International early childhood education leadership research "Discourses of leadership in the diverse field of early childhood education"

The field of early childhood education (ECE) has faced significant global and local transformations in recent years.

Structural intensification measures and new requirements for, and understandings of, pedagogical quality set various challenges for leadership in ECE. The aim of this international research project is to contribute to a better understanding of the various meanings and expectations attributed to leadership in ECE. Focus-group discussions with ECE centre directors and staff are used to gather data, which is then analysed using the methodology of discourse analysis. Earlier studies have suggested good quality leadership as a key component of well-being in the workplace and pedagogical quality. In particular, a unified understanding of the core function of the organisation, shared values, and effective institutional structures to support shared pedagogical leadership are central to quality ECE.

Basic information

The founding meeting for the research group was on 21 April, 2017, in the University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa, and the project was designed in Hamburg, Germany, as part of the 6th International Leadership Research Forum Early Childhood (ILRFEC), on 5–6 September, 2017. Subsequently, a seminar was held in Lammi on 7–8 August, 2018, and plans are underway for a seminar in South Africa on 25–27 September, 2019.

The project is a part of the collaboration network International Leadership Research Forum – Early Childhood Education (ILRF–ECE)

Project leader: University Lecturer Elina Fonsén, PhD (Ed.), Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki


The research project aims to capture both local and global understandings of ECE leadership. In the first stage of the project, individual investigations are conducted in Finland, South Africa, Japan, the US, Germany, and Singapore, to reveal leadership discourses that emerge in these local contexts. In the second stage, international comparative analyses across the countries help identify strengths and challenges in each country’s understanding of leadership. This contributes to clearer distinctions between context-dependent and context-independent features of ECE leadership.

The research builds a deeper understanding of existing leadership discourses and the various expectations for leadership inherent in them. By clarifying the meanings and expectations given to leadership in the various contexts of ECE, the project aims at a more fruitful dialogue between the various agents in ECE. This, in turn, enables realising the aims of leadership: staff empowerment and well-being in the workplace, and, ultimately, good quality early childhood education for every child.

Research group

Research group leader University Lecturer Elina Fonsén, University of Helsinki, Finland elina.fonsen(at)

University Lecturer Päivi Kupila, University of Tampere, Finland

Lecturer Tarja Liinamaa, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Professor Nkidi Phatudi, University of South Africa, South Africa

Associate professor Sharon Mampane, University of South Africa, South Africa

University Lecturer Modise Matshediso, University of South Africa, South Africa

Dr Namhla Sotuku, University of Fort Hare, South Africa

University Lecturer Chika Inoue, Tokoha University junior college, Japan

Associate professor Masayo Kawakita, Jumonji University, Japan

Professor Tunde Szecsi, Gulf Coast university, Florida

Doctoral research student, Shaireen Selamat, University of Warwick, UK (Singapore)

Professor Petra Strehmel, Hampurg University of Applied Sciences, Germany

Professor Rose Mugweni, Great Zimbabwe university, Zimbabwe

Associate Professor Emily Ganga, Great Zimbabwe university, Zimbabwe

Doctoral research assistant Clarisse Halpern, Gulf Coast university, Florida

Advisor members

Emerita Professor Eeva Hujala, University of Tampere, Finland

Professor Manjula Waniganayake, University of Macquarie, Australia

Educational consultant, Jillian Rodd, UK

Student members:

Vivianne Ruohola, University of Helsinki, Finland

Marika Repo, University of Helsinki

Markus Sauvola, University of Helsinki

Sofia Fonsén, University of Tampere

Jan Varpanen, University of Tampere

Anna Reponen, University of Jyväskylä


Fonsén, E. (2019)  Bloomsbury Education and Childhood Studies: Management, Leadership, and Governance in Early Childhood Education (Finland).

Fonsén, E. (2013). Dimensions of Pedagogical leadership in Early Childhood Education and Care. In E. Hujala, M. Waniganayake & J. Rodd (Eds.) Researching Leadership in Early Childhood Education. Tampere: Tampere University Press, 181–192.

Fonsén, E. (2014). Pedagoginen johtajuus varhaiskasvatuksessa. (Pedagogical leadership in early childhood education.) Acta Universitatis Tamperensis 1914. Tampere: Tampere University Press.

