Beyond the Book—Observe, Listen, and then, Act

The Japanese people have an expression, Kūki o yomu, read the air, which, in essence, means to take in one’s surroundings before acting; to take a few moments to use one’s senses; to observe and listen; to gauge what is happening in this place at this moment, before doing anything else. 

Reading the air is a respectful practice. Enter a space or situation quietly and absorb what is going on—the level of activity; the level of conversation or silence; the level of engagement—how are others interacting, responding to one another, or are they not. The Japanese people observe and listen first. And then, they act or react in a way that fits the situation. If everyone is deeply engaged, talking quietly with one another, then enter in the same way. A loud and boisterous entry into a quiet place will have others shaking their heads and murmuring, “she does not read the air.” In Japan, reading the air shows respect to the people already involved, and to the situation at hand. It is a polite and considerate way of being.

We, in early childhood education, can also tap into this practice. Reading the air easily applies to the way we enter a classroom of young children; how we join a group of preschoolers already at play; and how we enter a conversation between colleagues. Do we enter quietly, respectfully, and take in all that is happening within the space? Do we observe and listen first? And then, do we enter in a way that fits with what is already happening? Do we read the air?

Or, do we enter the room with no thought to what is already happening in it and clumsily interrupt the activity and hum of the classroom?

Best practice teaching is often described as a cycle that involves watching and listening—with care. Teachers observe everything going on carefully, and listen closely to the children. Teachers reflect on, think about, and engage in dialogue with others about what is happening. Teachers respond thoughtfully in ways that support children’s ideas, questions, and thinking. Teachers gather data from the children, use what they learn, and act as a resource for the children. Teachers ask questions and discover the children’s ideas and theories. Teachers then find additional materials and equipment to test out the children’s ideas.

The best teachers of young children are keen observers and listeners. I suspect they read the air quite well and act appropriately and respectfully toward their children.

What about you? How do you see yourself? Are you adept at first reading the air in your classroom and then acting? Upon entering, are you respectful of the children and adults already engaged? Do you first observe and listen to everything going on? And do you then insert yourself into the mix with care and consideration?

If you haven’t yet spent some good time observing and listening to the hum of your classroom, I invite you to add this practice to your teaching this school year. It will take some slowing down a bit to actually do this, but once you begin to read the air you will see the enormous benefits for both the children and adults who live with you.

For more ideas, tools, and strategies to use in your workplace, take a look at my early childhood leadership book: Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, available on Amazon.com

These are my real-life, time-tested tips and techniques, and all of them worked successfully in my four childcare 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!

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Professionalism…

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 way, 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?

It begins at the top of the organization and winds its way through every classroom, every office.

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. 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…

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

As the Director of an Early Childhood program, I’ve always loved beginnings. What a gift!  To start fresh—to take what I’ve 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 is definitely the reflective part of my professional life. I think about everything that has gotten me to this point; I jot down thoughts as they come; and I begin 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 see it, that’s my job as the leader of the program, school, organization—to set the course. And, the best part of yearly beginnings is that I can reset it annually.

What I’ve learned is that how I begin each school year, each training session, each presentation, each meeting, sets the tone for what is to come, and the expectations that we are all to meet or exceed. It is that important!

As a leader, I’ve always 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 the best I can!

I have also learned that people will rise to the challenge—if it is clearly articulated, and the expectations set. I’ve set our sights high, prepared us well, and my teams have risen to the occasion!

To this end—to set the appropriate tone, and to move forward together—I focus 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 detail over the next months.

A Way of Being

I believe there is an appropriate way to work—with children, with families, and with one another. 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, I set this expectation. I have a well-written article on this very topic to 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 I use these guidelines to be certain we are on all track. I’ll share some excerpts from, “We Believe In …”, to give you an idea of how we put our values to paper to shape the philosophy and vision for our program. It takes work to create such a document, but we’ve used it over and over again as a training tool. Definitely worth the effort!

Plotting the Course

As part of every beginning, I provide a roadmap for us to follow during the year—in the way of goals. What do 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, gets us focused immediately and all moving in the same direction. It also sets the expectation from the start.

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

Next month, a little more about Professionalism… 

For more ideas, tools, and strategies to use in your workplace, take a look at Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, available on Amazon.com.

