All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Book TitleOne of the most delightful and inspirational writers about life is Robert Fulghum. Google him and read some of his work. He writes with wit and wisdom about small lives with big meanings. As one person said, “within simplicity lies the sublime.” I guarantee his words will swim around in your mind – and begin this year, 2016, in a positive, uplifting way.

Enjoy this excerpt, then, from one of his most popular books, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, published in 1989.

“Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there, in the sandbox at preschool.

These are the things I learned.

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but, we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere –­ the Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation; ecology and politics and sane living.

Think what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap.

Or, if all governments had a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and clean up their own messes. And, it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”

We can so relate to all of this, can’t we?

And then, there are his beliefs – which are easily mine as well.

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”

Good stuff to reflect upon. Think about. Believe in.

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Training for Early Childhood Directors | 2 Comments

Plotting the Course …

Sunrise“How do you know when you’ve arrived, if you don’t know where you’re going?”

A good question, particularly for the one-in-charge – the director, the manager, the leader of the organization. But, unfortunately, a question not often asked. Sadly, many of us squander our precious time, energy, and resources spinning our wheels – just going through the motions of dealing with those things that demand our immediate attention. This will get us through the moment and perhaps the day, but there is no real feeling of satisfaction or accomplishment. We feel pushed and pulled in many directions, and no longer in control. Reactive! Playing defense!

There is another way.

Most leaders of successful organizations live six-to-twelve months down the road (at least in their planning heads). And have a vision of where they want to take their organizations. This destination is easily presented to everyone in the organization. But, the “how” will inevitably come up in the first conversation.

A roadmap is needed – one that sets goals and checkpoints along the way. In order to reach our destination, what do we need to know more about? Where do we want to go with this information, and why? And, how do we begin?

We begin with a vision of the end result. Then work backward, and then forward. (this approach may result from my left-handedness, but it has certainly worked for me over and over again!)

Let me explain. Visualize where you want to be – in a lot of detail. Really see the end result. What will you need to get you there in the way of materials, time, and resources (people and money)? What information and/or training needs to be provided? What logistics might be involved? Can the project be accomplished in phases? Can you realistically reach this destination in a year? Every question you can ask (and be able to answer) will better prepare you for the presentation with your staff. You will feel confident and so will they. The leader will be leading!

Once you have your end result, you can begin to work backward to come up with a timeline, tasks, and a logical order for both (this must be done before that can happen).

Now, walk through your plan from start to finish and see if it makes sense. Tweak where necessary. And remember, this is a roadmap. Detours can occur or you might want to spend more time on the unexpected dirt road you bump into along the way. It’s your vision. It’s your course. Just, keep your eye on the destination, always moving toward it.

And, when you arrive, as a team, celebrate the accomplishment! It is a sweet moment for everyone involved.

Your roadmap, as the visionary, will be involved, complex, and multi-faceted – probably a monstrous flow-chart of tasks, assignments, and delegation. In other words, numerous goals.

As you move down in your organization, the goals will be fewer, simpler, and more straightforward. But, incredibly important in moving your vision forward.

A few words about creating and writing the goals – they should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timed. They should also be significant – important enough to make a difference. They should be connected to the larger goals of the organization, and easily recognized as such. They should be clearly worded, and they should be limited to only a few.

An example:

From the vision for our early childhood program, came this question: How to Make Learning Visible? In response, this became one of the teacher goals – “To document three classroom activities by the end of the school year, using photos showing work in progress, transcriptions of children’s comments, and an explanation of the intent about the activity.” This one SMART goal clearly set the expectation for our teachers to accomplish.

A meeting, then, with each team member to launch individual goals sets the appropriate expectation,  and communicates the importance of accomplishing what has been written and agreed upon. These are goals within larger goals for the entire operation – and one’s completion hinges upon the others.

Once written down, these goals become part of the employee development plan – the basis for the performance management plan as well.

Periodic checkpoints are also in order – brief meetings to gauge progress, motivate when needed, or rethink the original plan in light of new information.

At the beginning of the year, I share these three: The Importance of Professionalism, A Shared Vision, and Our Goals. Setting annual goals that build on what we have already accomplished moves us ever closer to our shared vision, and brings a continuity to our work and to the environment in our workplace. We have all been involved on some level – we’re all contributors – and, at the end, when we have accomplished what we set out to do, we all share in the successes. Job well done!

