Beyond the Book—The Mentor Teacher Program

As director of the John Hancock Child Care Center (JHCCC), I knew that the key to a quality early childhood program was to find, hire, and retain the finest teachers! I also knew that we had to provide unique, individual opportunities for their professional growth. The children would thrive if our teachers were motivated, inspired, excited, and passionate about their teaching.

And so, our Mentor Teacher Program was born! The following are some of the beyond-the-book “how we did it” details not found in Beginning to End….

From our Mentor Teacher Program mission statement:

  • To share, learn, and build bridges to enhance personal and professional development. 
    • To foster growth in leadership and peer coaching for skilled teachers.
    • To offer learning opportunities for protégés committed to expanding their knowledge and skills, and to refining their teaching.
    • To create a positive relationship between mentors and protégés so that both can build and reflect on their own practice.
  • To provide a career step for teachers at JHCCC.
  • To provide support for teachers new to the field of teaching.
  • To retain experienced and skilled teachers.
  • To improve the quality of care for children and families at JHCCC.

Mentoring is most successful when mentor and protégé are:

  • committed to reflecting honestly on teaching practice to improve the quality of early childhood care and education,
  • challenged by, and committed to the process of sharing and learning, and are
  • participating voluntarily, suitably matched, and provided with clear guidelines and expectations.

Our Mentor Teacher Program was designed to provide an opportunity for professional development for our teachers. It would bring teachers together from different teams so they could learn from one another. The program facilitated the matching of pairs of teachers as mentor and protégé, and enabled them through training to develop and sustain successful mentoring relationships. Mentoring included guiding, supporting, coaching, tutoring, counseling, problem-solving, and modeling, as methods.

A partnership was formed for a defined period of time between the mentor, a person who was more experienced in a particular field, and a protégé, the person seeking to gain more knowledge. A mentor and protégé were brought together with the help of written applications and interview data collected by the mentor teacher task force. Each partnership created a written agreement which defined their learning goals, how they would spend their time together, and guidelines for managing their relationship. They agreed to observe each other’s teaching, and to meet and exchange information relating to their professional development within a confidential relationship.

Development took place through:

  • Discussion: mentor and protégé discussed experiences, asked questions, provided feedback, and used each other as sounding boards for a wide variety of issues related to teaching.
  • Shared activities: mentor and protégé observed other programs, and attended workshops or conferences together.
  • Observation: mentor and protégé observed each other teaching and provided commentary and feedback.

And we found that the mentoring partnership had advantages over other kinds of staff development and training. The partnership was:

  • more personal,
  • tailored to individual needs,
  • responsive to the talents and abilities of all teacher levels,
  • a long-term commitment,
  • more easily integrated into a busy schedule, and
  • confidential.

The program helped bring people together who might not have met or formed relationships spontaneously. It also facilitated the formation of relationships across the common barriers of culture, gender, roles, and levels of experience. And it provided a better utilization of the wisdom and expertise of our organization. There was now a broad range of people to form partnerships for the exchange of skills and knowledge.

The Mentor Teacher Program was not:

  • a program for poor or marginal teachers,
  • a replacement for good management and supervision,
  • a substitute for excellent teaching practice, or
  • an attempt to replace spontaneous mentoring as it occurred.

The benefits of mentoring were many: 

  • Protégés gained first-hand knowledge from individuals who were experienced teachers and who had already achieved a level of competency in their profession. They worked on development issues in a very focused way by being coached, getting feedback, and solving problems. They understood the perspectives and thinking patterns of an experienced practitioner. And, protégés became better affiliated with a wider group of people.
  • Mentors used their accumulated wisdom, knowledge, and expertise to help others develop. They broadened their scope of contact beyond their peers. They learned the perspectives and critical life issues of others. They developed greater facility with coaching, tutoring, communicating, and feedback. And, they developed leadership and advocacy skills.

The qualifications and responsibilities of our mentors and protégés were few, but important. All participants were selected on the basis of their solid work and performance history. The best mentors and protégés would be those who had a keen desire to learn, share, and grow through personal contact. Mentors and protégés were required to keep certain time and training commitments. They spent one morning each week together and attended a weekly evening seminar from October through May.

