Life on the Leadership Road

Well it's been a whirligig of events recently, starting with dancing at the Nursery World Show back in February and ending in speaking at two Nursery World conferences recently in Manchester and London. Flanked by Nursery World, I have also been immersed in a number of other worlds recently, mostly linked together by leadership themes of one sort or another.

Here's a few highlights from the latest bits of life on the leadership road:

1. 'The Potential Within' - training with early years and creative professionals at the wonderful Wokingham Borough conference, exploring creative leadership and emotional intelligence. The scene was set fabulously by the HMI early years lead on the OfSted Inspection Framework, Gill Jones, who confirmed OfSted's move to a four-judgement framework. These include 1) overall effectiveness, 2) outcomes for learners, 3) the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, and 4) the effectiveness of leadership and management. Her emphasis on a more capacity-building / supportive approach for leadership and management was further reiterated in saying that they couldn't expect to raise expectations, promote ambition for learners and improve their outcomes if constructive support wasn't also in place for the leaders of that learning. This was so good to hear, and reinforces Earlyarts long held belief that, in order to raise the quality of young children's learning experience and nurture their potential within, we need to effect a sea change in the way the adults around those children are supported and nurtured.

2. Tomorrow's People - speaking on a Women in Leadership panel at Leicester University to cultural management and eduction students, I felt incredibly humbled being billed alongside leaders of some of the most auspicious cultural organisations in this country, including Farooq Chaudhry, Diane Lees, Deborah Dawton, and Stephanie Sirr. As a social enterprise, one of the issues I focussed on was the need for enterprising leaders who have a social conscience but not at the sacrifice of running a healthy business, without which there is not a lot left with which to advocate for, or to demonstrate the impact of, that social purpose. All speakers reflected on the main tenets of successful leadership being around humility, forgiveness, the ability to live constantly with challenge and without glamour, to let go of self-doubt, to retain a strong sense of responsibility and integrity and, above all, have a clear and deep understanding of the purpose - of why you are doing what you are doing, and what's its real impact is.

Farooq said, 'Authentic leaders are guided by the source of their own power', which struck me as being similar to the passion, purpose, determination, instinct and spirituality that many leaders talk about but perhaps don't articulate it in quite such beautiful terms. James T Kirk could have learned a thing or two from Farooq! Organiser and senior lecturer of the Cultural Management MA, Jennie Jordan, responded with somelovely feedback.

3. Creative Connections - a fabulous conference by Helium (in one of the most welcoming parts of the Irish Midlands) on the role of arts in the mental and physical health of both parents and babies. Bringing together artists, social and health care professionals, early years practitioners and parents, Helium led a superb day of practice, theory and discussion on some of the most important issues we are tackling on a daily basis.

If you haven't already seen it, take two minutes to watch The Still Face by Dr Edward Tronik which will leave any caring parent or professional crying out to stop the experiment. This formed a great springboard to discussion on what we hold dear and how the arts can help us preserve this in the heads, hearts, bodies and souls of both ourselves and our children.

The artists offered insights into how they approach working (and playing!) with babies in completely different ways, I talked about the impact of creative learning environments on the brain development of a baby and its ensuing impacts on mental and physical well-being, and Catherine Maguire, President of the Irish Association for Infant Mental Health,offered a wonderful insight into how the way our brains and bodies connect has a huge impact on the secure and lasting relationships we form throughout life. Catherine gave some stark facts about what happens to babies born into neglectful or hostile environments, and the impact on their social and emotional development, which led in to a meaty debate on how we can help or hinder this by the support we give to our parents.

4. Finally, the exciting launch of Earlyarts very own National Strategy for Effective Practice, sandwiched neatly in between its first Leadership Masterclasswith our wonderful new Patron Estelle Morris, and a strategic briefing for providers of creative early years training and resources on becoming Earlyarts Affiliates.

I'm really pleased to say that Earlyarts National Strategy has been well received not least because of its accessibility by both the cultural and early years sectors, but also because of its relevance to recent reviews including the Henley Review of Cultural Education, Clare Tickell's review of the EYFS and Cathy Nutbrown's excellent review of qualifications and training. We very much look forward to working with the Arts Council's Bridge Organisations, the Music Education Hubs, the National and Regional Early Years Networks, as well as key early years providers across the country, both private and local authority run, to put it into practice.

The Earlyarts Six Pillars of Effective Practice are the key elements identified by our members as being the most important in helping them do their jobs better. We hope our national strategy gives a clear and well-connected approach to help guide this process, and results in the true bridging of the main sectors involved in supporting children's cultural capital, both now and in the future, which is really what the core purpose of Earlyarts is all about.

I'm going for a leadership-lie-down now... :)

Author Ruth Churchill Dower is the Director of Earlyarts