“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
In my professional life, I believe, live, and observe that if I set high expectations for myself and those on my team, we will rise to the challenge and meet or exceed those expectations.
Nowhere has this been more evident than working with the staffs of the many child care centers I have directed, and the early childhood programs with which I have consulted.
The lessons I learned growing up in a family with a strong work ethic, values, and a solid belief system naturally carried through to every facet of my life. So, when I began building teams and programs, and moved into leadership roles, I had a way of being and working that many people in our early childhood field appreciated. As a result, together, we achieved extraordinary results!
I have high standards. I expect to do my best, and I expect others to do the same. I hold people accountable for their behaviors, actions, and performance. And, I recognize and reward those who exceed the expectations set.
In fact, those who exceed expectations are the best of the best on a team! They are respected and greatly appreciated, and are an enormous gift to their supervisors. Their numbers are small at first, but as they do their work at this higher level, others take notice and join them. And then, the performance of the team shifts to an even higher standard – the bar is raised. And, my experience is that people respond and meet this higher expectation. And, so it goes.
During this process of setting the standard, the expectation, and working together as a team, I have learned much. How does one cultivate a climate where people consistently do their best? And, what is our role in this?
To other directors or leaders of educational programs, I offer the following:
Put People First
Ours is a people-centered profession – period! Our most important work is about the people, so make them the priority. When people know they come first, they see themselves as worthy; they know they have something of value to add to the organization; they take ownership of their work; and, they begin to exceed expectations. And so, as a director or leader, when there is a choice between a routine paper task or a conversation, always choose the conversation. Make the time – it will speak volumes about your commitment to the people on your team. Remember, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
Inspire People to Focus on a Vision
There are many things in our work (e-mail and phone messages, assessments, regulations, paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork) that have the potential to derail our best intentions to motivate, inspire, and lead. We, as directors and leaders, need to stand firm, and remain focused on our original vision. And, to that end, cultivate a community of innovation; nurture the sense that more is possible; and feed the desire to be part of transforming how things are, into the possibilities that await.
Directors who see themselves as leaders, and not just supervisors or administrators, inspire people to focus on the vision. They expect people to contribute. That is, to come to the table with solutions to the problem; to introduce new ideas that (given a chance) might work; to share more effective ways of performing routine and procedural tasks; and, to exceed our wildest expectations!
Everyone on a team has something important to offer. The message from the top should be, “We need what you have, and we’ll support you to figure out what it is. We expect great things from you!”
Observe and Dialogue
Experienced teachers thrive when they receive consistent feedback about the great things they are doing that further the vision of the program. Not just “good job,” but rather an insightful observation of what is happening followed by a reflective exchange of thought. With less experienced teachers, this feedback could take the form of offering a tip, a technique, some guidance, or a strategy to try. And then, a reflective conversation. Whatever the interaction, this one-on-one should happen frequently.
Teachers will grow when we create a climate of expectation in which everyone participates in dialogue – our teachable moments, our delights, our ideas, our questions, and our thoughts – as we observe and work with children. The key here is for people to expect their supervisors to engage in regular dialogue with them. It will keep everyone on the team developing, reaching, stretching, and visibly more engaged in their work.
And, the result just might be tangible evidence of your vision! Expectations being met! Celebrate that it’s happening!