If you haven’t yet begun this practice of setting goals (both professionally and personally), I invite you to consider the possibilities.

And, if you haven’t read my Beginnings, Professionalism, and Shared Vision blog posts (September 2015, October 2015, and November 2015), I invite you to do so, to understand how these three topics fit together to set your expectations for your school.

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Training for Early Childhood Directors | Leave a comment

Beginnings – A Shared Vision …

A good question to reflect upon at the beginning of each school year is this: What is important to us in our work with young children, their families, and one another?

Because, ultimately, shouldn’t we see evidence of what matters, what is important – in the child care center, and in each classroom? Shouldn’t the words in our philosophy, our mission statement, our goals, come to life? Shouldn’t we see, hear, and feel the reality of our conceptual thoughts and ideas?

Yes! Yes! And, yes!

Years ago, our child care center sought to connect the dots, so that everyone involved in our program would be able to articulate our philosophy – our shared vision for our early childhood program. Additionally, we wanted everyone to be able to explain the reason behind curriculum projects, the ideas behind our displays and documentation, why we placed furniture as we did, why we had certain materials available in our classrooms, and why we chose the experiences we offered to children.

“We Believe In …” was the document that connected the dots for us. This was a team project that involved great effort to develop, but yielded even greater benefit for us year after year. It became our guide for designing our environment, and a reminder to remain true to our original intent.

From our philosophy …

“Our child care center is an environmentally-based program for care and learning. We believe the two are inseparable. We assume that children learn from the entire experience the day provides. The way time and space are structured, the furnishings, the equipment and materials, and all the ways adults and children behave, “teach” the child what the world is like, how it works, and the child’s place in it.”

And so, we discussed and agreed that we believed in …

  • respect
  • inclusion and diversity
  • community
  • communication
  • thoughtful classroom design
  • homelike environments
  • beauty
  • light
  • prepared environments
  • organization of materials
  • specific materials in every classroom
  • a sensory-based environment
  • child-centered emergent curriculum
  • provocation
  • documentation
  • intentionality in all we do

… to begin with.

Beneath each topic, we listed several ways to visually bring this to life – to see concrete evidence of our beliefs – in the people, in the environments, and in the programs for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners at our child care center.

An example:

We Believe in Beauty. Therefore we:

  • Provide walls, furniture, and materials that are clean and in good repair. Materials should be complete and in good repair, so as not to change their appearance.
  • Provide aesthetically pleasing environments, including:
  • Beautiful objects from nature and home.
  • Balance of color and texture.
  • Well-presented and thoughtfully hung pictures on the walls that reflect children, their work, and their families.
  • The avoidance of commercial designs and objects.
  • A thoughtful and balanced use of color. Soft colors, earth tones, and natural colors predominate. Bright colors are used for accents. Natural wood is preferred.
  • A consideration of how things will look from the outside when we hang things on the windows.

We did this with each belief, and developed a detailed guide for designing our spaces in the child care center. Teachers worked within this framework as they added their own personalities, talents, and interests to their classrooms. The clear guidelines allowed our eighteen classrooms to come together. They were all parts of the whole. They were unique, yet, connected to one another. The essence of our philosophy ran through the entire facility and was felt by everyone!

I offer this for your consideration if you desire making changes to your schools, especially if your program feels disconnected, overwhelming, or somehow not working as well as you would like. Establishing a shared vision is a great way to begin the change process!

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Training for Early Childhood Directors | 1 Comment

Professionalism …

SunriseContinuing from last month’s blog – Each year, required reading for my teams of early childhood teachers and supervisors was an article by M. Parker Anderson entitled, “Professionalism: The Missing Ingredient for Excellence in the Workplace.” It was required because, after years of living, working on this planet, and interacting with thousands, I agreed with Ms. Anderson’s assessment that, “professionalism is missing and unaccounted for” in so many places of work.

What has happened to our work force, our self-image, our civility to one another, our work ethic? It seems pervasive enough to say that we have lost our way a bit – when working with others, working for others, or simply working.

Somewhere along the road, doing one’s best has taken a hit. There is a mediocrity, a doing-just-enough-to-get-by attitude, even a cynicism that is far from the standard of excellence many of us desire for our businesses, our teams, our customers, and even ourselves.

Having said that, there are those who do exemplify the highest work standards, ethics, and values – and whose achievement and success tells the tale. There are those who are professional in their interactions with others, who do their best in each situation, on each project, and who feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at the end of the day.

