Leaders need support, too: Collaborative clusters' potential role in supporting ‘emotion work'




In her post, Carla Solvason tells us about demands and pressures of early years leaders and suggests how, according to her research, those in leadership positions could be supported when faced with those difficult challenges.

Just recently my colleagues and I published a paper which focused upon the ‘emotion work’ of early childhood practice (Solvason, Hodgkins and Watson, 2021). This paper was written before the even more excessive emotional drain brought about by the current pandemic. The extra demands that caring places upon early childhood educators is often overlooked, or, worse still, disparaged as something that makes early childhood practitioners something ‘less than’ (Nutbrown, 2013), when in fact it only adds to the proficiency of this extremely complex role. Early years practitioners are, as Webb and I argue in the book that we are currently editing, to anyone who has at least a glimmer of understanding of this role, so much ‘more than’.
What I argue in the paper that I will be presenting at BECERA 2021, is: if we know that educational leadership, in the sense of constantly giving and supporting others is emotionally exhausting (Solvason and Kington, 2019) and we know that early years practice is based around consistent care and selflessness, then what can be done to support early years leaders in their doubly demanding role?
In my research with the head teachers of primary schools (Solvason and Kington, 2020, 2019 and Solvason 2020) I listened to their perception of the wide-ranging benefits that collaborative leadership clusters could provide in terms of providing a secure arena to ‘offload’, a space to reflect and a safety net when faced with difficult challenges. In my conversations with maintained nursery school leaders (Solvason, Webb and Sutton-Tsang, 2020 a, and 2020b) I discovered individuals that were all things to all people, a constant source of support to others, and wondered how they could possibly retain their positivity.
Therefore, in my presentation I argue that the sense of ‘ubuntu’, or the belief that the success or failure of one is the responsibility of all, that emerged through the school leadership collaborations research (Solvason and Kington, 2019), raises a strong argument for collaborative leadership clusters to be more widely introduced across early years settings. Because, as well as open discussion with peers who understand your context being “cathartic” and a helpful way to “maintain perspective”, something as simple as “knowing that other people are gunning for you” (ibid) is invaluable in the extreme demands of our current educational climate.
Please visit my presentation (or further publications) to discover, through the voices of the leaders themselves, the many benefits to be gained through an open and trusting relationship with peers who fully understand your context and share your values.


Carla Solvason is a Senior Lecturer at University of Worcester and will present her latest research in Symposium 2 on 16th February, at 15:30.



Nutbrown, C. (2013) Shaking the Foundations of Quality? Why ‘childcare’ policy must not lead to poor-quality early education and care.
Solvason, C. (2020) ‘Building a positive community culture: the role leader collaborations across primary schools can play in developing community cohesion’ in Blackmore, K. and Kington, A., eds. Developing social and learning relationships in primary schools, London: Bloomsbury.
Solvason, C., Hodgkins, A. & Watson N. (2021) Preparing students for the ‘emotion work’ of early years practice. NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 23(1), pp. 14 – 23.
Solvason and Kington (2020) How subject leader collaborations across schools can act as a source of personal and curriculum development, Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, Volume 22, Numbers 1 & 2, 2020
Solvason, C. and Kington, A. (2019) "Collaborations: providing emotional support to senior leaders", Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 1-14.
Solvason, C., Webb, R. and Sutton-Tsang, S. (2020) Evidencing the effects of maintained nursery schools' roles in Early Years sector improvements. Available at
Solvason, Webb and Tsang (2020) What is left…?: The Implications of Losing Maintained Nursery Schools for Vulnerable Children and Families in England, Children and Society, open access:


You are here Leaders need support, too: Collaborative clusters' potential role in supporting ‘emotion work'