Mentor qualifications:

  • a minimum of two years as an early childhood teacher,
  • a minimum of one year teaching in our program,
  • minimally, a lead teacher, and
  • a B.A. degree was desirable.

Protege qualifications: Any teacher was eligible to apply.

To apply for the Mentor Teacher Program:

  • Mentors:
    • Completed the written application.
    • Included with the application, two references from:
      • a supervisor and a colleague, or
      • a colleague and a parent, or
      • a parent and a supervisor.
    • Participated in the interview with the task force.
  • Protégés:
    • Completed the written application.
    • Participated in the interview with the task force.

The successful results of our mentor teacher program were many—a win-win for all of us! Results included:

  • A stronger sense of professionalism.
  • An increased rapport and camaraderie among teachers.
  • The opportunity for master teachers to be recognized.
  • An experience of positive change for mentors and protégés resulting in more effective teaching for both.
  • An increased awareness of possibilities for personal and professional growth in the field of early childhood care and education.

For more details on creating positive change for your organization, take a look at Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, available on Amazon.com.

Posted in Child Care, Early Childhood, Early Childhood Curriculum, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, John Hancock Child Care Center, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment

Beyond the Book—Making Successful Transitions

Design for Early Childhood Education

In my chapter about change in Beginning to End, I touched on many areas of potential upheaval for either my team, the children, or their parents. It always involved a change of some sort. I had learned that people experience change in such different ways—some embrace it and enjoy the process; some dread it, but will accept it; some will resist it as long as they can; and some cannot handle change at all—and leave. As director, I witnessed each. This caused me to think very carefully about how to present changes in my programs—and make them as gradual as I could.

So, when it came to children moving up to the next age group each September, we created a thoughtful and gradual transition for both the children and their parents.

At the beginning of June each year, I sent parents a letter with their packet of transition information. I explained the transition paperwork and process in great detail, so that all questions would hopefully be answered, and parents would feel at ease about the upcoming change. It would be orderly and designed with the child’s and parent’s needs in mind.

The packet included:

  • The child’s new home base and a classroom list—the names of the children and teachers.
  • A letter of introduction from each of the child’s new teachers—their teaching credentials, as well as a few personal tidbits that could be a conversation-starter with a new family. 
  • A transition questionnaire helped us to learn about other family members; languages spoken at home; health issues we should be aware of; allergies; food likes and dislikes; the child’s sleep routine; favorite and least favorite activities; a special item that would bring comfort; any special words used by the child to describe his needs; the child’s reaction to morning separation; previous child care experience, to include the names of any caregivers or relatives the child may talk about; and anything else parents would like us to know about their child—including any concerns the parent had about this transition. All of these answers were starting points to many ongoing conversations. And, long before the child was in the new classroom, teachers and parents had already begun to build their relationship! Such a comforting way to make this change!
  • Transition suggestions gave parents tips on how to make this change as positive as possible for all. For example, trying to spend a little extra time with the child at drop-off or pick-up during the first few days; perhaps picking up a little earlier as well; remembering that transitions can sometimes be stressful for children—tiredness, frustration, regressions are all normal and will ease; that the child’s understanding of time is much different from ours, and that talking about the changes too early may cause the child to become confused or anxious as she waits. The suggestions were always helpful—and appreciated.
  • Throughout the summer, children would have many informal opportunities to visit the new classroom and get to know the teachers. And these new teachers would also visit the children in their current classrooms. As well, both old and new teachers met several times to share relevant information about each child’s routines, likes, dislikes, special qualities, etc.
  • In August, parents were invited to a brown bag lunch with the new classroom teachers and their program coordinator. This was an opportunity to discuss the new environment, the people, the daily schedule, the routines, and the curriculum.
  • The three days of transition (which happened just before the long Labor Day weekend) were the formal visits to the new classroom. For three mornings after breakfast, children went to their new classrooms to became familiar with that environment and the different parts of the day, with their new teachers. By the third day, they were usually ready to stay!

And on the Tuesday, following Labor Day in September, children and parents went directly to their new classrooms! Transition accomplished!

This change was now behind us! We could all move on.

My job as director was to get ready for the next change, for there would always be another.

            “The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.”

                                                                                                                Kakuzo Okakurah

I couldn’t have said it better!