So, how is it that some places of work foster professionalism? Who holds the key to setting the tone, creating the climate?

When there is professionalism at work, you feel it! Trust and confidence come through in professional interactions. Long-lasting positive feelings toward staff members, toward the environment, toward the organization, and toward the services provided by the organization are established. Relationships are easily built among all constituencies. People feel taken care of.

What are some of the factors that contribute to professionalism? And, what can be done to move toward creating a more professional climate in your organization? It is certainly more than just the way you speak, act, or behave.

You dress to work. What you wear, and how you present yourself can be comfortable and stylish, but it must communicate that you are ready, focused, and prepared for whatever might come your way during the work day. What message do you send?

Your attitude is positive, courteous, and pleasant. You come to work ready to learn and do, and are motivated by a strong sense of individual and group purpose. You have energy, are interested in what you’re doing, and bring a sense of joy to your work.

You know your own skills and abilities. And, you strive to know as much as you can about your career field, and your work within it. There is a thirst for knowledge, and a desire to get better at what you do. And, a never-ending quest to find new information, and then share it with others. You continue to grow and remain energized.

You are also motivated to initiate new ideas, propose new procedures, and find solutions to challenges and problems. The bottom line is that a professional does whatever is needed to get the job done, and to get it done well!

A professional always adds that something extra, goes that additional mile, and exceeds expectations.

And finally, professionalism requires personal responsibility and accountability. Personal responsibility means arriving on time, meeting deadlines, performing complete and accurate work, returning calls and relaying messages in a timely fashion, and following through on required tasks. And, if things don’t go according to plan, the buck stops with you – you fix it! Professionalism means displaying honesty, integrity, respect, and dignity in dealing with all people.

And, yes, ultimately, the professional hears the compliments, receives the accolades, and is known and recognized as possessing that elusive, but oh so important element, professionalism. I believe, an element worth striving for!

I invite you to look at yourself, your team, and your organization, particularly at this beginning of the school year.  What tone are you setting? Is professionalism a “missing ingredient” in your program? Or, is it alive and well, and recognized as soon as someone walks through the front door?

Food for thought …

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Training for Early Childhood Directors | 3 Comments

Beginnings …

Five years ago I wrote this blog post to share the thoughts I focused on every September – the beginning of the school year. I’ve tweaked the post slightly, but the message is a September message for all leaders, directors, and teachers. So, I am re-posting “Beginnings,” and I hope you enjoy it the second time around!

A new day! A new start! A new school year!

As Director of several Early Childhood programs, I always loved beginnings. They gave me the opportunity to start over again every single year.

What a gift!  To start fresh – to take what I learned from the previous year and add it to my practice. To remember those things that went especially well, and keep them in this year’s repertoire. And, yes, to reflect upon those things that didn’t go as well as I had planned (Should I, this year, drop these ideas altogether, or figure out what might work better?).

This was definitely the reflective part of my professional life – I thought about everything that had gotten me to this point; I jotted down new ideas as they came to me; and I began to shape the year ahead. Someone once said (and I’m paraphrasing here) – How will you know when you’ve arrived, if you don’t know where you’re going?

As I saw it, that was my job as the leader of the program, school, organization – to set the course. And, the best part of beginning is that I could reset it annually.

What I learned is that how I began each school year, each training session, each presentation, each meeting, set the tone for what was to come, and the expectations that we were all to meet or exceed. It was that important!

As the leader, I had my eye on quality and the highest standards – for me, personally, for my team of teachers, and for the organization. My dad used to say, “It’s not worth doing, if you don’t do it well.” So very true – and, you know, it just feels better to do it well!

I also learned that people will rise to the challenge – if it is clearly articulated, and the expectations set. So, I set my sights high, and my teams rose to the occasion!

To this end – to set the appropriate tone, and to move forward together, I focused on three things at the beginning of each school year.

I’ll mention them briefly in this post, but will write about each in more depth and detail throughout the fall months:

A Way of Being

I believe there is an appropriate way to work – with children, with families, and with one another. And I believe it is critical to our credibility as professionals, and to our commitment to quality. People use the word “professionalism” all the time, but I’m not sure we always display it at work. It is so much more than the way we speak and act.

At each beginning of the school year, I shared this important way of being with my teams to set the expectation. I have a well-written article on this very topic that I will share with you. Lots to think about, and perhaps discuss virtually.

