outing – all enhance leadership opportunities. Parents can play an instrumental role in cultivating children’s ability to self-lead/lead others in their home settings and surrounding environments through their actions and influencing the young minds. The ability of parents to balance their work-social life goes a long way in teaching children about accountability. Learning leadership skills, such as independence and resilience, helps children lead happier, more fulfilling lives. Parents can have a big impact on their children’s ability to lead by taking an active role in nurturing those skills, reaping the benefit as their kids develop into young adults who can problem-solve, consider other people and organise themselves personally and professionally.

From strength to strength

The development of leadership skills during early childhood years helps develop children’s personal relationships throughout life and enhances other related developmental areas. While leadership skills develop naturally, there is a lot that children can learn from their surrounding environments. Children who learn the skills of leadership from an early age will develop valuable qualities such as a positive attitude, resilience and a willingness to admit to mistakes and learn from them. A good foundation of leadership experience also sets kids up for primary school – they have confidence and are excited about their own abilities, and feel secure about their position in their environment. When they reach adulthood, they reach out to their childhood experience for insights into what they can do and how they can fit in.

Development of leadership skills in early childhood requires both parents and educators to identify children’s interests and develop activities that encourage participation within groups. One of the key areas of focus in the development of leadership skills is developing communication skills.

Play is an important part

There is no particular place where children should sit around the table and learn about leadership. They learn leadership anywhere – it could be at school, at home, in playgrounds. Children in preschool playgroups naturally and willingly conform to leader and follower roles. Play allows children to practise interacting with their peers in a free and relaxed environment. As children become more socialised through play, it also encourages them to think of perspectives other than their own, i.e. in make-believe or imaginative play, a child should consider the feelings of the other children with whom they are playing. Imaginative play also provides a chance for a child to develop abstract thinking. Children develop skills to solve problems, delay gratification and cope with any frustrations they may have.

In a nutshell, educators and parents share the huge responsibility of helping to foster leadership skills in children and help the children become leaders, even if they do not exhibit these skills naturally. Although children might learn and practise leadership skills by becoming leaders of their peers during play, “followership” should not be forgotten. The great leaders in a play setting are socially effective and desirable playmates, partially because they are willing to compromise now and then. As leaders in play, they give their own ideas and suggestions to their playgroup, but are very willing to receive the contributions of their peers and incorporate them into the play.

When identifying leadership skills, it is important to define the fine line between leadership attributes and other features such as assertiveness; to observe who demonstrates dominance over their peers without necessarily obtaining followership. By correctly identifying these attributes, educators can better implement the best strategy in nurturing skills. For instance, assertive children who lack followership may require emphasis on developing their social skills to help foster effective leadership skills, while for other children, educators may be required to engage in more interactive activities to help improve their communication skills.

Bradford focuses on leadership

Bradford Pre-Primary School – part of Bradford Colleges (Pty) Limited, a private education business established in 2013 and a new ISASA member – takes a long-lens approach to leader development. The school’s curriculum incorporates an in-depth understanding of the seeds of leadership. Bradford believes that children who attend better quality childcare during the preschool years demonstrate better cognitive and social skills during this time period. Over time, as children grow and cognitive development progresses, play evolves from being individualised to being social and interactive. Similarly, for an individual to develop good leadership, it is best if various skills are taught at different stages in their life. Although an individual continues to learn vital leadership skills post-childhood, the skills learned later build off the skills learned when young, which only stresses the importance of learning as a child. Between the ages of two and five, leadership tasks and skills can evolve around influencing others and being able to communicate needs. As the child grows, leadership skills progress to coordinating others in teams, fulfilling monitor duties, playing the role of cheer leader during sports events and public speaking.

The core of Bradford is to ensure that the quality of its education and care settings support and enhance the children’s growth, development and learning. The school’s management team recognises that effective leadership is vital to guiding teaching and learning to create a learning environment that supports effective leadership in early childhood education and care. The school has also created a platform for diversity, and this will no doubt go a long way in nurturing leadership skills. Diversity builds capacity and provides a structure in which children can learn from each other, learn to break barriers and expand their vision.

All children deserve the best

The school focuses on early childhood, founded on the principle that this period of a learner’s development is a critical stage in any child’s life; hence, the attainment of high-quality education is crucial to ensure a good foundation for future development, health and well-being. Research indicates that only an insignificant proportion of children in South Africa are exposed to good quality education,1 as the public education system is succumbing to overwhelming demand for schools, due to a rapid growth in the country’s demographics.

Reference:

1. See, for example: https://mg.co.za/article/2015-10- 22-the-urgent-need-for-proper-early-childhooddevelopment- infrastructure.

Category: Winter 2017

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