If you have other questions about transitions or making changes in general, just send me an email through the contact page. This blog and this book are meant to be shared with others, especially those who have chosen the leadership path. So, please pass on the links! Much appreciated!

Early Childhood Leadership blog—www.marciahebert.com

Here’s the link to the book: Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, available on Amazon.com.

Posted in Child Care, Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment

Beyond the Book—Taking Time to Reflect

Design for Early Childhood Education

Last year, my early childhood leadership book launched—it is available online, in bookstores, and as an e-book. 

Its purpose was to pull together what I learned during my 40+ year career—as teacher, education director, and consultant to other directors of education programs—and to share with my colleagues around the world what we directors of programs must know and do to become effective leaders in our field. This book is written in story form—it is both a how-to and memoir. It covers every age and stage of building an early childhood program, from creating your vision (what do you want your program to be), to:

  • hiring and training your teaching team
  • working effectively with parents
  • designing the environments for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers
  • putting all of the necessary organizational pieces together seamlessly
  • handling misunderstandings and misfires, and learning how to diffuse and then repair difficult situations
  • using strategic planning when there is an organizational problem and, finally,
  • adding new and innovative programs that fit with your philosophy to raise the bar and to challenge your team when they are ready. 

And, in all of this, to succeed in your role beyond your wildest dreams! 

Since I have used everything in this book many, many times, I can tell you that these strategies, tips, ideas work—and work well!

So, what exactly, then, is Beyond the Book …

When I began gathering my notes for the manuscript outline, I realized that I had too much information to share. And so, in Beginning to End I wrote as much as I did, and decided to share, in this blog, more of the details that didn’t get into the book.

In 2022, I’m going to continue to do just that. Every other month I’ll add a little bit more—beyond the book. 

These posts will build on what I have already written and hopefully assist, encourage, motivate, and inspire you to keep growing professionally!

For this January post (which is ordinarily the month for putting into practice something new and helpful), here are some questions to reflect upon that will get you thinking about your own performance with the adults in your program. 

I’m a big believer in writing down my thoughts, and in reading them again and again—so, if you’re a journaler as well, this will get you going. If you have not yet begun the practice of journaling, perhaps this is the year to start:

  • Am I creating a collaborative relationship of warmth, respect, and trust with the adults in my classroom?
  • Do I plan for my day-to-day exchanges with my colleagues and parents? Or, is my communication with them haphazard? Does my communication (both listening and speaking) produce intended results, or repeated misunderstandings? What strategies could I work on as I build relationships?
  • Would I find it helpful to write what happened during the more difficult conversations—what was spoken, what was perhaps not spoken, and how I felt? Could I learn something—for the next time?
  • How well do I handle concerns and/or complaints? What could I do differently (better)?
  • Am I an active listener?
  • Am I a reflective teacher/director? If not, what is preventing me from being one?
  • Do I honor professionalism? Strive for excellence? Practice forgiveness? Bring out strengths?
  • Do I go the extra mile?
  • Do I bring my best to work?
  • Do I let others know how well they are doing?
  • Do I bring out the best in others?
  • Do I tend to look for the best—in people? in situations?

Now, find a quiet place for the next 20 minutes—breathe deeply and write!!

If you would like me to address a specific topic from Beginning to End in more detail, just send me an email. This book is meant to be a catalyst for sharing with those who have chosen the leadership path—but I believe it has appeal and merit for early childhood professionals at every level.

Stay tuned …

Here’s the link to the book: Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, available on Amazon.com.

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment

Beyond the Book—Setting the Stage for the Children

Design for Early Childhood Education

When we design our early childhood classrooms, we essentially become the director of a Broadway production. We have an empty stage—filled with possibility. We build the set (walls, flooring, doors, windows). We paint the backdrop scenery. We add the furniture and structures and place each—just so. We add the props (all of the smaller objects that will be used). And when all of this has been done, the actors arrive and perform their play within this space—designed specifically for them.