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Beyond the Book—Coping with Change

In my work as director of several early childhood programs, one of the important lessons I learned was that, as in my life, the only constant was change!

Just when I’d get the staffing set—teachers hired, oriented, and working together as a team—the enrollment would shift. Or, when the enrollment was at capacity, key teachers would make life changes and resign. The balancing act between having the appropriate team of teachers for the enrollment at hand was a constant challenge. It was always back to the drawing board!

Over time, though, instead of reacting to it when it happened, I began planning for it in advance. One thing I did was save the resumes of potential hires. If I found several really good candidates by interviewing them for a position, I hired the one I needed, but told the others that I would like to keep their resume on file and call them if something opened. This became my feeder system for hiring more quickly and more effectively. Many teachers who interviewed for a position with us eventually did become part of our team—albeit at a later time than originally planned.

Thinking more proactively, and planning for the inevitable, worked well for me and for my programs.

Here are a few other work habits to cultivate:

  • Become a quick-change artist. Flexibility and adaptability in any situation will win the day.
  • Commit fully to your job. Which means, doing whatever it takes to get the job done well.
  • Keep moving forward. Meet or exceed all expectations. Be the best you can be.
  • Accept ambiguity and uncertainty. It is temporary during change. Focus rather on the positive end result.
  • Behave like you are in business for yourself. See problems and challenges from a more global view and hold to your vision—no matter what.
  • Keep learning. Keep adding to your skills and expertise. Gather strategies that work for you!
  • Hold yourself accountable for outcomes. And make certain the outcomes are positive and successful.
  • Add value. Every way you can! “How can I be of service?” Go the extra mile.
  • Manage your own morale. You are responsible for you!
  • Alter your expectations as circumstances warrant. Changes take time, so be patient, adjust your thinking, and react accordingly.
  • Be the best example, the role model, in your organization!

And, because a good quote always just sums it up, I leave you with this:

EXCELLENCE … can be attained if you:

CARE more than others think is wise …
RISK more than you think is safe …
DREAM more than others think is predictable …
EXPECT more than others think is possible …

Unknown

For more examples of Coping with Change in the workplace, 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 Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Professionals, 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

Planting Your Garden…

Summer is nearly here—in all of its glory!

The sun is strong, the rain is gentle, and the flower and vegetable gardens are thriving.

I don’t know who originally created the following ‘garden’, but beyond the play on words that will bring a smile to the reader, there is wisdom and guidance here for all of us.

This is a perfect reflection for this season. Enjoy!

Remember, what we sow, we later reap.

The Garden

5 Rows of “P”s
purpose
presence
promptness
preparation
perseverance

4 Rows of “Squash”
…gossip
…indifference
…criticism
…negativism

3 Rows of “Let Us”
…be true to ourselves
…be loyal and unselfish
…be faithful to our purpose

3 Rows of “Turn Up”
… your enthusiasm
…your conviction
…your determination

This is the time of year to reflect—upon this school year winding down, and the next school year just around the corner. This summer, during your planning time, your goal-setting time, for directors and teachers alike, consider planting this ‘garden’ in your early childhood program. It’s a wonderful way to set the tone for the year to come.

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Inspiring Others…

Whether it’s a beautiful sunrise, or a special message, each has the power to move us emotionally. I discovered this power long ago and began collecting inspirational quotes that spoke to me. I have journals of them.

I placed my favorites around our home—near the mirror in the bathroom for my first uplifting thought of the day; on the fridge in the kitchen; inside cabinet doors. I sometimes purchased quotes on strips of wood and three-dimensional blocks and placed them, strategically, where I would just come upon them during the day—on the fireplace hearth; on the top jamb of doorways; on shelves; or, if the quote was especially inspirational, on a wall.

As the director of several early childhood programs, I posted quotes here and there in my childcare centers as well. They were relevant to our life and work, and in the course of a day we saw and read several.

And you know, they served a valuable purpose. They set the tone. They shifted our thinking. They lifted our moods. They brought us peace. They made us smile.

Just reading a good quote can quickly take us from the moment we’re in, to another—and positively change our focus. Reading a quote provides a quick and timely burst of wisdom—often, just when we need it. It only takes 10-20 seconds. Yet, the message it contains can propel us for the day, week, or more.

