Team building in early childhood care and education happens when you create processes, interactions, and activities that help a group of people become an effective and efficient team in order to meet the needs of the children and families you serve, as well as those of your organization as a whole. Team building should include all the people who work in a program—the cook, the van driver, the receptionist and the custodian as well as teachers, assistant teachers and volunteers. Everyone should have an opportunity to see their roles in working toward the common goals or vision of your program.
Most early childhood education programs already use some team building activities, such as bringing teachers together to think about programming and curriculum or to learn new skills; holding a pot luck dinner, picnic, or parent event together; having “secret pals” in larger programs; or exchanging gifts during holiday seasons. The best way to build teams is to have every adult who is part of the organization participate in some way. Everyone in the organization has to be seen as a valued part of the team in order for your team to be successful. For example, custodians play an important role with the children’s learning when they take responsibility for teaching children about cleanliness and heath issues and modeling appropriate responses to children.
Team building is also a way to strengthen collaboration between colleagues. It is a way to begin recognizing how each role adds to the leadership the children see in your environment. For example, when my daughter was in preschool, Ms. Ada, the cook, was just as important to my daughter’s daily life as Ms. Kate, her teacher. Every day, my daughter would come home with a story about lunch time or something about Ms. Ada’s cooking. A team member will be more likely to collaborate with others when she knows that she is making a positive impact on your program and the families you serve.
If you are the director of an early childhood program, you play a vital role in acknowledging that leadership takes place on every level in your work setting. Each interaction you have with your staff should demonstrate that fact. Try some of these simple techniques to change your mindset on the importance of each team member:
- Make a list of every adult in your program. What is the number one strength or gift each person adds to the team? What would the team and the children be lacking if that person was not there to bring that strength or gift?
- What is the director’s relationship with each of the adults in the program? Does the director have regular conversations about what each staff member wants for the children or the families served? If not, ask what each person wants most for the children and their families.
- What is each adult’s relationship with the children? You can learn a lot about who the children think is part of the team by observing their interactions with other adults in the environment. Ask each adult if she feels like a part of the team. If yes, ask why. If no, ask why not.
- Are there support staff in your program? Are they invited to regular program meetings and do they participate? If they are not part of program meetings, you can suggest they be invited.
Leadership is similar to teaching. If you are interacting with other people, you are leading. If you work in a child care center, school, or similar organization, everything you do or don’t do contributes to the way the organization functions. This is leadership. Every adult needs to acknowledge, be responsible, and be accountable for the impact she has on the life of a child. Children look to us for education, and we provide it, whether we intend to or not. In the same way, you are leading whether you intend to or not, whether you are a director of the center, a home provider, infant teacher or volunteer. That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge your leadership–are you leading others in the direction you want to go?When all of these things fall into place … we have good teamwork and even better leaders!