As teachers, we set the stage every day for our children to act upon it. Our stage, our classroom environment, will determine the outcome of our children’s play. So, we put a lot of thought into our design in order to create successful outcomes for the children. In my book, Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, I wrote in great detail about the key elements in an early childhood environment. The impact of color, of lighting; the impact of softness, of texture, of natural materials; the impact of display, of placement, of presentation; the impact of order, of organization, of clutter vs. calm; must all be attended to as we “set the stage” for optimal play and discovering, imagining, exploring, problem solving, strategizing, creating—down to the smallest detail.

The materials we select should be attractive, inviting, relevant to the children’s experiences and cultures, and challenging, but not frustrating—that is, developmentally appropriate.

In general, at the beginning of the year, less is better. Too many new materials at once can overwhelm the children. We start by allowing time for them to learn how to use and care for the materials. Take the time to do this in September and keep reinforcing. Your efforts will pay off later. To minimize sharing problems, put out duplicates of basic materials rather than a large assortment of individual, different items.

  • Store materials that go together in the same place (pegs with pegboards, collage materials with paper and glue, cars with blocks). 
  • Use containers for small pieces.
  • Use pegs for hanging clothes or other things that need hanging.
  • Display materials so that children can see them easily.
  • Place materials and toys on low shelves at the children’s eye level.
  • Put books on shelves with covers facing out.

Everything in the classroom should have a designate space. All children benefit from this kind of order. When children know where things are and how and why they are grouped, they can work independently and constructively. And, they can participate meaningfully in cleanup and in caring for the classroom.

  • To show children that everything has a place, label storage places. In the 2’s classroom, use only pictures for labeling. In the preschool classroom, use pictures and words—use upper and lower case, as in “Blocks”.
  • Display the children’s work prominently—at their eye level, beautifully, and framed. 
  • Keep displays simple. When the walls and all available spaces are filled with posters and artwork, children (and visitors) are overwhelmed and find it difficult to focus on any one thing. 
  • Change displays regularly.
  • Where to display? On walls, bulletin boards, columns, tops and backs of shelves, a clothesline with pins, a fishnet, easels, room dividers—so the children can see and touch the display.

An orderly classroom requires storage space. Think in terms of three different types of storage: open storage for materials accessible to the children; secure storage for materials you want to control; and personal storage for children and adults. Use neutral colored storage containers that simply blend into the woodwork. 

And you will know that your environment is working well if the children:

  • make choices and select activities on their own,
  • use materials appropriately and creatively,
  • stay involved with an activity for a sustained period of time,
  • experience success when they play, and
  • help take care of the materials.

And for details and ideas about creating magic within your environments for infants, toddlers, twos, and preschoolers, take a look at my book, Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, available on Amazon.com.

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Curriculum, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment

Beyond the Book—The Teacher-Parent Partnership

The Teacher-Parent Partnership

In my book, Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, one chapter is devoted to building a community throughout our early childhood program. The children, their parents, and our teachers are that community. And they have been likened to a three-legged stool. If all three legs are balanced—if the children, parents, and teachers trust and respect one another, work effectively together, and create, together, rich experiences and a best-practice early childhood program—then, that three-legged stool stands solidly. If anything gets in the way of building this community, however, the stool topples.

If anything is to go awry, it is usually the relationship between parents and teachers. So, how do we cultivate a climate in our programs, from the beginning, where parents feel welcome and relevant in our child care centers.

It begins with written beliefs about parents. From our programs’ core beliefs:

We believe that parents should: 

  • feel welcome arriving, visiting, and observing;
  • have confidence and trust in our program;
  • be informed about the program and their child’s daily experiences;
  • know that our program provides a safe and secure environment for their child;
  • know that their child receives personal, individualized care;
  • know that their child fits in and is liked by staff and children;
  • know that their child is cared for in an environment absent of bias;
  • be respected;
  • have a sense of control over their child’s future;
  • feel free to ask questions of staff;
  • have their values and beliefs sought out and respected;
  • know that the program is sensitive to their concerns;
  • have an opportunity to contribute;
  • know that matters involving the welfare of their child are treated confidentially;
  • feel good about themselves as parents;
  • take pride in their children;
  • have a sense of themselves as educators; and
  • have their expert knowledge of their own child respected.

For parents, it is our child care center’s responsibility to:

  • provide daily information to parents;
  • encourage parents’ questions and opinions;
  • seek out parental desires and concerns;
  • promote a full partnership between parents and staff;
  • invite parent input into the programs; and
  • keep matters relating to child and family confidential.