This is powerful inspiration.

These messages appeal to our subconscious mind, where creativity resides. In the reading of these messages, our entire thought process can change—directing our energy toward a more positive path. For me, a win-win!

Yes, I have always been a big fan of inspirational quotes because with very little effort on my part, positive things happen. I have watched the subtle changes take place—the “aha!” moment, the epiphany—all because of a posted quote.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Wherever I am, be all there.”
“When writing the story of my life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.”
“When the decision is clear, the doing is effortless.”
“We are the sum total of everything we have experienced.”
“I must stand guard at the door of my mind.”
“Notice what I notice.”
“Be careful how I am talking to myself, because I am listening.”
“Go confidently in the direction of my dreams.”
“Before we are leaders, success is all about growing ourselves; when we become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
“Say what we mean, do what we say, own what we do.”
“How do we know when we have arrived, if we don’t know where we are going.”
“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
“Seek first to understand, and then, to be understood.”
“Do not get upset with people or situations; both are powerless without your reaction.”
“Leadership is not a position or a title. It is an action and an example.”
“Go farther.”
“Tell the negative committee in my head to sit down and shut up.”
“Reach for the stars and you may hit the treetops.”
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
“Dear Past, Thank you for all the lessons. Dear Future, I’m ready!”
“Good night, sleep well, dream of possibilities, and behold the magic that is within me.”
“In everything, give thanks.”

Did you find one you like?
I’d also love to add to my collection, so send along your favorites and I’ll post them as well.
We can call it a team project! 

For more examples of Inspiration in the workplace, take a look at Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center—A Director’s Story, available on Amazon.com.

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A Look Back…

During the consulting part of my career, I had the privilege of working with numerous directors of early childhood programs, as well as their teams of teachers. 

I presented training that ranged from building effective teams, to creating warmer, homelike environments; from finding and using unique materials and activities for children, to building collaborative relationships with parents; from learning how to set goals and then move toward meeting them, to de-cluttering spaces for children and de-stressing everyone in the process, and much more. 

I coached and mentored aspiring, new, and experienced directors alike—at their schools, over the phone, and via email—troubleshooting, and finding solutions to staffing, space, organization, the rhythm of the day, transition, parent, and child situations. I observed both teachers and children—as another set of eyes and ears for the director—helping to make changes as needed. And, I consulted and strategized with directors who were opening new programs; directors who were expanding their programs; and directors who were closing their schools. 

I have been pleased to experience, time and time again, the level of commitment, dedication, passion, and enthusiasm of these directors and teachers. They are reaching for quality. And, it has warmed my heart, because I know that the children reap the benefit by having wonderful early childhood experiences—and I have had the best moments!

One day, I returned to a program to retrieve my Sophia. Sophia is a puppet with spiky gray hair, wrinkles, and a long, black dress. To young children, Sophia is real. 

Let me back up a bit. I was consulting with an early childhood program, and when I walked into one of the preschool classrooms, there was their puppet, Gloria, sitting on the sofa. Gloria is an identical twin to my Sophia! Can you believe it! Anyway, an animated conversation took place between the teacher and the children. And, I agreed to bring my Sophia to this busy room of preschoolers for a play date and an overnight. 

Well, apparently, the two puppets and the children had a wonderful time together, because, when I arrived at the school to retrieve my Sophia, I was greeted with stories, pictures, and a play-by-play of the Sophia/Gloria adventure:

“They had slept on the sofa under the peace quilt.” (that’s a story for another time)    

“They weren’t afraid of the dark—they had a night light.” 

“Gloria gave Sophia her necklace.” (a beaded one that the children made)
“Gloria and Sophia are going to be pen pals.”
“Could Sophia come back for another play date?”

And just before Sophia and I left, the entire classroom serenaded us with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”—Gloria’s screeching voice heard above all others! Sophia and I blew kisses as we left the children and teachers. Pure magic!

Gloria is a treasured part of this classroom. She is real. The children talk with her, care for her, worry about her, include her in everything. She listens, and whispers her thoughts. She is the voice for many of the “unspoken” things young preschoolers think about. And she is their friend.  

The teacher who added this puppet experience to the classroom is a masterful teacher of young children. She added another dimension to an already rich program. In fact, a gift to everyone in the school—for Gloria is known and loved by all of the teachers, parents, and children! 