A Shared Vision

Years ago, members of my team wrote a beautiful document that outlined everything we thought to be important in our work with children, families, and one another; how we would design our environments; and what our infant, toddler, preschool, and kindergarten programs would include.

At each beginning of the school year I used this guide to be sure we were on track. I will share some excerpts from “We Believe In …” to give you an idea of how we put our values to paper to shape our philosophy and vision for our program. It takes work to create such a document, but we used it over and over again as a training tool – definitely worth the effort.

Plotting the Course

As part of every beginning, I provided a roadmap for us to follow during the year – in the way of goals. What did we want and need to accomplish this year – as individuals, as a team, and as an organization? Sharing these goals, and the plan for accomplishing them, got us focused immediately and moving in the same direction. It also set the expectations from the start.

In another upcoming post, I’ll share with you the who, what, why, and how of our goal setting process.

I look forward to your comments, feedback, ideas, and thoughts. In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of your school year.

Next month, a little more about Professionalism …

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Training for Early Childhood Directors | Leave a comment

Strategic Planning …

It has been said that there are three types of early childhood directors: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. To make things happen, a director must have a strategic plan.

Strategic planning is the process of developing and maintaining a strategic fit between the organization and its changing marketing opportunities. It relies on developing a clear company mission, objectives, and goals.

In our world, planning and marketing our programs and services go hand-in-hand.

An organization’s performance in the marketplace – essentially, whether our program is the program of choice in our town – depends on our program’s ability to capitalize on opportunities presented within our environment.

The ideal organization reflects upon, and analyzes its performance – assessing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. What is our business? Who are our customers? What is our value to our customers? What will our business be? What should our business be? It then sets appropriate objectives; develops a strategy, and builds a framework to achieve these objectives; and designs management systems to support the organization’s ability to carry out its strategic plan.

Without a strategic plan, management spins its wheels and nothing gets done! The bar is never raised because we practice crisis management – reacting to whatever is presented to us in the moment. I propose, and offer for your consideration, a more pro-active approach to leading, directing, and managing an early childhood program. I advocate taking charge of situations and turning them into opportunities. I advocate controlling the destiny of our early childhood programs.

I advocate planning strategically every year – to be on the leading edge of our field, of the marketplace, and of hiring and enrolling.

Many of us do the same things year after year – and wonder why we can’t find skilled teachers or why our enrollment is down.

In this present environment, where many schools and programs (public and private) are vying for the same teaching candidates, as well as the same pre-school- age children, doesn’t it make sense to become the sought-after early childhood program?

Doesn’t it make sense to think about who we are now, and who we would like to be – and develop a plan to work toward that objective? Doesn’t it make sense to utilize strategic planning to become that program-of-choice?

Are you the director who makes things happen? If you are not, why not?

In my consulting, mentoring, and coaching practice with the leaders of children’s centers, I have worked with several early childhood directors, and created a strategic plan for their program/school. They became energized; they set clear goals and expectations; and they raised the bar. They took control of their destiny – and the results have been extremely positive!

If you would like more information about the strategic planning process, and how it might work for your program, contact me at I look forward to sharing with you what I have learned and experienced.

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Training for Early Childhood Directors | Leave a comment

Places of Delight and Wonder …

JHCCC Lobby AreaWe become attached to spaces that charm, delight, or move us. What brings this on? – a certain slant of light; an intriguing staircase; an alcove; the feel of smooth wood; or, unexpected beauty or form. Children have, or can acquire, more taste than we expect.” – Jim Greenman

When I worked with Jim many years ago – as we brainstormed about the environment at my new children’s center in Boston – he said this very thing!

As I unpacked boxes of furnishings, Jim went shopping – to museum gift shops and unique, interesting, one-of-a-kind boutiques. And when I could not unpack another carton, Jim would arrive with shopping bags filled with objects that would delight and intrigue both children and adults alike!

As we unpacked the baby dinosaur emerging from its shell; or the life-size puppet adorned in beautiful clothing and accessories; or the brightly colored kites in varying shapes and sizes; the paintings and artwork from the masters; and the many realistic animals, insects, and fish that would find homes in our environment, I realized that these were not the toys of most children’s centers. These were works of art, sculptures, and objects, beautifully crafted, and meant to be appreciated and cared for (with gentle hands). Jim introduced our children to a world of beauty, color, and form.

