Category Archives: Directors & Administrators

Marketing 101: An Introduction to Marketing Your Early Childhood Program

Group of Children Playing in a ClassroomEarly childhood professionals are often known for our big hearts and our wide range of knowledge of child development. Yet an undeniable fact about what we do is that we are providing a service to our children and families, in return for which, we receive payment. We are, by definition, a business. Administrators/owners of early childhood programs—you are tasked with making business-related decisions for your programs every day.

“Has tuition been billed for the week/month?” “Did we stay under budget for snacks?” “Has the wording on our sign out front brought in any new enrollments?” “Are our children and families (our customers) happy overall with the service we are providing to them?”

In order for a business to sustain itself for any length of time, it must be marketed in one fashion or another. How do you get the word out about just how wonderful your program is to your surrounding community? And, once you get families in the door, how do you keep them?

Listed below are some early childhood marketing strategies you may want to try in your program:

  • Create appealing, professional marketing materials that are free of spelling and grammatical errors. You want to convey the idea that children will be getting a quality experience at your facility. One of the quickest ways to sabotage this is putting out sloppy marketing information (business cards, brochures, flyers, informational packets, etc.).
  • Answer the phone in a pleasant, professional, helpful manner. The person who answers your phone is the first point of contact a new family has with your program, and first impressions last. Encourage everyone who may answer your phone to use a standard, professional greeting. Make sure the public’s first encounter with your business is a positive one.
  • Post a sign in front of your business. Make sure the community knows you’re there. Include wording about program events, or open enrollment spots, if possible.
  • Maintain an online presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google search, etc.). Post and tweet to your heart’s content about what’s going on at your program. (Just be sure you have family consent before posting any photos or information about children.) In today’s society, this is often the first way the general public becomes acquainted with your program.
  • Ask local businesses to display your marketing materials. Go around to pediatrician offices, dance studios, sports facilities—places where families and children often go— and ask if they’ll let you leave a stack of business cards and/or brochures. You might even make a deal with them that you’ll display theirs in return.
  • Offer a discount on enrollment to new families, or a referral bonus to your current families. As we all know, money talks. Giving a family a break on their initial enrollment cost is often made up in the long run when they stay at your program for an extended period of time. Rewarding your current families for speaking of your program in a positive light is a win-win situation for both of you, as well!
  • Know your competitors—check out other programs in your area. Call around and compare tuition rates. Visit other programs and ask to tour their facility. Know what you’re up against.
  • Maintain the “curb appeal” of your facility. Keep up your property to the best of your ability. During my years as an administrator, I spoke with many families who shared with me that they pulled into the parking lot of a program they were interested in only to turn around and drive right back out because of the looks of the place.
  • Be conscious of “word of mouth.” People talk. They talk to each other at work, at children’s’ birthday parties and playdates, when you’re not around. You want to ensure that what they say is positive, so do your best to put the needs of your children and their families first, above all else, every single day.
  • Provide a quality program. Follow through on your promise to provide your customers with a quality early childhood experience. Maintain the standards of quality that you know are the hallmark of a great program. Additionally, if you are star-rated in Ohio’s Step Up To Quality or Kentucky All STARS, display your banner—share that information with pride!

Marketing your program, though it may not be your favorite part of the early childhood field, is necessary. Do it successfully, and you’ll be the most sought after game in town!

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

teachers-disagreeThink about your own personality style for a minute. Do you crave order and organization, or are you a creative, “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of person? Do you like to lead the way, or do you prefer to blend into the crowd? Do you have endless patience, or are you a “short fuse?” Maybe, depending on the setting, you could lean either way. Now, reflect on the personalities of those you work with. As you’re thinking, two main themes are probably presenting themselves—those you get along with, and those you don’t!