The relationship begins and ends with this set of core beliefs. This is how we will work with parents, and this is how parents expect us to be. They have come to us having read our mission statement about young children. They have come to us having read our vision, and this set of core beliefs. This is what they expect to see, hear, and feel. Our job is to put these words on paper into action – and position that three-legged stool firmly in place.

For more on this topic, take a closer look at Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, available on Amazon.com.

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Curriculum, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment

Beyond the Book—The Partnership

Early Childhood Care

The partnership between the parent and teacher cannot be underestimated. When it is built on mutual trust and respect, everything else falls into place—everything!

This poem, by Ray Lingenfelter, says it all:

Unity

I dreamed I stood in a studio
and watched two sculptors there.
The clay they used was a young child’s mind
and they fashioned it with care.

One was a teacher.
The tools she used were books and music and art;
One was a parent
with a guiding hand and a gentle, loving heart.

And when at last their work was done,
they were proud of what they had wrought;
for the things they had worked into the child
could never be sold or bought.

And each agreed she would have failed
If she had worked alone;
for behind the parent stood the school,
and behind the teacher stood the home.

In Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, available at Amazon.com, I offer very specific ways to work effectively and successfully with parents. What l learned during my long career in early childhood career as teacher, director, teacher of teachers, and consultant, I pass on to you. In this life, we don’t go it alone. When we learn how to connect with one another and appreciate what others bring into our lives (and into the lives of our children), how rich it all becomes!

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Curriculum, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment

Beyond the Book—Receiving Feedback

To continue the conversation from the previous post about giving feedback, I want to talk a bit about receiving feedback—from the parents in our programs. 

Parent education and parent involvement are important components in our early childhood centers. But underlying the success of both is the crucial process of building trust.

One way to build this trust is for parents to receive the information they need to be involved partners, that is, information about your school’s philosophy, your policies, and what to do if and when; the routines, schedules, and limits in the classroom; newsletters from the classroom, communications from the director—all of this in print. During parent meetings and parent-teacher conferences, the give-and-take of conversation about the children begins and continues to build the home-school relationship. 

And then, at the end of each school year, we ask our parents to complete a parent evaluation based on their family’s experience at our childcare center. These evaluations are anonymous—we only know whether the child is in our infant, toddler, or preschool/kindergarten wing.

In our evaluation, we write statements about the Early Childhood Program for the Children, The Overall Atmosphere of the Organization, Communication, Policies and Services, and the Children’s Environments. Parents can check Agree, Disagree, or Do Not Know. Here’s an example from Communication:

  • The communication systems keep me well informed each day.
  • I know who to go to with my concerns.
  • I feel confident that my concerns will be addressed respectfully and promptly.
  • Daily conversations and parent/teacher exchanges sufficiently inform me of my child’s progress.
  • I read the messages, articles, and information sent home and posted for parents.
  • Parent meetings, brown bag lunches, and emails keep me informed and help me feel more comfortable in the program.
  • I am comfortable recommending the center to co-workers.

And then, we add a few open-ended questions:

  • The program could better meet my needs if …
  • A recent incident that made me feel good about the program was …
  • A recent incident that made me unhappy about the program was …
  • I wish (the director, assistant director, nurse, teachers) would …
  • Suggestions I have to improve the center or its services …
  • Please write other comments, concerns, questions here …

And did we receive feedback!! Both good and bad. Thankfully, the positive tipped the scales and far outweighed the negative feedback. But still, it was sometimes difficult to read about the center through another’s perception and experience. I read every comment and took every comment to heart. The second read-through was always easier because now I was reading to understand (the initial gut-reaction had passed). I shared all positive comments with my staff. And where it made sense, though negative and difficult to hear, I passed on those comments that were made by several parents. Upon reflection, I agreed with the parents. And these real concerns became goals that we would set, work on, and accomplish. We communicated that to our parents.

Parents added an important voice to our children’s center. I found the annual parent evaluation of our program to be the feedback we needed to hear. And it was important to not only hear from parents, but to act and respond to the concerns unearthed. We made changes and improvements where we could. But we also shared with parents some of our constraints (as in regulations and health policy) when we could not act upon their requests. Knowing what they were thinking was valuable, and including them in our total feedback cycle was a plus for our program.