Presentation of these art forms would require some thought – and a lot of experimentation! I confess – I love arranging furniture, pulling all of the elements together, and creating environments that charm, delight, and move ME! I come to all of this naturally, so when I began working in the early childhood field, I spent countless hours preparing my classroom environments for the children. I couldn’t wait for them to come upon a newly designed, or unique corner, nook, alcove – and to discover all that awaited them. The children never disappointed me – they found everything I had created and set out for them and for their pleasure. And it became a source of anticipation on Monday mornings – what will ‘Miss Marcia’ have hidden, found, changed, or brought us this week?

My teams took all of this a step further. They created special spaces for children by turning furniture upside down and furnishing this new space with softness and a pastel palate of color. They turned teacher spaces into little nooks for children to sit and contemplate, or to just get away from the activity of the classroom – always equipped with an interesting item or two that piqued their curiosity. We had a garden of plants and flowers, a stone path to follow, and a small waterfall – all beneath the main staircase of our children’s center. We added a stone bench and it became a peaceful, sensory hideaway.

Once we started brainstorming, there was no stopping us – our teams created many unique spaces for our young children! We thought about light entering our spaces and what to add to create magic (shadows, reflections, colors) on the carpeting or tile floor. We thought about plants, and how they could cascade artfully from a shelf. We thought about ways we could creatively present materials to the children – so they would discover, engage, enjoy, and create from. And, we had great fun thinking about these things!

So, this summer, as you begin to plan the changes you’d like to make in your classroom, keep in mind spaces that charm, delight, or move you. Keep in mind the unexpected pleasures that children might come upon on the way to your classroom, just outside it, or within.

Look at what you already have with new eyes – turn furniture around, upside down, on its side – and see what you create.

Go shopping – in gardening stores, hardware stores, home goods stores, kitchen and cookware stores, and museum shops – to find interesting, delightfully unique items for the children. Look for wood and natural materials, beautifully crafted, realistic, whimsical, open-ended items that children do love, appreciate, and thoroughly enjoy. Introduce your children to a world of beauty, color, and form.

Places of delight and wonder invite and beckon young children to come in and take a look. And, it is this combination of anticipation, apprehension and, ultimately, joy at finding the treasures awaiting them, that creates the magic for young children.

And, what a treat it is for us, as adults, to experience this magic every day through the children.

My best to you as you begin thinking about the new school year. What delight and wonder might you create for those in your care? Hmmm …

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, John Hancock Child Care Center, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Training for Early Childhood Directors | 1 Comment

Just Playing …

boy raises his hand to the house from wooden cubes

I came across this poem in my files – and thought it needed to be shared. Some things in life are timeless – they never age or go out of fashion. And this poem certainly still captures the value of play in the life of a child. Enjoy, and pass it on!


When I am building in the block room,
please don’t say I’m “just playing.”
For, you see, I’m learning as I play:
about balances and shapes.
When I’m getting all dressed up,
setting the table, caring for the babies,
don’t get the idea I’m “just playing.”
For, you see, I’m learning as I play:
I may be a Father or a Mother someday.
When you see me up to my elbows in paint,
standing at the easel, or molding and shaping clay,
please don’t let me hear you say, he’s “just playing.”
For, you see, I’m learning as I play:
I’m expressing myself and being creative.
I may be an artist or an inventor someday.
When you see me sitting in a chair
reading to an imaginary audience,
please don’t laugh and think I’m “just playing.”
For, you see, I’m learning as I play:
I may be a teacher someday.
When you see me combing the bushes for bugs,
or packing my pockets with things to find,
don’t pass it off as “just play.”
For, you see, I’m learning as I play:
I may be a scientist one day.
When you see me engrossed in a puzzle,
or some plaything at school,
please don’t feel my time is wasted in play.
For, you see, I’m learning as I play:
I’m learning how to solve problems and concentrate,
I may be in business someday.
When you see me cooking or tasting foods,
please don’t think that just because I enjoy it, it is “just play.”
I’m learning to follow directions and see differences.
I may be a chef someday.
When you see me learning to skip rope, hop, run, and move my body,
please don’t say I’m “just playing.”
For, you see I’m learning as I play:
I’m learning how my body works.
I may be a doctor, nurse, or athlete someday.
When you ask what I’ve done at school today,
and I say, “I just played.”
Please don’t misunderstand me.
For, you see, I’m learning as I play:
I‘m learning to enjoy and be successful in my work.
I’m preparing for tomorrow.
Today, though, I’m a child, and my work IS my play.