Isn’t this what working with young children is all about!

I observed many magical moments during my career, as I moved from program to program and built relationships with the directors, teachers, and children. What a privilege to observe so many wonderful things happening for so many.

Our early childhood colleagues (directors and teachers alike) are doing extraordinary work with the young children in their care. They love what they do. And, there is the desire to want to do it better.

I saw the passion in their eyes; heard the enthusiasm in their voices; and noted the strong commitment to quality in their words and actions. 

We are fortunate to have such people in our programs. As we know, it begins with a few, and then ripples throughout the organization. And, as we also know, it begins at the top. 

As a Director, are you creating a climate for magic?

For more details on creating magic for children, 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 Professionals, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Quality Early Education and Care, Training for Early Childhood Directors, Training for Early Childhood Professionals | Leave a comment

Beyond the Book—Zero-to-Three Model (A Parent’s Perspective)

Making the shift from traditional, individual infant and toddler classrooms to the Zero-to-Three model (where the youngest children and teachers remain together until the child reaches preschool age) brought with it environmental challenges and extra training for teachers and their supervisors, but the benefits we anticipated, and then experienced, far, far outweighed the initial effort required.

The following is a letter from a parent in our John Hancock Child Care Center in Boston. As you’ll read, not only did the children and teachers benefit from the Zero-to-Three model, so did the parents.

“I had the good fortune to send my two daughters to the JHCCC. Kiley attended the Center from the age of 11 weeks until age 5. Caroline attended from 4 months until 15 months. Kiley experienced the entire 0-3 program, while Caroline’s experience was curtailed by the unfortunate closing of the Center. I have seen the pros and cons of both structures firsthand.

As a parent, I preferred the Zero to Three structure. Kiley was able to grow strong bonds to the same set of teachers and children during her most vulnerable and exploratory years. This provided her with a solid foundation to depend on each day. Also, her teachers knew her so well that as she aged and grew, they could anticipate her challenges and adjust to best meet her needs with ease. We didn’t have to re-introduce her to a set of teachers every few months and go through a learning curve as they got to know her. Kiley and her friends developed a sibling-like bond to one another. This could not have been accomplished without the consistency of the classroom over so many years. The families of these children also grew very close as a result of so many shared years together. Parents benefit so much from exchanging advice and ideas about parenting. This is much easier once you have time to develop relationships. I also grew very close to Kiley’s friends, since they were a common group for several years. It is remarkable to watch children grow from babies to toddlers to preschoolers, and I still have a strong affection for those children Kiley shared the Zero to Three program with. All of these individual relationships—teacher to child, child to child, family to family, parent to parent, and parent to other children—resulted in a beautiful, nurturing, strong community.

I am pleased with the care my youngest daughter, Caroline, is receiving at her current daycare. However, I felt like Caroline just got settled in her new classroom last fall and then suddenly moved by herself to the older toddler room with a new set of teachers. Some of the children overlapped, but others were completely new to us. It has taken me awhile to learn the names of the children and to be able to even talk about Caroline’s friends with her. The teachers had to learn Caroline’s quirks and preferences all over again. Only now, three months after her move, can I say that all of us are on the same page. That is a lot of lost time in a young child’s life! I also don’t have the sense of community I felt as a result of the Zero to Three program at the JHCCC. I share ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’ with Caroline’s friends’ parents, but that is about all. I am starting to get attached to the children in her classroom, but soon some will graduate and others will move in from the younger class and there will be another shift in the classroom dynamic. More new faces to learn, more old friends to miss. Caroline’s experience is rich in many ways—she is learning a great deal. She is loved and challenged and happy. The experience is singular though, as opposed to a shared experience. It lacks a lot of the special qualities of the Zero to Three program.

 I hope my experiences help to inform your decisions. As a parent I found this program rewarding for all—children, teachers, and families. Children benefitted from the consistent care and strong attachment with both teachers and friends. Teachers grew closer to their children. They also enriched their teaching background by not being limited to one age group. And families grew closer to one another. We greatly respected, appreciated, and cared for our children’s teachers, as they helped us as well in our parenting. The Zero to Three program truly was a mutually beneficial structure.”

