In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pedagogical Leadership

  • Introduction
  • Pedagogical Leadership in Early Childhood Education
  • Pedagogical Leadership in the Schooling Sector
  • Pedagogical Leadership in Higher Education
  • Pedagogical Leadership in Scandinavia
  • Research on Pedagogical Leadership
  • Relationships to other Frameworks
  • Extended Conceptualizations of Pedagogical Leadership
  • Journals
  • Books

Education Pedagogical Leadership
Frauke Meyer, Linda Bendikson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0286


Pedagogical leadership has been assigned different meanings and conceptualizations in different educational settings and across contexts. In the early childhood sector, the term first emerged in the 1990s. Here, pedagogy is seen as more applicable to the holistic work of early childhood educators in contrast to the term instructional leadership, which is usually associated with the schooling context. Pedagogical leadership is recently gaining more prominence due to the acknowledgment of the importance of leadership in early childhood and its integration into policy and qualifications (e.g., England’s Early Year Professional Status). In the schooling sector, pedagogical leadership was first promoted by Thomas Sergiovanni as an alternative to bureaucratic, visionary, and entrepreneurial leadership. Here, leadership is seen as a form of pedagogy and as being practiced by school leaders and teachers. Proponents of the model argue that pedagogy, especially in contrast to instruction, recognizes the cultural, moral, and societal aspects of learning. It involves a focus on building social and academic capital for students and intellectual and professional capital for teachers. Pedagogical leadership is described as bringing a pedagogical lens to all aspects of teaching and is strongly focused on dialogue with those being led or taught. Pedagogical leadership, as promoted by Sergiovanni, has not found great uptake in policy or research and the author did not further promote or examine the model in his later work. The term pedagogical or pedagogic leadership, however, is often used in research and policy in different contexts with other meanings attached to it. In the North American context, pedagogical leadership is generally used to describe leadership activities specifically focused on the improvement of teaching and learning as an aspect or dimension of a broader leadership model, such as instructional or transformational leadership. In the Scandinavian countries, pedagogical leadership has been used as a term in educational policy since the 1940s; however, it seems to lack a clear conceptualization and, in the schooling sector, is often regarded as the equivalent to instructional leadership, with some noting overlaps to Sergiovanni’s work or extending the earlier conceptualizations. Given the varying conceptualizations and uses of the term pedagogical leadership, this article incorporates sections on the use in each sector and the Scandinavian context. It highlights research published in the field, works that are helpful in understanding overlaps with other models, and works that extended conceptualizations of pedagogical leadership. Finally, sections on journals and books in the field are included.

Pedagogical Leadership in Early Childhood Education

The term pedagogical leadership is increasingly used in early childhood research, policy, and practice. However, no well-defined model or framework is attached to it. Indeed, definitions and conceptualizations vary widely, from identifying classroom educators as pedagogical leaders or leaders of learning, as in Carroll-Lind, et al. 2016, to a reconceptualization of early childhood leadership as a whole. This reconceptualization rejects the managerial and hierarchical models from business contexts that have been applied to early childhood leadership in the past. Atkinson and Biegun 2017 and Corrick and Reed 2019 note the reconceptualization. Some authors link their work to that of Sergiovanni 1998 (cited under Pedagogical Leadership in the Schooling Sector), which notes similar critiques of leadership models in the schooling sector. Common aspects of pedagogical leadership are described as a focus on pedagogy and the child at the core of educators’ work, which should not only inform the direct work of teaching but also the more indirect work of leadership. In the early childhood context, the relational and collaborative nature of the work and thus of leadership is highlighted. Thus, it is often linked to theories of distributed leadership. Conceptualizations differ internationally, often taking into account local contexts that impact the work of educators. Most published work is from predominantly English-speaking countries, for example, Andrews 2009, Murray and McDowall Clark 2013, and Thomas and Nuttall 2014, (cited under Extended Conceptualizations of Pedagogical Leadership) and Scandinavia (overview provided in a later section). Stremmel 2019 provides an in-depth discussion of the philosophical foundations of pedagogical leadership (meaning and nature of pedagogy, positionality of a pedagogical leader, need for reflective teaching, reflective thinking, and collaborative inquiry). Corrick and Reed 2019 and Semann 2019 are listed as they offer perspectives from other parts of the world. Katz 1997 is often referred to as the earliest discussion of pedagogical leadership in early childhood education. Katz 1997 and, later, Andrews 2009 highlight how pedagogical principles can be applied to leadership. Kagan and Hallmark 2001 build on Katz’s work describing pedagogical leadership as one of five leadership aspects, the others being community, administrative, advocacy, and conceptual leadership. Cunningham 2020 (cited under Books) recent edited book from the US context includes a section with six chapters on pedagogical leadership. The chapters in the section fall under a broad definition of pedagogical leadership. Wilson 2020 outlines pedagogical leadership definitions, its main constructs, and best practices.

  • Andrews, Mandy. 2009. Managing change and pedagogical leadership. In Managing early years settings: Supporting and leading teams. Edited by Alison Robins and Sue Callan, 45–64. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446279564.n4

    The chapter explores pedagogical leadership in the context of educational change in UK early childhood settings. The author describes how pedagogical principles from early childhood teaching can be applied to leadership in these settings.