Author Unknown

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Training for Early Childhood Directors | Leave a comment

The Effective Director …

Leadership chartIn order to open and then manage a child care center, conventional wisdom says that the director must be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, and clean.

Conventional wisdom also says that the director should be a good planner, evaluator, decision maker, problem solver, conflict resolver, budget keeper, motivator, communicator, trainer, advocate, and, when the need arises, plumber.

But the most effective directors I have known have other intangible strengths as well. And, they are the true leaders of their programs.

Leaders are masters of inspiring hope. Each day in the life of a child care center, hassles occur that can discourage even the hardiest among us. When frustrations build to the tipping point, it would be very easy for the staff to throw in the towel, to stop caring about doing a good job. When staff morale hits an all-time low, the organization needs a true believer. Effective directors put things into perspective; see the silver lining; the light at the end of the tunnel; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They are the bearers of the torch, the defenders of the faith, and the dealers of hope.

Leaders keep an element of surprise up their sleeves – which keeps the organization engaged and moving forward. Effective directors keep people on their toes, not by surprising them with constant changes of direction, but by challenging them to think about what they are doing. True leaders stimulate people, not by the answers they give, but by the questions they ask. Effective directors are masters at asking questions that make people think!

  • Are the children really happy at our center?
  • Are we focusing on goals that really matter?
  • Are we achieving these goals?
  • Are we using all of our skills and talents?
  • Are we trying to do too much? Too little?
  • Are we too orderly? Too chaotic?

Leaders save themselves for the big decisions. Effective directors say to their staff, “Feel free to come to me with your problems, but only after you have exhausted all your resources.” They support the growth of staff members by forcing them to dig deeply for solutions, by encouraging them to take risks, and by reassuring them when they make mistakes. Effective directors challenge staff to solve their own problems, but guarantee that they will not fail. If staff exhaust their own resources, directors will do all they can to help them succeed. Effective directors provide a safety net, not a crutch.

Leaders have a sense of humor. Effective directors set the tone for their child care centers. If their programs are to be successful, they need to use their sense of purpose to keep staff focused, and they need to use their sense of humor to instill staff with joy and spirit. When things seem to be falling apart, a sense of humor and a light touch from an effective director works wonders! One thing I have noticed in the really top early childhood programs I have visited is that staff members truly enjoy their work. Not only are they crafting a stimulating and nurturing environment for children, but they are also having a great time in the process. These staff members enjoy working with one another, interacting with parents, and, yes, at times, teasing their directors. There is a balance of work and play in these programs. Magical!

And finally, leaders don’t rest on their laurels. Effective directors know that their successes can be fleeting and that they must bring their best to work each day to maintain what has been accomplished, and to challenge themselves and their teams to continue to raise the bar. This push for excellence is in the DNA of effective leaders. As one challenge is met, another goal is set. Ever onward and upward! For effective directors, the joy is not in getting the job done, but in the deep satisfaction of knowing that they gave it their all – and made positive differences in the lives of many, many, along the way.


Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Training for Early Childhood Directors | 2 Comments

Spring Cleaning …

crocuses in snowHappy Spring!

Each year I look forward to the first day of spring – longer daylight, peepers, tree frogs and, yes, spring cleaning!

Part of my spring cleaning ritual has always included reflecting on my work, and taking stock. Spring is my time for tossing out what doesn’t fit or work anymore, and thinking about what I might add instead. Reassessing my career goals, my long-range purpose in life, always gives me the big-picture view. From that vantage point, I can then add the details that will take me there.

As directors and leaders of early childhood programs, we entered our field with a profound sense of purpose – to craft an exemplary program; to make a difference in the lives of children; and to build a successful business. Often, as the years go by, we can begin to lose sight of our original goal. We can become consumed with the day-to-day hassles, the minutiae, so much so that survival seems our only course. We are, as they say, “in the weeds.” The big-picture has been lost to micro-management.

That’s why it is helpful to periodically step back and reassess where we are heading. Spring is my time for reflection.

If my earlier goals no longer seem realistic or important, what should I do with the rest of my life? Where do I picture myself in the next five years? What do I need to do to get there? Can I do this in my current position?

Make yourself unique. Work to acquire a set of skills and talents that no one else has – things that interest and excite you, and might become your next “work.” The more we can reinvent ourselves in our lifetime, the more options we will have – and the more successes we will enjoy.

Sometimes, reflection will reveal to us that we want to stay on as the leaders of our programs. But, we need to make some changes in how we do our work. We need to do some spring cleaning in order to get ourselves back to our original sense of purpose.

