Steven Bonnay is a Registered Early Childhood Educator who contributes to our blog as a feature writer. He completed his ECE diploma and postgraduate certificate in autism and behavior studies at Seneca College.
Having worked in the exciting world of child care, I know that change is a constant. In this article, I’d like to focus on the professional growth of early childhood educators and what leaders in the field can do.
Leadership, what does it mean?
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” —Jack Welch(1)
Based on the quote above it’s clear that you work on you before building up the people around yourself. From a personal perspective, it would be your friends, family, coworkers and your significant other. From a professional perspective, it is your peers and your staff.
Why do you (and your staff) show up to work every day?
This is a serious and deep-rooted question. We all work. However, the big difference is that some people show up for a “job” and others show up for their “career.” It all boils down to passion. The issue arises in the field of early childhood education that sometimes makes short work of the job-minded people versus the person the comes to the child care centre for their “career.”
Two questions jump to mind:
- Which staff would you rather have coming in day in and day out?
- Is there some way to fan the flames of passion within yourself and others, to come into your child care centre and see every day on as a “career?”
Here are some steps you can take as a leader to build up your team and support them.
Step 1: Ask and answer the question “why”
This is not to be confused with your center’s mission statement that is posted somewhere in your organization. Understand that “why” is different for each individual. The words and ideas have to have a highly personal connection, the “why” should invigorate the mind and stir the heart.
Start with yourself. Building up your personal “why” as a leader and that will lend direction to your center’s “why.” A strong centre-wide “why” is the basis for defining core values. Some centre’s annually revisit their “why” and collectively author their mission/vision statement based on the centre’s “why.”
Step 2: Invest in your staff and they will invest in you
Getting to know who you work with and what their goals and dreams are, makes for great team relations. Listening to what they want to do and where they want to be professionally. This serves for strong insights to work towards a mutual alignment for success.
Micro-managing is not leadership.
A certain level of autonomy must be given to the educators that work in their respective classroom, day in and day out. When people commit to something, they will have ideas and thoughts on how to do things, it might be different and unique. Inviting members of the teaching team to have a voice and provide input on how to improve processes and systems at work should be positively received, it does not mean that all ideas and suggestions are to be implemented but to have that ear open to what the staff see and think is a valuable asset. You are a team after all, no?
Step 3: Sustaining success
So you have your staff invested to do their best everyday when they come in. They live the “why” of the centre. You know their goals and aspirations, now it’s time to get focused on your staff being the best at their job in your child care centre. Having a clear breakdown of the roles that each staff conduct is a must. Ensure that you schedule time to have one-on-one “check-ins” with each staff and start talking about continuous learning and improvement in their role.
To be a leader is to constantly be learning and evolving. So that means having goals that you are working towards, these goals are noted down and always brought out at check-ins. Setting and achieving goals requires a balance. They should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.
As a leader, you will need to ensure that the expectations of the role is being fulfilled. Different centres conduct their performance reviews in different frequencies over the course of a year. Some do it annually, some quarterly. Some leaders use a checklist along with anecdotal notes and conduct a full day shadowing of each staff member. Holding meetings to go over the observations and checklist results is valuable.
Having small one-on-one conversations on the observations and if necessary discuss a plan of action to make specific improvements, progress in these improvements should be updated in writing. This can be brought out in the monthly check-ins.
“Working smart rather than hard lets you accomplish your work/goals in an easier fashion. And this is fine, as the work you’re making smart (rather than hard) is what you’re actually trying to accomplish something in.” Matt Wiggins
There are some things that make your life easier and more effective. As a team you need to keep seeking those methods. Working in child care on the floor, time management is a constant concern. There are serious expectations for time sensitive actions that need to be completed within a specific time-frame. Documentation and program planning takes a front seat in this matter. Daily documentation and communication needs to be completed as a team. Keeping each other informed and parents in the “know” can become a daily struggle. Explore different ways that you can be smarter with your time.
Why? The priority is the children, like actually interacting with the children, not the children’s paperwork, more time with the kids and less time on the reports.