At times in early childhood programs, personality clashes may develop among the adults working within the same program. Take my first classroom teaching experience, for example. At 21-years-old, fresh out of college with my brand spanking new early childhood degree, I accepted the position of lead teacher in a 4-year-old classroom. My assistant teacher was a woman in her 50’s (let’s call her “Jane”), who had been at this program for a little more than a decade, and had been teaching young children for over 20 years. The only reason Jane wasn’t the lead teacher in this classroom was her lack of formal education.

As my first day of employment neared, I thought about all of the wonderful lesson planning ideas I couldn’t wait to implement, how I wanted to rearrange the centers in my new room, and how I was absolutely sure I would be the teacher these children had been missing all of their little lives. Then, my first day arrived… and reality hit me like a punch in the face. In all of my teachery daydreaming, I had forgotten to take into account that I would have an assistant teacher who might actually have her OWN thoughts, ideas, opinions and experiences to add to my “perfect classroom.”

At first, Jane and I were very closed off around each other, sizing each other up daily. She was much more dominant than I in the classroom, and I had a much more progressive teaching philosophy than she did. It became obvious very quickly that she was “old school” and I was “new school.” The children figured this out quickly, and in a very short span of time, they began to play us against one another. Neither Jane nor I seemed to be able to figure out how to find some common ground, and the children were taking advantage of our discord.

As time passed, Jane and I discovered that, outside of the classroom, we had a very similar sense of humor. At staff meetings or break times, we could eventually make each other laugh to the point of tears. Once we broke the ice between us with humor, slowly but surely we started to come together and make a better plan for how things should happen in our classroom. We began to see each other as a team, rather than adversaries. By each of us compromising a bit, we finally got on the same page and backed each other up in front of the children. The day I left our classroom almost two years later, Jane and I hugged and laughed and cried, and I still think of her fondly to this day, 18 years later.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some ways you can try to bridge the personality gap:

  • Keep what happens between the two of you just between the two of you. Running off at the mouth to other staff members about your frustrations with another teacher just breeds mistrust and resentment.
  • Try to find some common ground. Talk with each other—discover your likes and dislikes. Become human to each other. Who knows? Maybe your mutual love of The Very Hungry Caterpillar could be the spark that ignites a great teaching team!
  • Avoid confrontation when tensions are running high. Cool off, take some deep breaths and/or count to ten before you discuss something you disagree about, preferably out of the classroom.
  • Consider your own actions/reactions. Is your behavior contributing to the situation? Is there something you could be doing differently to change what’s happening?
  • Encourage your program’s administrator to have each staff member take a personality test like the DISC or Myers-Briggs. Discovering everyone’s strengths and preferences goes a long way in learning how to communicate effectively with each other.

Regardless of where you fall on the personality spectrum, in the workplace you rarely get to choose who works alongside you. Try to make the best of your situation and see someone for what makes them great instead of what makes them grate on your nerves!

It’s Lonely At the Top: Making the Move from Teacher to Program Administrator

administrator

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell

You’re sitting at your desk on a Friday afternoon. A group of women passes by in the hallway— women you’re friendly with, women you joke around with, women who confide in you. You hear them talking about plans for meeting up for dinner tonight. “Dinner?” you think, questioningly. “I didn’t know they were meeting for dinner. Why didn’t they invite me?” And then you remember— “Oh yeah, I’m the director now. I’m The Boss.

Many of us who hold positions of leadership in early childhood dug our way through the trenches to get there. We may have started out as floaters, or assistant teachers, worked our way to becoming leads, and then made the leap to administration. Often, these steps may happen within the same program, putting us in the position of leading those who were our peers just a moment ago.

It is human nature to want to feel accepted. Especially by those who we work closely with, respect and admire. When you become a classroom teacher in an early childhood setting, the nature of your position and the environment in which you work can often lead teachers to become fast friends. When there is more than one teacher working in the same classroom, this bond can be especially deep. As the only two adults in the room, you support each other. You listen to each other vent. Together, you make your classroom run like a well-oiled machine—her strengths make up for your weaknesses, and vice versa.