I’m happy to share more information about our parent evaluations. Just email me if you have other questions.

In my new book, Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center, Chapter 5, Adding the Parents is filled with strategies, information, and real-life examples to help us work effectively with parents. I have included a lot of detail, so you can use these strategies “tomorrow.”

It’s so important to keep our three-legged stool on an even keel. Working with teachers, children, and their parents is a juggling act at times, but when people can react to what they are experiencing, and it is heard, positive things can result because of receiving the feedback—and, it is a win-win for everyone in the organization. The end result—trust.

One of the successes of our program was how well we delivered on our promises to the parents.

Check out, Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, at Amazon.com.These are my real-life examples, time-tested tips and techniques, and all of them worked successfully in my four child care centers. I am pleased to share what I have learned! Take what resonates with you and then, one day, pass on what you learn to the next generation of early childhood colleagues. My best to you!

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Curriculum, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment

Beyond the Book—Giving Feedback

Early Childhood Care Personnel Management

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 Storyat Amazon.com.

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Curriculum, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment

Beyond the Book—Building Your Team

Early Childhood Program Team Building

If you are the Director of an Early Childhood Program, much of your work centers around finding and hiring your team—and then working together effectively. Building and growing your team will take time. But, if you know some of the indicators of success, you can look for these traits in the people you interview. 

One of these indicators is having a high degree of Emotional Intelligence (or EI).

EI is the ability to recognize our own emotions, understand what they’re telling us, and realize how our emotions affect the people around us. EI also involves our perception of others. When we’re able to sense and understand the emotional needs of other people, we are better able to build strong working relationships and manage difficult situations more effectively. For the director of a childcare center, having emotional intelligence is essential. And having a high degree of EI, even better!

You probably know people who are masters at managing their emotions. They don’t get angry in stressful situations. Instead, they have the ability to look at a problem and calmly find a solution. They’re excellent decision makers, and they know when to trust their intuition. Regardless of their strengths, however, they’re usually willing to look at themselves honestly. They take criticism well, and they know when to use it to improve their performance. These people have a high degree of emotional intelligence!

There are five elements that define EI:

  • Self-Awareness—People with high EI are conscious of their own character, feelings, motives, and desires.
  • Self-Regulation—This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People with high EI think before they act.
  • Motivation—People with a high degree of EI are usually motivated.
  • Empathy—This is the ability to identify and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around us.
  • Social Skills—It’s usually easy to talk to, and like people with good social skills, another indicator of high EI.

The good news is that Emotional Intelligence can be learned and developed! A worthy goal for every director or aspiring director.

Here are some EI strategies to get you thinking:

  • Observe how you react to people. Do you rush to judgement before you know all of the facts? Do you stereotype? Look honestly at how you think and interact with people. Try to put yourself in their place—and be more open and accepting of their perspectives and needs.
  • Look at your work environment. Do you seek attention for your accomplishments? Try practicing humility. It can be a wonderful quality. You know what you did, and did well, and you can be quietly confident about it. Give others a chance to shine—put the focus on them, and don’t worry too much about getting praise for yourself.
  • Examine how you react to stressful situations. Do you become upset every time there’s a delay or something doesn’t happen the way you want? Do you blame others or become angry at them—even when it’s not their fault? The ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations is highly valued. Keep your emotions under control when things go wrong.
  • Take responsibility for your actions. If you hurt someone’s feelings, apologize directly—don’t ignore or avoid the person. People are usually more willing to forgive and forget if you make an honest attempt to make things right.
  • Examine how your actions will affect others—before you take those actions. If your decision will impact others, put yourself in their place. How will they feel if you do this? Would you want that experience? If you must take the action, how can you help others deal with the effects?

In my new book, Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center, I devoted two chapters to “Building your Team.”  There is so much you need to know, and it is all important! I included many strategies that I used as director while interviewing, hiring, orienting, and training each new person on my team. And I included those specific traits, characteristics, and behaviors that would build a solid, professional team. Emotional Intelligence is just one of many. These are my real-life examples, time-tested tips and techniques, and all of them worked successfully in my four child care centers. I am pleased to share what I have learned! Take what resonates with you and then, one day, pass on what you learned to the next generation of early childhood colleagues.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
——Jack Welch

Check out, Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Storyat Amazon.com.