  • Atkinson, Kim, and Lexie Biegun. 2017. An uncertain tale: Alternative conceptualizations of pedagogical leadership. Journal of Childhood Studies 42.4: 61–68.

    DOI: 10.18357/jcs.v42i4.18104

    This short practitioner article provides a Canadian perspective on pedagogical leadership in early childhood education. Here, the authors critique pedagogical leadership as being conflated with administrative or managerial roles and hierarchical power structures. They argue for a reconceptualization of pedagogical leadership toward a more relational, collaborative, and dialogic model. The conceptualization argued for here is similar to what is perceived as pedagogical leadership in other contexts.

  • Carroll-Lind, Janis, Sue Smorti, Kate Ord, and Lesley Robinson. 2016. Building pedagogical leadership knowledge in early childhood education. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 41.4: 28–35.

    DOI: 10.1177/183693911604100404

    In this practitioner article, pedagogical leadership is referred to as focused on the improvement of curriculum and pedagogy in contrast to management and administration. The New Zealand study reports on an intervention-based professional learning program in which pedagogical leaders were supported through mentoring to lead change conversations with and between teachers using cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) as a mediating tool to identify connections between everyday leadership dilemmas and systemic contradictions.

  • Corrick, G., and M. Reed. 2019. Pedagogical leadership: Challenges and opportunities. In Pedagogies for leading practice. Edited by Sandra Cheeseman and Rosie Walker, 65–77. New York: Routledge.

    The chapter provides a critical analysis of the conceptualization of pedagogical leadership in the English context. It extends pedagogical leadership by integrating the notion of critical reflection and reflective practice positioning leaders as those creating opportunities for reflection in a collective endeavor. They note ongoing academic debates around the ways systems, regulatory requirements, and accountability impact practice. The chapter provides a case study and questions for discussion.

  • Kagan, S. L., and L. G. Hallmark. 2001. Cultivating leadership in early care and education. Child Care Information Exchange 140:7–10.

    The authors describe five aspects of leadership, including pedagogical leadership, which is seen as linking research and practice through disseminating research information, on the one hand, and shaping agendas, on the other. Other leadership aspects include community, administrative, advocacy, and conceptual leadership.

  • Katz, Lilian G. 1997. Pedagogical leadership. In Leadership in early care and education. Edited by Sharon L. Kagan and Barbara T. Bowman, 17–20. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

    This short chapter is often referred to as the earliest mention of pedagogical leadership in early childhood education. Katz describes three aspects of pedagogical leadership: its essential ideological nature, leaders as interpreters of empirical research, and leaders being involved in setting the pedagogical agenda for the wider field. Open discussion and collaboration with stakeholders is emphasized for effective pedagogical leadership in all aspects.

  • Murray, Janet, and Rory McDowall Clark. 2013. “Reframing leadership as a participative pedagogy: The working theories of early years professionals.” Early Years 33.3: 289–301.

    DOI: 10.1080/09575146.2013.781135

    The article describes the introduction of early years teacher status as a pedagogic leadership role without positional authority or management responsibility in the English context. It notes the confusion around what constitutes leadership in early childhood. Hence, it explores practitioners’ motivations for, and interpretations and applications of, leading practice. Sixteen practitioners with different levels of experience were interviewed. Follow-up interviews with five participants after two years provide some longitudinal perspective.

  • Semann, Anthony. 2019. Pedagogical leadership: Interrogating self in order to lead others. In Pedagogies for leading practice. Edited by Sandra Cheeseman and Rosie Walker, 51–64. New York: Routledge.

    In this chapter, the author offers an argument for reflective thinking in pedagogical leaders’ practice to improve their practice and adapt it to the current context, highlighting the concept of context-driven leadership. Specific reflective questions are noted to guide the reader. The chapter is written from within an Australian context in which pedagogical leaders are seen as leaders of curriculum and pedagogy in contrast to general leadership, which focuses on managerial and administrative tasks.

  • Stremmel, Andrew J. 2019. Pedagogical leadership as ethical collaborative behavior. In Pedagogies for leading practice. Edited by Sandra Cheeseman and Rosie Walker, 78–90. New York: Routledge.

    The chapter provides an in-depth discussion of the philosophical foundations of pedagogical leadership. The author discusses the meaning and nature of pedagogy, the positionality of a pedagogical leader, the need for reflective teaching, reflective thinking, and collaborative inquiry.

  • Wilson, Kimberly. 2020. Leadership for teaching and learning practice: Leadership and pedagogy. In Professional and ethical consideration for early childhood leaders. Edited by Denise D. Cunningham, 247–268. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

    DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5089-2.ch012

    The chapter defines pedagogical leadership, outlines main constructs within pedagogical leadership, and provides best practices for effective pedagogical leaders within an early childhood setting. The author draws on different leadership models and frameworks showing overlaps and similarities in key components between them. The US-based author highlights the just emerging and, hence, scant research that links empirical research on pedagogical leadership to student outcomes.

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