Then, suddenly, with your promotion to administrator, this changes. You’re working in “the office” now. You have a whole new set of responsibilities, a completely new role…and all of your staff is watching to see if you’re going to sink or swim. This can be a lonely, isolating experience for many of us.

What do we do? How do we transition into our new role successfully, while supporting, and maintaining relationships with, the teachers in our program? Here are some tips for making the move from classroom to office as painless as possible:

  • Be proud of your new role, but not boastful. You made it to the top – yay, yippee, good for you! But don’t forget that everyone else is still doing the same job they did yesterday.
  • Expect social roles to change. Expect it. No really, EXPECT IT. You are now the superior, responsible for evaluating, hiring and firing the very same people whom you had coffee with last week.
  • Seek out others who are in a situation similar to yours. If you’re lucky enough to have other administrators at your program or organization, get to know them. If you’re the only one in charge, Look for professional development offerings geared toward administrators (Check out 4C’s opportunities in Southwest Ohio, the Miami Valley, and Kentucky) to help you be successful in your new role. It helps to meet others you can talk to who have walked a mile in your shoes or are experiencing the same things.
  • Observe other early childhood leaders—take note of their various leadership styles. Visit other quality early childhood programs in your area and observe a day in the life of the administrator. This serves two purposes—it gives you a glimpse into what your new position may consist of from day to day, and it allows you to learn about leading and motivating staff in a positive way.
  • Get input from your staff when possible. When people feel like they matter in an organization—like their voice, their opinion, is important and valued – they are much more likely to be a “team player” and make positive contributions to their work environment.

When you enter into a leadership role, remember that day in and day out, you will be setting the example your staff will follow. People will look to you for guidance, even when you may not be quite sure which way to steer them. It is up to you to lead your program with confidence, positivity and a genuine passion for providing all children the quality early childhood experiences they deserve.

Why You Should Invest in Your Development

invest-in-your-development-for-children

Investing in professional development translates into the learning of the children you care for everyday!

It’s important that early childhood professionals have the tools they need to run high quality programs that engage children and families. It’s important to seek opportunities to sharpen your skills, master new concepts and implement new strategies into your program.

Just as doctors continue their education to stay abreast of new advances in medicine, you must stay up-to-date on the advances in education and child development. Education is an investment of time and money that translates into the learning of the children you care for everyday. Advanced education might come in the form of a one-day workshop, a community meeting, or an all day event. Whether you are a teacher, program administrator, or family child care provider, you are an advocate for children and families. To be the best advocate you must stay educated and then share your discoveries and knowledge with those you work with.

Conferences are a wonderful way to bring fresh energy and inspiration back to the surface. Early childhood program administrators with training in leadership are known to succeed in attracting and retaining highly qualified professionals. All early care and education professionals who attend these conferences are able to bring fresh ideas and motivation to the program to enhance the culture.

4C for Children’s Miami Valley Early Childhood and Leadership Conference will be held on Friday September 23, 2016 at Sinclair’s Pointz Center.  After hearing from keynote speaker Erin Ramsey, there will be knowledgeable professionals offering eleven breakout sessions to keep attendees informed of the latest research, stay abreast of best practice and offer information regarding new concepts. One of the breakout sessions that will be offered is titled “Assemble an Environment to Maximize Your Space” presented by Jenni Jacobs of the University of Cincinnati.  What a valuable topic for so many educators who need help taking a small space and turning it into the most conducive learning environment. Expertise in this area is useful for professionals both new and old. This is just one of the many sessions that will be sure to promote higher professional standards that will strengthen early childhood. Learn more about this exciting upcoming opportunity!

Three Joys of Working With Children

joy-of-working-with-childrenWhen I first entered the field of early care and education, I quickly learned that when asked the question, “Why do you like working with children?” the answer should be more than, “I love children.” I had to ask myself, “What do I love about children?” I began to really think about what children do that sparks happiness in my heart, mind and soul. The following, are examples of what I have grown to see as a joy of working with children.