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Curriculum, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment

Beyond the Book—Your First (and most important) Days as Director

Once you accept the position as Director of an early childhood program, your wheels will instantly begin turning. With enthusiasm, yes, but also with hundreds of questions—who, what, when, where, how, and why come to mind. Anxiety follows quickly, and then doubt begins to creep in! Can I actually do this job is the underlying concern. And before it overtakes the incredible opportunity you have been given, let me share a few things I have learned along the way.

First, being a Director is the most difficult, overwhelming, and exhausting job you will ever have—but, it is also the most gratifying! In fact, gratifying far outweighs overwhelming. So, you’re in for the ride of a lifetime, and you need to be prepared before your first day on the job.

You will need to think long and hard about what kind of a director you will be. How will you work with others? How will you communicate with teachers and parents? How will you solve the problems that arise? How will you present yourself day in and day out? Will you collaborate with your team when you can? Will you seek others’ thoughts, ideas, and suggestions? Will you meet periodically with the parent group? Will you wander through the childcare center during the day taking it all in? Will you reflect on what you see, hear, and feel; and share both the positives, as well as the areas to work on, with your team?

What kind of a leader will you be? Will you set the tone for this childcare center on your first day? Will you lead by example, so that others will follow? Will you set clear expectations for your teachers, so that your team will know what and how to do their work? Will you set the bar high, so that teachers will grow and learn under your leadership? Will you support, encourage, mentor, coach, motivate, and inspire those who work for you? Will you keep calm and thoughtful in the storm? (there will always be difficult moments) Will you listen first? Will your sense of humor arrive just when it is needed? These are the things to think about as you create your vision of you—the director.

In my vision of myself, as director, I set the course. I learned that how I began each first day was really important, and that it set the tone for the whole year. I needed to know, for example, where we were heading as an organization (growing to capacity and becoming a community); what we would focus on this year (the principles of Reggio Emilia); what expectations we were to meet (following our vision as we planned the children’s days); what goals we were to accomplish (begin the process of NAEYC accreditation); and then, how. It was important that I considered all of these goals, and was able to articulate them so that I could share them during the year with my team (we needed to be traveling in the same direction). I had the opportunity at the beginning of each school year to set our course—and I took it!

I value quality and high standards. It is the way I work, and I have learned that many good people want to work in this kind of environment. I interviewed and hired hundreds in my career and they often told me that they wanted to do their best work—with directors and programs who valued this, who aspired to quality, and who had high expectations. I learned that people will rise to the challenge when the expectations were clearly articulated and when there is support to accomplish them. When people know what they need to do, they will do it. And, when people learn that you care about them and want them to succeed, they are with you until the end.

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
——Theodore Roosevelt

I also believe that 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 educators, and to our commitment to quality. People call it professionalism—and, yes, we directors hold the key to setting its tone, creating its climate, and fostering it in our programs. 

The professional’s 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 the field, and your work within it. You are motivated to initiate new ideas, propose new procedures, and find solutions to challenges and problems. You do whatever is needed to get the job done, and to get it done well! And finally, you always add that something extra, go the extra mile, and exceed expectations.

Presenting the best you—on the first day as director, and every day thereafter—will set the tone for your entire organization. People will watch and take your lead. And you will all begin moving in the same professional direction—with passion, dedication, and positive energy. New staff will assimilate into the team quite easily as they observe your core group of teachers. You will be leading—and leading by example! 

In my new book, Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center, I have devoted an entire chapter to the first days. I have given my real-life examples to help you navigate the beginning days of your new position, as director. In the midst of any uncertainty, change, and chaos, if you can learn how to take control of your days, and keep your mind, body, and spirit intact, you will be focused, positive, and calm. It took me a few years to figure this out, but once I did, and noticed and felt how unflappable and peaceful I could be in the middle of a storm, I embraced these techniques. I am pleased to share them with you.

Create your vision of you and your program and then, teach it to others by your example. My best to you…

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”
——Henry David Thoreau

Posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Curriculum, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment