“Courageous Leadership in Early Childhood Education: Taking a STAND for SOCIAL JUSTICE” is a collection of action-based narratives of early childhood leaders who took a courageous stance to advocate and act against the inequities and challenges within their educational setups. The inspiring stories are shared through the thoughtful and insightful writing of authors who bore witness to the transformative leadership these 13 individuals have made in the field of Early Childhood education.
Thoughtfully edited by Susi Long, Mariana Suoto- Manning, and Vivan Maria Vasquez, all reputable scholars within the field themselves, the book aims to encourage early childhood educators to practice cultural sensitivity and social justice within their own scopes of practice. The editors and authors included critical insights and relevant strategies to empower, further educate, and guide administrators and teachers to turn theories into practical and equitable practices as they continuously self-reflect and think critically upon their own leadership and educational styles.
A foreword written by Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, sums up the book’s premise quite succinctly when she said that the book aims to “create empowering learning spaces” as a key element of school reform, and successfully integrates theories and values into practices that form equitable and culturally sensitive spaces for children to grow and learn alongside the community.
About the Editors
A professor of Early Childhood Education & Language and Literacy from the University of South Carolina, Susi Long is an author, leader, and researcher who focuses on culturally relevant pedagogies and language acquisition strategies. A seasoned educator, Susi’s extensive and multi-level teaching and leadership experiences have led her to receive various honors and commendations, most recently the Fulbright Research Chair in Education Award for the 2019- 2020 academic year.
Mariana Suoto- Manning is the Director of the Doctoral Program in Curriculum and Teaching and the Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education programs at the Teachers College, Columbia University. She is also a professor in the Early Childhood Education and Teacher Education programs. Suoto- Manning is likewise an author and researcher specializing on issues in social inequities and oppression in education, and actively collaborates with fellow educators on community-based issues.
Vivian Maria Vasquez, a Professor of Education at American University, is a prolific author and researcher on critical literacy practices in education. She is also interested in the role of information communication technology in education. Vasquez was previously awarded the James N. Britton Award (2005) and the AERA Division B Outstanding Book of the Year Award (2006) for her book “Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children”. She holds the distinction of being the only academic scholar to have been awarded those two accolades. Vasquez hosts the CLIP Podcast which focuses on critical literacy practices.
Breaking down the Chapters
The book is comprised of 15 chapters in which courageous leadership practices are highlighted through the innovative, transformative, and inspiring actions undertaken by educators and leaders who sought to address various inequities in the early childhood setting.
The first chapter introduces critical issues encountered within the scope of practice and provides relevant historical information that gave rise to the inequities experienced within the field. The chapter continues to explore the reason d’etre of the book which is to advocate for social justice and tackle inequities in early childhood education.
In chapters 2 through 14, we are introduced to 13 early childhood education leaders whose innovative actions, practices, and strategies addressed critical issues within their respective practices. The various authors who brought to life the experiences of these transformative leaders gave a personal voice to the narrative and painted the real picture of the state of education within their communities. Each author bore witness to how transformation was achieved through the courageous leadership of the featured educators and leaders. The voices of people within the community were also heard through the retelling of the leaders’ visions, and gives critical insight to the impact of community in education.
The last chapter rounds out the book by summarizing the various principles, goals, strategies, and resources employed by all 13 administrators to achieve socially equitable and culturally relevant practices in their institutions. The chapter likewise provides readers the encouragement and hope to take palpable and transformative action in their own areas of difficulties and to take a stand to propel the field of early education into a new era of diversity and inclusivity.
Insights about the Text
Reading through the text, several commonalities stood out as the core issues encountered within the early education setting. Issues such as inadequate leadership training and teacher preparation and loss of critical dialogue and reflection, lack of linguistic and culturally sensitive practices and a disconnection between the school and family were all common and pervasive themes reflected within the experiences of the 13 leaders. The identification of critical issues within each educational setup and constant critical evaluation of educational and leadership practices is paramount towards solution-building.
Many early childhood educators immerse themselves in the classroom setup and feel ill-equipped to tackle leadership roles outside of that scope without fully realizing that they should take on a leadership role as well. (Campbell- Evans, Stamopoulos, & Maloney, 2014) As Dr. Modise (2019) stated, “The teacher is also a pedagogical leader in his/her own space where the exhibition of credible knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning in the classroom is expected. This knowledge and understanding should impact on practice positively to such an extent that it improves.” She further suggested that teachers are managers in their own classrooms and need to be able to translate this leadership into transformative and innovative practices. Meanwhile, Campbell- Evans, Stamopoulos, and Maloney (2014) stated that “Leadership in the early years of schooling will require working in professional learning communities where strong relationships are nurtured and knowledge is shared”. Critical reflection and dialogue, and continuous learning is essential for every educator and leader to cultivate. The book highlights this relevant issue and provides examples and clarity towards the actions undertaken by the early childhood leaders to address this problem.
The importance of family connections and community relationships were also highlighted by the leaders as a critical component of establishing strong, culturally relevant, linguistically responsive, and socially just education practices. Family engagement led to a stronger commitment for teachers to address social inequities in the classroom through the cultivation of a wider knowledge base, stronger understanding of cultural norms and differences, and incorporation of linguistic practices within their lessons and programs. The active participation of families in their children’s education process likewise led to a better understanding of home and family practices, encouraged the use and development of bi- or multilingualism within families, and opened up meaningful exchanges of discourse and support between the school and community. (Fehrer & Tognozzi, 2018)
Conclusion and Recommendation
Much has been written about leadership practices in teaching and administration, and while many textbooks attempt to explain and expound upon theories of leadership using a pedagogical or academic tone, there has been a gap in literature targeted specifically to the field of early childhood education. This book addresses this lack and infuses itself with one critical element that sets it apart from books about leadership theories and strategies – HEART.
The inspiring narratives of how the 13 early childhood leaders rose above challenges and took a stand for the youngest members of our society rise up like a shining beacon of hope that we, as educators and leaders, can take as examples on how to address inequities and issues in our own classrooms and institutions. While majority of the narratives contained in the book showcased similar themes, and parallel philosophies, the various strategies employed by the leaders speak of innovation, foresight, and perseverance. The redundancy of these cyclical themes within the narratives served to impress further upon the reader the pervasive effect of the social constricts which are unjustly imposed upon our youngest learners and the community at large.
The book successfully showcases the inspirational stories of leadership and courage by people who chose to actively take a stand for those who cannot yet make their voices heard. The strategies discussed in the book were practical, realistic, and impassioned with commitment to social justice. The book likewise provides a balanced accounting of pedagogical leadership theories and critical self-reflection practices. Moreover, the narratives provided an urgently needed accounting of the real problems encountered by educators and administrators. Education majors, pre-service teachers, practicing educators, and administrators can all benefit from reading this book as a valuable resource to their own teaching and leadership ideologies.