Fonsén, E., Akselin, M-L. & Aronen, K. (2015). From distributed leadership towards joint leadership – a case study: the early stages of developing a new ECE leadership model for the city of Hämeenlinna. In M. Waniganayake, J. Rodd & L. Gibbs (Eds.) Thinking and Learning about Leadership: Early childhood research from Australia, Finland and Norway. International Leadership Research Forum (ILRF) Research Monograph #2. Sydney: Community Childcare Cooperative NSW, 116–130.

Fonsén, E. & Keski-Rauska, M-L. (2018). Varhaiskasvatuksen yhteinen johtajuus vastakohtaisten diskurssien valossa. (The joint leadership of early childhood education in the light of contrasting discourses) Työelämän tutkimus 3/2018, 185-200.

Fonsén, E. & Mäntyjärvi, M. (2019) Diversity of the assessments of a joint leadership model in Early Childhood Education. Teoksessa P. Strehmel, J. Heikka, E. Hujala, J. Rodd & M. Waniganayake (Toim.) Leadership in Early Education in Times of Change. Research from five Continents. Opladen-Berlin-Toronto: Verlag Barbara Budrich, 154-169.

Fonsén, E. & Soukainen, U. (2019) Sustainable Pedagogical Leadership in Finnish Early Childhood Education (ECE) - An evaluation by ECE professionals. Early Childhood Education Journal. Published online 18.10.2019.

Fonsén, E. & Ukkonen-Mikkola, T. (2019) Educational Research: Early Childhood Education Teachers’ Professional Development towards Pedagogical Leadership. 61 (2), 181-196.

Fonsén, E., Varpanen, J., Strehmel, P, Kawakita, M., Inoue, C., Marchant, S., Modise, M., Szecsi, T. & Halpern, C. (2019) International review of ECE leadership research - Finland, Germany, Japan, Singapore, South Africa and the United States under review. Teoksessa P. Strehmel, J. Heikka, E. Hujala, J. Rodd & M. Waniganayake (Toim.) Leadership in Early Education in Times of Change. Research from five Continents. Opladen-Berlin-Toronto: Verlag Barbara Budrich, 253-276.

Fonsén, E. & Vlasov, J. (2017). Leading Pedagogical Quality in the Context of Finnish Child Care. In C. Ringsmose & G. Kragh-Müller (Eds.) The Nordic Social Pedagogical Approach to Early Years. Series: International Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Development, Vol. 15. Cham: Springer International Publishing AG, 253–265.

Hujala, E., Eskelinen, M., Chen, C., Inoue, C., Matsumoto, M. & Kawase, M. (2016). Leadership tasks in Early Childhood Education in Finland, Japan and Singapore. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, vol. 30, no.3, 406-421

Hujala, E., Waniganayake, M. & Rodd, J. (Eds.) (2013). Researching Leadership in Early Childhood Education. Tampere: Tampere University Press.

Keski-Rauska, M-L., Fonsén, E., Aronen, K. & Riekkola A. (2016). Research on a joint leadership model for early childhood education in Finland. Journal of Early Childhood Education Research, 5(2), 310–328.

Parrila, S. & Fonsén, E. (Eds.).(2016). Varhaiskasvatuksen pedagoginen johtajuus. Käsikirja käytännön työhön. (Pedagogical leadership in ECE. Handbook for practise.) Jyväskylä: PS-kustannus.

Soukainen, U. & Fonsén, E. (2018). Will the Leadership Last? Sustainable Leadership in Early Childhood Education. Teoksessa E. Rogulj, A.V. Jevtić & A. Jurčević – Lozančić (toim.) Early Childhood Relationships: The foundation for Sustainable Future. Proceedings. International Scientifical and Professional Conference OMEP 2017, 312–329.

Ukkonen-Mikkola, T. & Fonsén, E. (2018). Researching Finnish early childhood teachers’ pedagogical work using Layder’s research map. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 43(4), 48-56.

Varpanen, J. (in press). Early childhood education leadership in Finland through the lens of structure and agency. Educational management administration and leadership.

Master's theses

Fonsén, S. (2018). Pedagogisen osaamisen johtaminen varhaiskasvatuksessa. (Leading pedagogical competence in early childhood education) (Master’s thesis, University of Tampere).

Repo, M. (2019). Varhaiskasvatuksen opettajan pedagoginen johtajuus. Helsingin yliopisto.