Curiosity in Action
Children are natural explorers. They are born with the innate ability and curiosity to figure out the world. They will work to figure out how their bodies move in space, often times getting stuck. They will taste the nastiest of substances and have a hard time refraining from touching everything they see. I learned to embrace these moments and realized that rather than express my dislike, I could offer ways for children to safely explore their curiosity. I made sure I was close by when they got stuck and explained that some things were not safe and helped them find alternate ways to explore what they were curious about. I realized that it was my responsibility to provide opportunities to open, close, poke, push, pull, crawl, climb, jump, rip, build and knock down in safe and appropriate ways, rather than push my own agenda. I found it joyful to figure out what each child was interested in learning based on their natural drive and curiosity.

Masters of Their Universe
In order for a skill to be mastered, there needs to be plenty of opportunity to practice those skills, including behavior and social skills. Young children will automatically practice skills that they are interested in learning. This can often times be seen as an annoyance because a child’s preference may not align with the teacher’s plans. These preferences can at times be seen as a challenging behavior, which is not the child’s intention. Through this I learned how to be flexible, admit when I wasn’t being flexible enough and learn how to rely on my team and administrator for support when I was struggling. This is only one example of how children have taught me something about myself through their need for repetition and mastery. The opportunity to watch children master new skills and finding ways to challenge myself to allow these opportunities to occur is definitely a joy.

Real Genius
Part of our work with children involves planning experiences for them. I have always enjoyed finding developmentally appropriate activities and materials to use in my activity plans. The real joy of implementing any activity was sitting back and observing the children and allowing them to teach me a thing or two about the different ways to use materials. I can remember bringing in five or six boxes into the classroom. I intentionally chose sizes of boxes so that they would nest together, like nesting cups. As the children played with the boxes they began to decide how many children could fit in each box, the biggest fit three children while the smallest could only fit a foot or a hand. Although this was not my initial intention with the boxes, the social interactions and peer cooperation that I saw in these 2-year-olds was amazing. They taught me that while being intentional is important, allowing children to explore freely can open up doors to all kinds of learning.

All in all, I can say that the biggest joy of working with children is that they have taught me more about myself than I think I could have learned if I had chosen any other profession. These joys are what kept me going on the rough days. The fact is if you are working with children, you should love children. So think about what you find joyful about working with children, and remember to be specific!

To be there for children, it is important to take care of yourself.

take-care-of-yourself

We all know that working in the early care and education profession can be exhausting and stressful. As adults, we set the tone for our programs. If we are in a negative mood and are putting off vibes that we are unhappy, children can and will feel this and often times react in negative ways. Here are a few ideas that my colleagues at 4C for Children shared with me that they have used to recharge throughout and/or after having a tough day:

Pamper yourself. Treat yourself to something special! Some ideas include: reading a book or taking a hot bath. Or perhaps getting a mani/pedi is more your style. Sometimes enjoying a sweet treat is enough to recharge during a 15-minute break. It is okay to do these things for yourself in order to maintain a level of calm.

Commune with nature. Spend some of your lunch break and take a walk or find a quiet place to immerse yourself in the beauty of the outdoors. Terri, a 4C Professional Development Specialist kept a pair of binoculars with her to watch the birds that inhabited the tree line off of the parking lot. She found this very relaxing and rejuvenating on stressful days. Sitting under a tree can be grounding and can quickly recharge you with enough energy to make it through the rest of the day.

Ponder the positive. Bridget, another member of 4C’s Professional Development team kept a memory box of items that she kept from her classroom. On particularly rough days, she would go home and look through the box and think of all the positive events that she had experienced in the classroom. 4C professional development specialist Alissa commented that finding some alone time and thinking of pleasant thoughts can also be helpful on stressful days.

