Learning in nature: Leadership opportunities in an Education Outside the Classroom programme in a New Zealand early childhood centre


Share / Export Citation / Email / Print / Text size:

Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice

New Zealand Educational Administration and Leadership Society

Subject: Education


ISSN: 1178-8690





Volume / Issue / page

Related articles

VOLUME 33 , ISSUE 1 (June 2018) > List of articles

Learning in nature: Leadership opportunities in an Education Outside the Classroom programme in a New Zealand early childhood centre

Vicky Hill

Keywords : Leadership; distributed leadership; early childhood education; nature programme; bush kindergarten; Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC)

Citation Information : Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice. Volume 33, Issue 1, Pages 32-45, DOI: https://doi.org/10.21307/jelpp-2018-004

License : (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Published Online: 02-April-2019



This article explores how involvement in an Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC) programme in one New Zealand early childhood centre provides leadership opportunities for teachers and children and highlights the benefits of [re]connecting young children with nature on a regular basis. It focuses on teachers’ and parents’ views and perspectives on their participation in this nature-based education programme, specifically in regard to the leadership opportunities that the programme provided for teachers and children. This article highlights the powerful influence of the EOTC programme in the development of teachers’ leadership. It describes how leadership is a contextual phenomenon and explains how a formal EOTC programme in an early childhood centre provided increased opportunities for teacher leadership regardless of formal leadership position. Distributed leadership and relational leadership were identified as key components of the programme. The article also explores how involvement with the EOTC programme and the natural environment provided significant opportunities for the leadership development of children, in addition to developing their physical abilities, independence and social skills. This article adds valuable knowledge in the area of leadership opportunities resulting from involvement in an EOTC programme.

Content not available PDF Share



Aitken, H. (2005). Participating in an early childhood community of practice: The experiences of a group of newly qualified teachers. (Unpublished thesis). University of Waikato, Hamilton.

Akram, T., Lei, S., Hussain, S. T., Haider, M. J., & Akram, M. W. (2016). Does leadership generate organizational social capital? A case of exploring the effect of relational leadership on organizational social capital in China. Future Business Journal, 2, 116–126. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.


Bella, J., & Bloom, P. J. (2005). Investment in leadership training - the payoff for early childhood education. Young Children, 60(1), 32–40.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Brower, H., Schoorman, F. D., & Tan, H. H. (2000). A model of relational leadership: The integration of trust and leader-member exchange. Leadership Quarterly, 11(2), 227–250. https://doi.org/10.1016/ S1048-9843(00)00040-0

Carmeli, A., Tishler, A., & Edmondson, A. C. (2012). CEO relational leadership and strategic decision quality in top management teams: The role of team trust and learning from failure. Strategic Organization, 10(1), 31–54. https://doi.org/10.1177/1476127011434797

Carr, V., & Luken, E. (2014). Playscapes: A pedagogical paradigm for play and learning. International Journal of Play, 3(1), 69–83. https://doi.org/10.1080/21594937.2013.871965

Carroll-Lind, J., Smorti, S., Ord, K., & Robinson, L. (2016). Building pedagogical leadership knowledge in early childhood education. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 41(4), 28–35.

Catto, C. (2014). Learning in a classroom without walls. Swings and Roundabouts, (3), 20.

Clarkin-Phillips, J. (2007). Distributing the leadership: A case study of professional development. (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Waikato, Hamilton.

Clarkin-Phillips, J. (2009). Distributed leadership utilising everyone’s strengths. Early Childhood Folio, 13, 22–27.

Clarkin-Phillips, J. (2011). Distributed leadership: Growing strong communities of practice in early childhood centres. Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice, 26(2), 14–25. Retrieved from http://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz

Clements, R. (2004). An investigation of the status of outdoor play. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 5(1), 68–80. https://doi.org/10.2304/ciec.2004.5.1.10

Cunliffe, A. L., & Eriksen, M. (2011). Relational leadership. Human Relations, 64(11), 1425–1449. https:// doi.org/10.1177/0018726711418388

Davis, B., Rea, T., & Waite, S. (2006). The special nature of the outdoors: Its contribution to the education of children aged 3-11. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 10(2), 3–12.

Dunlop, A.W. (2008). A literature review on leadership in the early years. Retrieved from http://www.google. co.uk

Ebbeck, M., & Waniganayake, M. (2002). Early childhood professionals: Leading today and tomorrow. Sydney: Elsevier Australia.

Elliott, S. (2010). Children in the natural world. In J. Davis (Ed.), Young children and the environment: Early education for sustainability (pp. 43–75). Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Ernst, J. (2014). Early childhood educators’ use of natural outdoor settings as learning environments: An exploratory study of beliefs, practices, and barriers. Environmental Education Research, 20(6), 735– 752. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2013.833596

Ghafouri, F. (2014). Close encounters with nature in an urban kindergarten: A study of learners’ inquiry and experience. Education 3-13, 42(1), 54–76. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004279.2011.642400

Gill, T. (2014). The benefits of children’s engagement with nature: A systematic literature review. Children, Youth and Environment, 24(2), 10–34.