  Sincerely, JW

  Certainly, food for thought! 

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 Professionals, 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—Inspiration for the New School Year

Our large childcare center in Boston could sometimes feel unwieldy. There were just so many people, so much activity, so much to do every day, that we all needed a break at the end of the school year to prepare our minds (and environments) for the new year beginning in September. We decided to close our program for the two days just before Labor Day weekend—to children and their parents. We worked, however, and worked hard to get everything ready for the first day. But it was a labor of love and that made the difference.

As we gathered together that first morning, I took the opportunity to thank everyone for the year just passed, and highlight some of the successes and accomplishments of my team. I then moved to the task at hand—preparing ourselves and our many spaces for the children and families arriving next Tuesday. It was important to set the tone for these two days (and the year to come), and so I always prepared a few “words of wisdom” that focused on some aspect of working together effectively.

The following are my remarks to my teachers, dated Thursday, August 30th 2001. Yes, I was a director for many, many years (and I saved everything).

“These next two days are a gift. Enjoy the camaraderie, the enthusiasm, and the time to create. As you think about your classroom environments and space, read, re-read, and read again, “We Believe In…” Our philosophy is embedded in each section of the document, and your classrooms should be the picture to these words. Think big! Think creatively! How could you make these words come to life in your classrooms?

We have come together at this time, in this place, to do good work. I believe that nothing is more important than nurturing and educating the youngest of the young. We all recognize this, for, here we are!

But while we are giving to the little ones, to our teammates, to our colleagues, to our families, we need to give to ourselves as well and receive something back in the process—balance! We spend a lot of energy working in this field. And we need to fill the well back up somehow to keep vital and energized and happy! Everyone does this differently—some of us are spiritual and find our peace inside; others are physical and find that movement and exercise balances them; others read and get replenished. What do you do—to regain composure, lessen stress, take a break? Whatever you do, be certain it brings you joy, peace, and much pleasure! If so, it will be the balance you need. This year, find what works for you.

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than knowledge. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, than giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a business, a home, an organization, a team.

The remarkable thing is that we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for the day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one card we have—and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.

So, this year I’d like you to join me in working on our collective attitude here at the childcare center. Make the conscious shift from negativity, complaining, or gossiping to acknowledging the good and passing on encouragement, praise, and congratulations. There is so, so much more going right than wrong. So:

  • Just for today, be happy.
  • Just for today, live for this day only. Focus your energy on the here and now.
  • Just for today, adjust to what is. Try not to adjust everything to your own desires.
  • Just for today, take care of your body. Exercise it, care for it, nourish it, so that it will be a perfect machine for your will.
  • Just for today, exercise your soul. Do something nice for someone without their knowing it.
  • Just for today, strengthen your mind. Study and learn something useful. 
  • Just for today, be agreeable. Look as good as you can, act courteously, be liberal with praise.
  • Just for today, have a quiet half-hour all by yourself and relax. Think about the big picture and get some perspective in your life.
  • Just for today, be unafraid—to be happy, to enjoy what is beautiful, to love. 

Let’s work together on balance and attitude, this year. One day at a time. 

Once again, I am truly pleased to have all of you on board! Let’s make it an exceptional school year!”

Note: The “We Believe In …” document can be found in its entirety in 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 Curriculum, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Professionals, 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—Organizing the Moving Parts of a Child Care Center

My fourth, and final child care center was large! It was the biggest and most visible of the four I opened and directed during my career. At capacity, there were 200 fulltime children, upwards of 400 parents, and a staff of 65 (mostly teachers). Nearly 700 human beings brought with them many, many moving parts!

With so many people and so much activity, there was the potential for important things to fall through the cracks and not be taken care of. It was necessary to be thorough, organized, and consistent. At the same time, we needed to be flexible, respectful, and fair, remembering the individuality of each short and tall person within our large family. Lots and lots to juggle.

But we did! And we juggled multiple balls very well for twenty years.

This post highlights one of the processes we put in place. These are the “how we did it” details not found in Beginning to End: The Life Cycle of a Child Care Center (Yes, this is information Beyond the Book).

