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Early childhood centre directors coping with stress: firefighters and oracles

Elsa Kristiansen (School of Business, University of South-Eastern Norway – Campus Drammen, Drammen, Norway)
Kristin Rydjord Tholin (Faculty of Humanities, Sports and Educational Science, University of South-Eastern Norway – Campus Vestfold, Tønsberg, Norway)
Marit Bøe (Faculty of Humanities, Sports and Educational Science, University of South-Eastern Norway – Campus Notodden, Notodden, Norway)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Article publication date: 5 April 2021

Issue publication date: 6 May 2021




Early childhood education (ECE) centre directors have to meet various leadership demands at present, and this has become even more important in a time of extensive policy changes. There is little research on work-related stress from the perspective of ECE directors. The purpose of this study was therefore to enhance one’s knowledge of (a) what ECE centre directors perceive to be work-related stressors; (b) what causes stressful situations; and (c) how they cope with the identified stressors.


Eighty directors from three groups in part-time leadership education programmes participated between 2017 and 2020. Data was collected through class discussions and whiteboard notes, focus group interviews with 24 directors and student role-play scenarios that were acted out in class.


The findings illustrated three main categories of stressors: an overwhelming number of administrative tasks, leading others and lack of social support. Unexpected findings were a lack of knowledge about coping strategies and a need for more resources so that directors can focus on pedagogical leadership.

Research limitations/implications

The study has been done in the Norwegian educational context with Norwegian ECE centre directors participating in a leadership programme. Several qualitative methods were used on three groups of centre directors. These limitations must be considered when generalizing.

Practical implications

The results can be used as guidance for supporting ECE centre directors, owners and policymakers in how to develop and sustain leadership and increase well-being and work satisfaction.


The current study is among the few ones focussing on perceived stressors among centre directors and the consequent coping in the early childhood setting.



The authors would like to thank Dr. Gerda Wever for her help with the proofreading of this article, and also the valuable input from anonymous reviewers.


Kristiansen, E., Rydjord Tholin, K. and Bøe, M. (2021), "Early childhood centre directors coping with stress: firefighters and oracles", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 35 No. 4, pp. 909-921.



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