Gillespie, L., & Petersen, S. (2012). Rituals and routines: Supporting infants and toddlers and their families. Young Children, 67, 76–77.

Grey, A. (2004). The quality journey: Is there a leader at the helm? New Zealand Research in Early Childhood Education, 7(91), 91–102.

Gronn, P. (2000). Distributed properties: A new architecture for leadership. Educational Management and Administration, 28(3), 317–338. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263211X000283006

Harris, A. (2003). Teacher leadership as distributed leadership: Heresy, fantasy or possibility? School Leadership and Management, 23(3), 313–324. https://doi.org/10.1080/1363243032000112801

Harris, A. (2009) Distributed leadership: What we know. In Harris, A. (Ed.) Distributed Leadership. Studies in Educational Leadership, Vol 7 pp. 11-21. Dordrecht: Springer.

Ho, D. (2011). Identifying leadership roles for quality in early childhood education programmes. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 14(1), 47–59.

Kane, A., & Kane, J. (2011). Waldkindergarten in Germany. Green Teacher, 94, 16–19.

Katz, L., & Chard, S. C. (2000). Engaging children’s minds: The project approach. Retrieved from https://books. google.co.nz

Kelly, J., & White, E. J. (2013). The Ngahere Project: Teaching and learning possibilities in nature settings. Retrieved from http://www.waikato.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/146176/Ngahereproject_3-2013-03-14.pdf

Knight, S. (2013). Forest school and outdoor learning in the early years. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Komives, S. R., Lucas, N., & McMahon, T. R. (2007). Exploring leadership (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Leithwood, K., Jantzi, D., & McElheron-Hopkins, C. (2006). The development and testing of a school improvement model. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 17(4), 441–464. https://doi.


Louv, R. (2010). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder (Rev. ed.). London:


MacEachren, Z. (2013). The Canadian forest school movement. Learning Landscapes, 7(1), 219–233.

Menter, I., Ellito, D., Hulme, M., Lewin, J., & Lovden, K. (2011). A guide to practitioner research in education. London: Sage.

Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whāriki. He whāriki matauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa. Early childhood curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.

Ministry of Education. (2017). Te Whāriki. He whāriki matauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa. Early childhood curriculum. Retrieved from www.education.govt.nz

Mitchell, A. (1997). Reflections on early childhood leadership development: Finding your own path. In S. Kagan & B. Bowman (Eds.), Leadership in early care and education. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

O’Brien, L. (2009). Learning outdoors: The forest school approach. Education 3-13, 37(1), 45–60. https://doi. org/10.1080/03004270802291798

Prince, C. (2010). Sowing the seeds: Education for sustainability within the early years curriculum. European

Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 18(3), 423–434. https://doi.org/10.1080/135029 3X.2010.500082

Rodd, J. (1997). Learning to be leaders: Perceptions of early childhood professionals about leadership roles and responsibilities. Early Years, 18(1), 40–44. https://doi.org/10.1080/0957514970180108

Rodd, J. (2001). Building leadership expertise of future early childhood professionals. Journal of Early Childhood

Teacher Education, 22(1), 9–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/10901027.2001.10486430

Rodd, J. (2006). Leadership in early childhood (3rd ed). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Scrivens, C. (2002). Constructions of leadership: Does gender make a difference? Perspectives from an English

speaking country. In V. Nivala & E. Hujala (Eds.), Leadership in early childhood education (pp. 25– 32). Retrieved from http://jultika.oulu.fi/files/isbn9514268539.pdf

Spillane, J. P. (2005). Distributed leadership. The Educational Forum, 69(2), 143–150. https://doi. org/10.1080/00131720508984678

Spillane, J. P., Halverson, R., & Diamond, J. B. (2001). Investigating school leadership practice: A distributed perspective. Educational Researcher, 30(3), 23–28. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org

Thornton, K. (2005). Courage, commitment and collaboration: Notions of leadership in the New Zealand ECE “Centres of Innovation”.  Retrieved from http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz

Thornton, K. (2013). Notions of leadership in the New Zealand ECE Centres of Innovation programme. The New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 15. Retrieved from https://ojs.victoria.ac.nz

Thornton, K., Wansbrough, D., Clarkin-Phillips, J., Aitken, H., & Tamati, A. (2009). Conceptualising leadership in early childhood education in Aotearoa New Zealand. Retrieved from http://researchcommons.


Uhl-Bien, M. (2006). Relational leadership theory: Exploring the social processes of leadership and organizing. The Leadership Quarterly, 17(6), 654–676. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2006.10.007

University of Waikato. (2017). Ethical conduct in human research and related activities regulations. Retrieved from http://calendar.waikato.ac.nz/assessment/ethicalConduct.html

Warden, C. (2012). Nature kindergartens and forest schools: An exploration of naturalistic learning within nature kindergartens and forest schools. Perthshire: Mindstretches.

Wastney, M. (2016). Free-range kids: Bush kindergartens in the early childhood education setting. New Zealand Education Gazette: Gazette Focus Early Childhood, (2), 1–3.