Working Together: A Word About Expectations

Dog Sled“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.”

Michelangelo

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!

 

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

Working Together: Characteristics of Effective Teachers

Dog SledEvery now and then I come across an article that fits beautifully with my vision and my work toward quality early education and care. And, I am especially pleased when it is the kind of message that I can use over and over again in different venues.

Several years ago I came across one such article from Young Children, which is the Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

“Twelve Characteristics of Effective Early Childhood Teachers,” written by Laura J. Colker, compiled feedback from forty-three experienced teachers as they thought about what it takes to excel in their work. Reflecting on their practice, they identified the personal characteristics they believe are integral to effective teaching. Keyword here is effective. If we’re going to teach, our aim should be high!

These personal characteristics, which are often based on feelings and beliefs, are sometimes difficult to identify. But, when one combines these characteristics with both knowledge and skill, you have the makings of an excellent teacher.

The twelve characteristics are:

  • Passion about Young Children: Enthusiasm is one thing, but something stronger, drive and passion, set the excellent teachers apart. When you feel you can make a difference, passion is ignited!
  • Perseverance: Dedication, sometimes tenacity, but always the willingness to advocate for something better for the child.
  • Risk-taking: Sometimes thinking “out of the box” makes the difference when working with children – despite the fact that it has never been done before.
  • Pragmatism: Compromising moves the plan along. Even if the gains are small and steady, effective teachers know they will eventually accomplish their goals.
  • Patience: A long fuse is necessary when working with so many. Patience is a must!
  • Flexibility: The expectation is that a teacher will be able to deal well with change and unexpected turns. That is the nature of the work.
  • Respect: In thought, word, and deed!
  • Creativity: Essential! The hallmark of an effective teacher!
  • Authenticity: You know who you are and what you stand for. Children are very good judges of character – they know who is real, authentic, and they respond accordingly.
  • Love of learning: To inspire this in young children, the teacher must also exhibit the characteristic.
  • High energy: Most children respond positively to the teacher who has energy, physical stamina, and the ability to play.
  • Sense of humor: Isn’t learning supposed to be fun? There is nothing better than children’s spontaneous laughter in a classroom. Enjoyment! Besides, laughing feels so good!

A pretty good list. Do you agree?

If you would like to read the entire article, you can find it in Young Children (March 2008). NAEYC members can access the article via www.naeyc.org.

I have used this article with my teaching teams – as a basis for reflection and as a tool in setting professional goals. Teachers choose one characteristic on which to work for the year. Reading, thinking, and talking about each of these characteristics reminds all of us why we love the work we do, and why we continue to grow in the field.

Our goal – to become excellent teachers of young children!

I share this article with you in order to continue to motivate and inspire those with whom you work. Let me know if you use it – and in what context.

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 | 1 Comment

Make Time to Talk with Children

The Image of a ChildThere is nothing more engaging to me than having a conversation with a three, four, or five-year-old. And I do mean a shared conversation – a two-way dialogue that travels wherever our thoughts take us.

Children of all ages enjoy talking with the adults in their lives. And it is one of the most natural things we adults do with the children in our care. Often we don’t even think about it – it simply happens.

Children like to talk about themselves, or about what they are doing. They talk about things that are familiar to them, and that draw upon their knowledge and experiences.

They tell make-believe stories, and talk about things and events they cannot see; events that have already happened; or events that might happen in the future.

It matters not what they are talking about.

What matters is that they are engaging in conversation and, in the process, they are building important language skills.

These language interactions are the basis for building children’s understanding of the meaning of a large number of words, which is a crucial ingredient in their later ability to comprehend what they read.

Children need practice having conversations with the important adults in their lives. By our talking with them, they build their speaking and listening skills. They will use language to ask questions, to explain, to ask for what they need, to let people know how they feel. And they will learn to listen while others talk.

We can help children build language skills through our own language interactions with them, and by setting up an environment that gives children lots of reasons to talk, as well as things to talk about.

How we talk with children matters.

It’s important that our language interactions are the kinds that give children practice hearing and using rich vocabulary; hearing and using increasingly complex sentences; using words to express ideas; asking questions about things they don’t understand.

How do you interact with children?

Who does most of the talking? Whose voices are heard the most in the classroom or in a child care setting?

