If you are the director or supervisor of an early childhood center, school, program, or organization, undoubtedly you have had to address performance issues within your team. This is one of the most stressful parts of the job, and I hope what I’ve learned will be helpful to you.
After the job expectations for your organization have been set and communicated in several ways to the entire team, the rest becomes a pattern of supervision. And this supervision is critical to your organization’s performance.
Everyone needs to know that someone (the director or supervisor) is observing their performance and will offer feedback in a timely way. This observation-feedback cycle is simply a part of staff development. To be effective, it must happen frequently. This a how a professional relationship grows and deepens—and how you motivate your teams to bring their best to work each day.
Feedback then—constructive feedback—is information-specific; issue-focused; and based on observation—your own observations.
Here are some guidelines:
Content is what you say: In your first sentence, identify the topic or issue that the feedback will be about. Then, provide the specifics that occurred. “I have noticed …” “I observed …” helps to focus the issue and gets right into the specifics.
Manner is how you say it: How you deliver the feedback sometimes carries more weight than what you say. Tones of anger, frustration, or sarcasm tend to color the language of the message, and turn negative feedback into criticism. The content gets lost. The flip side of this is also true. Apologizing, uncertainty on your end, an indirect approach and, worst of all, hugging or touching if the person becomes emotional all create contradiction and mixed messages—and cause the content to be lost. People leave the meeting not knowing where you, or they, stand—and the process fails.
When providing feedback, ask your teachers if they understand everything you expect. You can then get into specifics and clarify if needed. Bottom line is that a comfortable give-and-take conversation should take place. Most importantly, tell your people that yes, they will be evaluated, but you are there to help them succeed. Not do their work for them, but help them do their own work well. Be sincere. Sincerity says that you mean what you say with care and respect. You can be kind, sincere, caring—and direct—all at the same time.
Timing: When do you give feedback for a performance worth acknowledging? Positive feedback? ASAP—as soon as possible! In real time; as close to when the incident occurs, so that the event and details are fresh in both minds. Giving negative feedback can have a different timeline. ASAR—as soon as reasonable/ready! Sometimes, emotions need to settle down, and you need to get your thoughts in order so that your manner displays a tone of concern as well as support. Tomorrow, rather than right now, is often appropriate.
Frequency: How often should your staff (teachers and supervisors) receive feedback on their performance? This is really important! It makes all of the other guidelines work. Please don’t acknowledge performance only once or twice a year. People want to know how they are doing—along the way. Giving feedback more frequently allows you and your team to get things back on track before they have de-railed. As well, giving feedback more frequently sets a professional pattern in motion that both teachers and you begin to look forward to. The conversations are helpful, and simply part of your professional growth.
Keep notes on the feedback you give. They help you track the direction of performance—whether there is improvement, or not. And you quickly see what you, as supervisor, must do next. Most often, performance improves. If not, it is time to raise the stakes with a verbal warning, then a written warning, then probation, and finally, if no improvement, termination. These are difficult steps to take, but sometimes they are the necessary steps to take. Perhaps another blog post…
In my book, Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center, I share the specific and very detailed job expectations and competencies for teacher performance—as well as when, how, and why you introduce them to your teachers,—because these expectations are the basis for everything we do. Having clearly written expectations for everyone on my teams worked well throughout my career. Take a look at them. And, if they resonate with you, use them! I am pleased to share.
Check out, Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, at Amazon.com.