Here are some thoughts for you to consider:

Overhaul your workday. Take a close look at how your time is allocated. How often are you called upon to use your strongest professional skills? How much of your time is spent handling mundane clerical or administrative tasks that could easily be handled by a lesser-trained person? How much of your time is devoted to evaluation, development, or innovation? How much of it is consumed by maintenance activities and putting out fires? How much of your time is deliberately planned by you, as opposed to being controlled by others through phone calls and drop-in visits?

What would your ideal workday look like? How much time would you spend on professional reading and writing? How much time would you allocate to talking with your staff? When would you arrive and leave each day? How would you put your peak performance times to their best use? Sometimes it helps to keep a log for a few days to get the true picture of how your day is spent. Reading the log is usually eye opening. It generally provides some “aha” moments. And, it is a good first step in making thoughtful changes.

Focus on one of the big tasks on your To Do List – the one that has been on your list forever and keeps getting pushed to “next week.” Every time you see it you feel a bit guilty. So, start right now. Close your door; don’t answer the phone; and spend one uninterrupted hour working hard at accomplishing the first steps to completing the task. Once you begin, you’ll find it much easier to continue towards completion in the next day or two. Trading guilt for accomplishment can go a long way. “Just do it” became a mantra for me. It helped me to move through my analysis paralysis!

Give some work away. A true professional accomplishes results through others. If you try to do everything yourself, there is a definite limit to what you can accomplish. If you delegate work to others on your staff who can do a particular task nearly as well as you (if not better), you are then freed up to spend your time on tasks that best use your special skills. And, there is no limit to what you can make happen working in this way.

Work at work. There are unavoidable times when you must devote an evening or weekend to handling a crisis, to prepare, or to attend meetings. But, try very hard to resist falling into the habit of routinely giving up your leisure time to work. Working after hours will eventually have a negative impact on your health, your family, your friends, your energy, and your effectiveness during the real work hours. The other downside is that you feel less pressure to complete your work during the day by telling yourself you can get it done later at home. As a consequence, you begin to waste precious time during the day.

Avoid frustrations. If certain aspects of your job are constantly frustrating you (for example, bookkeeping or fundraising), find ways to delegate these jobs to more appropriately skilled people, or hire someone part-time to accomplish them. Save yourself for the parts of your job that require your leadership and management expertise.

Seek professional outlets. If you find that your skills and interests are not being fully challenged, explore other sources of professional inspiration. Reading in depth the topics that interest you, writing for publication, consulting, offering local workshops, or teaching at the college level, are all options and opportunities open to you

Cultivate new relationships. Look beyond your childcare center director colleagues and establish rapport with licensing workers, college professors, and others in our early childhood field. By getting to know a larger variety of people who work, in some capacity, with young children, you increase your chances of being inspired, challenged, and supported.

Develop a group of advisors. Another way to increase your professional growth is to improve your access to professional advisors by establishing an informal advisory group and inviting people to participate whose technical input and expertise you could benefit from (for example, lawyers, pediatricians, social workers, computer experts, or marketing specialists). Ask that they be available for consultation a few times a year when you need specific advice in their area of expertise.

Mix physical and mental work. Peter Drucker, management guru, often said, “Working is best organized with a considerable degree of diversity. Working requires latitude to change speed, rhythm, and attention span fairly often.” You can accomplish more, and do a better job, if you take a break every now and then to relieve a teacher, take a parent on a tour around the center, or take a short walk to clear your head.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Become involved in non-job activities. If your entire life is consumed by your job, you will be overwhelmed when that job is going poorly. On the other hand, if you have many gratifying activities in your life, your frustrations on the job are more likely to be balanced by the satisfaction in these other areas.

Indulge yourself. Being an early childhood director should not make you a martyr. Treat yourself to an afternoon at the art museum. Plan an exciting vacation. Go to the conference at Disney World. All work and no play make directors no fun to be around.

Remember that you set the tone for your early childhood program. You are the role model for every teacher, parent, and child at your center. Give thought to what you are projecting and what others are observing, hearing, and absorbing.

Start today; clear out the cobwebs; do some spring cleaning! Take one step at a time, and breathe new life into your work. And, then, share your experience with others!

For a more in-depth conversation about any or all of this particular topic, just contact me. Let’s talk.

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Training for Early Childhood Directors | 1 Comment