The child should be talking at least half the time. There is a real difference between talking with children, when the conversation is shared, and the adult listens, versus talking at children, where the adult does all of the talking and the children listen.

What kind of language do you use?

Is it rich and complex? Do you ask children questions that require them to use language to form and express ideas?

The richest talk involves many “back-and-forth” turns in which the adults build on and connect with children’s statements, questions, and responses.

These extended conversations help children learn how to use language and understand the meaning of the new words they encounter listening to other people.

Talking one-on-one gives the adult a chance to repeat (say back), extend (add to), and revise (restate) what children say. Children have the opportunity to hear their own ideas reflected back. This is powerful stuff for a preschooler! And, it goes a long way toward helping a child feel competent and confident.

Narrating what children are doing is a way for adults to not only introduce new vocabulary, but also encourage a deeper understanding of new words so the children can begin to define and explain the meaning of these words.

Narrating also introduces and illustrates sentence structure. Describe (using verbs, prepositions, adverbs, and other descriptive language) what children are doing while they are doing it. Talk during formal activity time, at snack, clean up, outdoors during play – every setting during the day. And, follow up with conversation about what children did during these activities.

Talking with children makes a difference! 

“The more that adults intentionally make time for talking and sharing experiences, the more support there is for children’s language development and later reading comprehension success.” (from the National Institute for Literacy)

Are you making time to talk?

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

Let them be Little

The Image of a Child… let them be little ‘cause they’re only that way for a while
Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day
Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle
Oh just let them be little”

These are the words to a song by Billy Dean, and every time I hear them, something stirs deep within me.

The longer I live, the less I understand the rationale behind the “rushing,” the “hurriedness,” the “sense of urgency” that accompanies everything we do today. Why the fast lane? Where are we going? What are we racing to?

Many of us today are preoccupied – we are multi-tasking. There is too much to do, too much to know – all of it overwhelming to the spirit. Life is passing by and we are missing so many of the ordinary moments – moments that, as we know, are anything but ordinary! These are the moments that will tell the stories of our lives; but, if we are hurrying through life, we are likely to miss them.

I am most concerned about what this “hurriedness” does to the youngest of our children. They are often swept along in the current of the adults in their lives. They have no control, and no say in the matter.

But, this “rushing” does go against children’s nature. There is certainly a disconnect to their own sense of time and their personal rhythm – which is, in a word, leisurely.

For them, can’t we slow things down? Can’t we let them be little? Can’t we follow their lead?

I marvel at children’s powers of concentration and focus when they are thoroughly absorbed in something. Nothing can move them from the task at hand. And we celebrate that the children are so engaged, and are learning so much from the experience.

Yet, we disturb all of this by ringing a bell, clapping our hands, turning off the lights, or (one of my pet peeves) yelling across the classroom that “it’s cleanup time!” We tell the children that we need to hurry, so that we can get outside on time. And, we begin to hurry – in our voices, in our actions – as we disturb the child’s activity and the tone of the classroom.

The damage has been done – the magic of their moment has abruptly ended. Abruptly. No winding down; no opportunity for the children to figure out how they can continue their activity later in the day. No thought given to their interests, their imaginations, their conversations, their problem-solving – and their JOY!

We have to move on – now!

We know this happens every day in our classrooms. But, does it have to?

Couldn’t we just let the play, the children’s work, continue – for those who are so engaged? Must we interrupt their focus and make the transition to snack at exactly 10:00 – for everyone? Couldn’t we think about another way to make snack available to the children – when they are ready for it?

Couldn’t we intentionally slow down our adult pace and consider the children’s needs (their sense of time and personal rhythm) when planning and carrying out activities and projects? Couldn’t we re-visit the amazing block structure later in the day – and not tear it down right now?

Couldn’t we provide sufficient time for them to be together with friends? to get things done with satisfaction? Couldn’t we allow the children plenty of time to complete their drawing, their book, their make-believe, so that they control the start and the finish.

Couldn’t we provide the time for our young children to enjoy the process of learning? to experiment? to make mistakes and readjustments? to complete a task? to laugh? to engage with others? to have fun? to be little?

Lots to consider and reflect upon.

To my way of thinking, nothing is more important. I’d love your thoughts.

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 | 1 Comment

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.
CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
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.

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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.

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Beginnings – A Shared Vision …

Sunrise
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 …

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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!

Sunrise
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 marciahebert@earthink.net. 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