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Experiences that Inform the Development of Pre-Kindergarten Leaders in Virginia Open Access

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Research in the area of early childhood has confirmed that children accessing high-quality programs lead to better outcomes in kindergarten as well as later in life (Committee for Economic Development, 2006; Frabutt & Waldron, 2013; Hudson, 2014; Stewart, 2015; Temple & Reynolds, 2007). The factors highlighted in research contributing to these outcomes have included teacher effectiveness and classroom quality (Armor, 2014; Fernandez, 2010; Ryan, Whitebook, Kipnis, & Sakai, 2011). One factor missing from current research and policy is the role of the early childhood leader. The purpose of this basic interpretive qualitative study is to gain insights into how early childhood leaders’ experiences have shaped their understanding of leadership, focusing specifically on directors from licensed early childhood programs in Northern Virginia. The central research question guiding this inquiry is: What are the experiences of pre-kindergarten leaders in licensed pre-kindergarten programs in Northern Virginia that inform their development as a leader? Three sub questions are also included: What led an individual to become a pre-kindergarten leader? What has influenced the leadership philosophies of pre-kindergarten leaders? What has influenced the current leadership practices utilized by pre-kindergarten leaders? Data from interviews, walkthroughs, and document analyses with seven directors from early childhood centers in Northern Virginia were examined. Through this process, five themes emerged: generational influences, collegial influences, past work experience, environmental influences, and leadership characteristic and behaviors. Three conclusions were built upon these themes to address the research questions. First, participants entered the field of early childhood due to generational influences with their child entering preschool or just by “falling into” the field. Once in the field, collegial influences encouraged participants to pursue the director position. Participants also rose through the ranks, by beginning as a volunteer or teachers’ aide, becoming a teacher, and then ultimately becoming a director. Second, a director’s philosophies were reinforced through the media as well as professional organizations. Finally, a director’s practices were informed through collegial influences, past experiences, and environmental influences.

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