top of page
  • Amoriza Gunnink

Collaboration, Culture and Curriculum: Conceptualizing the Outworking of Responsible Leadership

Leaders of early care programs are tasked to provide vision and direction for curriculum-making to support and facilitate the overall development of young learners. Today, program offerings in the field encompass a mosaic of various philosophical traditions holding in tension play and academics to actualize and effect children’s learning and formative experiences. Given the complex and varied landscape of curricular programming in early childhood education, the central question becomes: What type of leadership model can promote and make possible a comprehensive vision for curriculum-making forwarding equitable and transformative outcomes for all students?

The paradigm of responsible leadership, based on the findings of Stone-Johnson’s (2014) large-scale international qualitative research study conducted between 2007 and 2010 in the U.K., re-conceptualizes a broad vision for educational leadership weaving together the strands of dialogic synergism, reciprocity, agency and participatory democracy through the collectivization and coordination of stakeholders’ capabilities, as well as through building leadership capacity. In addition, the creation of a cultural ethos which embodies the vision and values co-created among stakeholders proves to be impactful for students. It is precisely the emphasis on the relational roles-model and input-based approach that can sustain and enhance a generative curriculum, and therefore invariably support the curriculum’s outworking as a catalyst for equity and social justice effecting positive outcomes for all children.

Through her research, Stone-Johnson (2014) explicates responsible leadership as the enactment of four distinct roles within an educational organization, woven together through relationships and the coordination of capabilities both within the organization and outside with stakeholders at large. These roles are a) the leader as visionary, b) the leader as servant, c) the leader as steward and d) the leader as citizen. As visionary, the leader projects and leads the desired future and outcomes but also includes stakeholders in the process. As a servant, the leader promulgates the needs and interests of stakeholders and in particular the student body. In his or her stewarding role, the leader protects the vision, defines the valued characteristics and stewards these values and resources in the daily life of the school. Commitment to civic matters and the community at large are also fundamental to responsible leadership.

As a framework, responsible leadership can readily be applied as a structural paradigm for curricular leadership in any early childhood context. The curriculum is impacted by the leadership paradigm and it in turn also facilitates and directs relational encounters and dialogic interactions. Responsible leadership co-constructs and projects vision with, in addition to stewarding, serving and engaging in civic matters alongside stakeholders (educators, administration, parents, students and the community) through the enactment of a relational approach (Stone-Johnson, 2014). Synergism, egalitarian reciprocity, agency and participatory democracy are effected, and dialogue, negotiation and collaboration are concretized. A particular cultural ethos, as embodied through relational transactions and encounters, as well as norms and values, is developed within the educational organization. This cultural ethos mediates the outworking of the curriculum (and its various elements such as the standards, objectives, subject matters etc.) impacting and effecting students’ outcomes.

The educational leader visions, stewards, serves and engages in civic endeavours at all three levels. The double-pointed arrow in figure 1 shows the reciprocal impact collaboration, the culture of the school and the enacted curriculum also exert on the leader and stakeholders. A flow of interaction between each level and fluid boundaries are effected through the relational emphasis of this framework. The cultural ethos acts as a mediator of potential negative forces impacting upon the curriculum.

The responsible leadership framework makes possible a curriculum that becomes the expression and embodiment of a much broader and transformative vision offering the possibility to move beyond the traditional three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic), to encompassing a rich and reflexive curriculum forwarding equity through student agency and participatory democracy. Given the saliency of dialogical relationships and distributed forms of leadership underpinning this framework, integration and enactment of knowledge and understanding from multiple sources and experiences becomes possible, thus giving voice to a greater number of participants. Curriculum, therefore, expresses effectively the cultural ethos of the school and is enacted through communal collaborations.

Amoriza Gunnink


Stone-Johnson, C. (2014). Responsible leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 50 (4), 645-674.


bottom of page