Author spotlight: Leadership in early childhood

Jill Harrison
Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Jill Harrison, one of the authors of Leadership in Early Childhood: Challenges and Complexities, considers a problem-solving approach to conflict resolution.

Leadership in early childhood is a challenging and complex task and arguably is the responsibility of everyone in the setting, no matter what their job role. Leadership is not always related to management but in the early years sector the skills are very interwoven. Leadership has been recognised as a key factor in improving outcomes for young children (DfE, 2016; Harrison and Harris, 2022) and requires many skills, including these in the below diagram:




Conflict resolution

A leader must also be resilient, work effectively to gain trust within the team and be able to support conflict resolution. Conflict is likely to arise even in the most harmonious of settings, and is often viewed as negative, but it is important to remember that this is not always the case. Arguments often arise because people care about what they do and have passion for what they believe in. Conflict can bring about positive change and invigorate practice (Munn and Harrison, 2022). The teams in which you work are made up of many layers and relationships. And if an environment of trust has been built where individuality is highly respected, and each members skills are recognised and valued, the team will be more able to deal with conflict. For a strong team you need a basis, the next diagram highlights this:





A positive and non-judgemental outlook

Th ere can be many causes of conflict, such as lack of clear communication, sharing resources, varied personal beliefs or interests, professional jealousy, or power struggles. By acknowledging possible triggers and supporting staff to build skills to resolve issues, this will help to develop a strong, resilient, and ethical working environment.

It is important to react fast when conflict arises, action is much better than inaction and issues will not have time to fester and grow. The leader must understand the situation fully, so they will need to seek time and a place to talk to those involved using language that is positive and non-judgemental. For example using ‘I’ instead of ‘you’ (Gordon, 1970) such as ‘I feel worried when you are late in the morning, as I can't open the nursery’ rather than ‘you have let us down by being late all the time’ (Munn and Harrison, 2022). ‘I’ statements are more likely to start a more positive discussion and may help you to understand the other person's position.

High Scope (ND) and Costello (2019) suggest a six-step approach to resolving conflict. This can be used effectively with both adults and children as it helps you to remain calm and fully understand the situation.





To be an effective leader you must build confidence and resilience in yourself. You should always ensure you have someone you can talk to and who is able to support you, for example, a mentor or other professional who is external to your own setting. You will need to use your own reflective practice skills and emotional intelligence. Conflict is not always a negative experience and can be a driver for positive change and development.



Costello, J (2016) ‘6 steps to conflict resolution’ about leaders.

Department for Education (2016) Educational Excellence Everywhere. London. HMS

Harrison, J; Munn, H; Thistle, R; Harris, D; Atkins, L and Whale, L (2022) Leadership in Early Childhood: Challenges and Complexities. London. Sage

HighScope (ND) Managing Conflict Resolution with Children with Trauma. USA. HighScope Institution

Gordon, T (1970) Parent Effectiveness Training. The process and programme for raining responsible children. New York. Harmony

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