“Whose job is it?” was a question I asked myself often when I looked around these 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. Yes, 40,000 square feet! Whose job is it to organize, clean, and maintain all of the common spaces within our Center and the many areas that everyone used, but no one owned. The 18 classrooms were easy—the teachers were responsible. But what about all this other space, equipment, materials, supplies, furniture? We all used these at some point in the day.

We decided to enlist the help of our entire staff. Our goal was to keep the Center (which was like a second home to us) looking beautiful and well cared for. We needed to make a fair plan to maintain every square foot, and so, we would all participate.

We made a list of these spaces. There were many—some large open spaces, some closet-size. Here’s a partial listing: the entrance and lobby; the staff meeting room; infant square; the carriage closet; the playground bathroom; the common closets; the hallways; the stairwells (main and back); the art room; the laundry room; the staff room; toddler square; the preschool common; the small and large playgrounds. 

And then, we each chose our space from the listing. 

We would be the person accountable for this area. When we walked by “our space,” we saw what needed to be done. We straightened things; we pushed in chairs; we restored order (whatever that might be); we kept supplies stocked; we picked up trash from the floor; we simply made the space look more presentable. If something was broken, unsafe, needed—we would be the one to tell the director.

Each one of us continued to clean up after ourselves when we left a common space, but this new system guaranteed that an additional set of eyes would give a final look.

Before we began this project, we cleaned and organized every one of these spaces in the Center, so that we would know how each was meant to look; how the shelves were arranged; what went where. This new system was meant to maintain. We would see quickly what, if anything, was amiss, and then fix it.

We also wrote guidelines for the larger shared spaces.

The Staff Room was especially complicated with tables, chairs, a kitchen wall of cabinets, and fridge. Another part of this room had softer chairs and couches to take a break and relax. In this staff space, we made a separate plan for keeping order, since this room had the potential to be a health hazard and took more effort to maintain. Each month a different team from our large staff took on this room. And they cleaned and organized, when and where needed. 
“What was in the refrigerator?” and “How long had it been there?” had been the re-occurring problem before our new system. Now, someone owned the fridge and its contents, and food was easily disposed of in a timely way. Problem solved!

These were the guidelines posted for everyone using our Staff Room:

  • It is expected that each person using this room will take responsibility for leaving the room clean and neat for those who follow. Please clean the tables after you eat; remove trash; push in chairs and return magazines, etc. to the rack/shelves.
  • Label each item you put into the refrigerator with your name and the date. Masking tape and markers for this purpose are in the drawer next to the fridge. At the end of the month, anything old or not labeled will be thrown out.
  • You will find several cabinets marked for the storage of non-perishable food. Again, label your personal items.
  • The tall pantry units have been stocked with paper goods and plastic cutlery for your use in the staff room. Please don’t stock your classrooms from these shelves.
  • Staff room cleaning supplies can be found under the sink.

These were the guidelines for our Laundry Room:

  • This room is for doing laundry only. Nothing else is to be stored in this room.
  • Clean up after yourself when you use the laundry room:
    • Wipe up all spilled detergent.
    • Empty lint screens in the dryers after each use.
    • Place empty boxes by the freight elevator for trash pick-up.
    • Dispose of bleach bottles in the large trash can.
  • Be considerate of your colleagues:
    • Keep the top of machines free of laundry, boxes, toys, etc.
    • If you take someone else’s laundry out of a washer, put it in a dryer and notify that team of its status.
    • Use magnetic laundry tags to keep track of laundry.
    • Notify Theresa when the last box of detergent is opened.

These were the guidelines for the Staff Work Room:

  • The Staff Work Room is equipped with the following: 
    • Laminator
    • Copy Machine
    • Paper Cutter
    • Work Table
    • Work Utensils
  • Please use the equipment with respect for its value and be conservative with supplies.
  • The laminator and copy machine are for your use only after you have been instructed properly by your program coordinator.
  • Place your name on the sign-in sheet when you use the laminator or copier.
  • If either machine malfunctions, call an administrator right away. Do not leave the problem for someone else.
  • Take all your materials with you when you leave. Check the copier for your original.

As you can see, we set the expectations. They were posted. They were clearly written. And they were followed. The additional person/s to oversee these common areas helped greatly. This system worked for us! We were a very large team keeping our Center looking its best. It was a gratifying effort. Everyone participated. Everyone appreciated the results. A win, win, win!

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 Professionals, 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