How to Manage Different Personality Types of Early Childhood Educators

As a director, I deal with so many different personalities and styles on staff. Some are shy, some are boisterously outgoing, some are organized, some are creative, some are serious. Since I am more of an outgoing, relational person, when I first started as director, I only wanted to naively surround myself with people like me. 

But guess what? I’m super unorganized and paperwork is my enemy. 

So, over the years, I’ve come to learn that I can’t just hire people that I would pick as friends. I need to hire people who are different from me and have talents and qualities that compliment each other. 

The staff we have now have all been through so much during this pandemic, and we have really bonded. Our personalities could not be more different, and If I’m being honest, I don’t know that we would have picked each other to spend time with outside of work had we never worked together. But this is a family, and families have to work hard to stay together. And that’s what we do.  

If you’re wondering how on earth you can get your motley crew to get along and work well together, here are some things we practice daily in order to make it not only work, but thrive:

Embrace Differences

Having varying personalities, ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds will only help shape your staff and program. Having everyone be the same is boring and will never allow you to grow. 

Differing opinions and experiences should be embraced and shared. Depending on how your staff was raised, some may enjoy confrontation. Some may avoid confrontation. Some may speak loudly and boldly while others may speak softly and avoid crowds. All of this is perfectly fine and should be encouraged rather than making everyone conform to the same pattern or mold.

Allow for it to get messy sometimes. Allow for staff to work things out. Step in when necessary, but find ways to embrace the differences and unique qualities on your team.

Leave Everyone’s Mess at the Door

When my staff walk through the door and clock in, they understand that anything occurring outside of work stays outside. A fight with a spouse, a loved one in the hospital, an argument with a parent, or even a happy situation like getting engaged — all of those situations get left at the door.

This does not mean that we can’t talk about what we are going through or take some time to process situations with each other. Of course we want to support each other through difficult and joyous times. But we don’t let it affect our time with the children. We don’t keep our phones near us to check our texts constantly. We are here for one reason, and that is to be with the students and show them love that day. If it is too hard to focus due to outside distractions or stressors, then I tell my staff to take a personal/mental health day and focus on that. This is important to the health of the program. 

Learn Their Enneagram

I know this is a buzzword right now, but the enneagram is life changing (okay, that may seem dramatic). But seriously, it is a game-changer for me as a human. 

What is the enneagram? The enneagram is like a personality test, except that it is based on a number, 1-9. Through a series of questions, you can find out which number you most relate to, and then you can learn your strengths and weaknesses. The world needs all nine numbers, and once you can learn what number each of your staff identifies as, it is so helpful with understanding what they need, how they work best, and what stresses them. 

Check out the webinar we did on this recently to get familiar!

Devote Professional Development Hours

Your professional development hours do not need to only be devoted to curriculum, safety and health, or child development. You also need to devote time to your staff relationships. Have guest speakers come and teach about conflict management. Have specialists come do team-building or training in how to relate to one another. This is so important. A healthy staff guarantees a healthy program. 

Get Together for Fun

It is harder these days to make this work, but there are safe ways to get together. Have a backyard hangout with no agenda. Play yard games, make s’mores, watch a movie outside, and just hang out. These moments will allow for staff to grow and relax together. The more you hang out, the easier and natural it will be. Try for monthly or quarterly times to get together with no agenda except relaxation and fun. Build this into your budget! 

Make It Part of Your Job Description

As director, you have so much you have to do. So what’s one more thing? 😉 

In order to help each staff member thrive, it is my job as director to learn what makes them “tick,” learn what their passions are, find out what their goals are, and encourage them to keep growing toward meeting those dreams and goals. In order to do that, I must step away from my desk and focus on that relationship. I try to meet regularly with teachers outside of their classroom to check in and see how they are doing professionally and personally. 

Open Door Policy

My office door is always open. Staff know that they can always come to me. No judgement and no condemnation. I always try to be humble and vulnerable. The staff know that they can come to me for anything, and I will not judge. 

Teachers often come into my door and they announce which “hat” I need to wear. For example, one staff member may say, “I need you to have your mom hat on,” and that means that they need advice that a mom would give. Other times someone may enter and say, “I need your director hat on,” and that means they need advice in their classroom. Distinguishing which “hat” helps me get in the right mindset. 

Earn the Right

Demanding respect is not something that you can expect overnight. It is non-negotiable to be on my staff, but I demand it in a loving way if that makes sense. Over time, I prove to my staff that I am cheering them on, here for them no matter what, and expecting excellence but not perfection. Since I affirm my staff often with loving words, and since I show up to important things in their lives, I have earned the right to call them out on their “junk” when it’s called for. My staff knows that part of me showing love is letting them know when they need to work on something and do better.  But this is earned and done gently. I refuse to be a micromanager and or a commander. Instead, I must be a servant leader and coach. I admit when I fail, and I allow them to see me grow.

Do we all get along all the time? No. But we all respect each other, and that is because of one thing and one thing only: understanding the mission. 

Mission? What is this, the CIA? Nope. Mission is something that every business has to have to stay focused and on course. Your mission is directly related to your success. When my staff are having conflicts or their personalities get the best of them, I always remind them of why we do what we do. 

In the early childhood field, we are here for the children. We are here for the families. And we are here to grow as kind human beings. We are not here out of convenience. We are not here to serve ourselves. We are not here to be lazy or rude. Our mission here at our center is to show love to all people and help each other grow – for the kids and for the staff. If our attitude is contrary to that, then we are not on mission and need to reevaluate. 

Over the years, some staff did not last due to not being in line with the mission.  It has always been easier to let someone go than to try to force them into believing in something they were never on board with from the beginning. Is this easy? Nope. Will we always like each other? Not a chance. But we can certainly ALWAYS respect each other and complement each other with our flexibility, love, and kindness.

Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 15 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 5, 7, 9 and 11 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.

4 comments

  • Nadia says:

    I really appreciated this writing. It spoke to me as an Ed Director at an Infant/Toddler program.

  • Caisey Ryans says:

    I fully agree with you. Our working team is completely diverse. We are united by our love for children, but otherwise we have different approaches and characters. And it helps, because I can share my experience with others and get valuable advice from them, and it certainly helps us to create an effective learning process.

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