Involve the children. If you cannot get away or take a break—because let’s face it, it can be difficult to do—find ways to involve the children. Sing a silly song or put on your favorite, child-friendly music. Some of my favorite go-to albums included “Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George” by Jack Johnson, “Not for Kids Only” by Jerry Garcia & David Grisman, and “Let’s Go Everywhere” by Medeski, Martin & Wood. Music is one way to bring people together and can quickly turn around the dynamics of the program. Bridget also shared she would bring out a favorite book or art activity for children to do and this would often times help engage children and ease tension.

So the next time you are feeling tense or a little stressed out, remember it is important to model the behavior we expect to see in children. By taking care of ourselves, we can teach children how to do the same. How do you plan take care of yourself? However you choose to take care of yourself, it is important that you take the time to do it. The young people in your life depend on you and need the adults in their lives to be stable and strong.

How to keep staff motivated

I recently facilitated a workshop on how to keep early childhood education program staff motivated and inspired. We are experiencing some beautiful weather and that alone is enough to increase one’s apathy not to mention all the other factors that can contribute to a lack of motivation. I once was a director of a child care program where we could literally hear the roller coasters at a nearby amusement park. It’s super hard to retain the motivation of the seasonal support staff when they can hear their friends screaming in joy down the street.

How can you meet the needs of your staff and keep them motivated?

How can you meet the needs of your staff and keep them motivated?

We had some really solid discussions during the workshop that we framed using an article I found called 8 Deadly Ways to Kill Employee Motivation that can absolutely show up in a child care program if we let them. We talked about 7 of the 8 motivation killers. Hopefully some of these can help you figure out how to keep your staff motivated:

  1. Toxic People. We have all worked with them; the negative Nellie’s. The ones who find something negative to say about any and all things. They find faults in the lesson plan you are super excited about and are never on board with changes. And being excited about aiming for the next star in the quality rating system? Forget about it. Surround yourself with positive people. And if someone is that unhappy in a program, maybe it’s time for them to move on.
  2. No Professional Development. Since this is a state regulation, it may seem like a moot point, but it’s not. At 4C for Children, we hear time and time again that folks come to a workshop because they need the hours and their year is almost up or they don’t even know what the topic is because an administrator signed them up. Motivation will increase when training is meaningful. Encourage staff to give input on their own professional development based on their individual needs and interests. Search through the 4C online workshop calendar together, and call us any time for help with developing a plan.
  3. Lack of Vision. All programs should have a vision. It’s a plan for why we do what we do. Why does this business (for-profit or not-for-profit) open its doors everyday and where is it going? Once the vision is clearly communicated, it should be displayed everywhere (i.e. interview, orientation, reviews, newsletters, etc.); it gives focus to the work.
  4. Wasted Time. In our discussion during the training, what rang loudest and clear, are staff meetings. Staff meetings are necessary. It’s important to get everyone together and on the same page, but it’s also important that staff feel like their time is valued. Some tips we came up with are to allow staff to add to agenda items, have a set meeting time and place so staff can plan accordingly, and add food and fun. Ask a different room to “host” each meeting and what they do with it is up to them. Add team building activities. Sure, you may have some who think those activities are a waste of time (see point number 1) but most will appreciate the bonding, which inevitably will lead to motivation in the day-to-day.
  5. Inadequate Communication. There is no such thing as over-communication. Remember, whether you are in a classroom or running a program, people receive messages differently. If you have something important to say, say it a hundred times in a hundred ways (email, newsletter, posted near clock-in area, in-person, etc.).
  6. Vertical Management. Everyone wants to have a say. No one likes to just be told what to do all the time. Find ways to empower your staff to help make decisions and feel safe offering up ideas. And if you aren’t an administrator, let your voice be heard. Share ideas in an appropriate way and if you aren’t being valued, start looking for a new place to work.
  7. Lack of appreciation. This is the single, easiest way to keep staff motivated. SAY THANK YOU. Let folks know you appreciation them and what they do. Just saying it goes a long way but there also affordable, endless possibilities to show it. You can find lots of ideas on Pinterest for fun, affordable ways to show you are grateful for the work of your staff.