Category Archives: Directors & Administrators

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.

New year, new goals!

It’s the end of the year and I’m working on staff evaluations and starting to think about working with each of the coaches to set some goals for the new year. I truly enjoy the experience of staff evaluations. I enjoy sitting down with each person, reflecting on their year and talking about their successes and growth opportunities. I enjoy reading their self evaluations and talking with them about the things that they valued throughout their year.

Goal setting and professional development planning is more challenging for me.  It’s hard to sit down and think about what it is they might want to learn and work towards over the next year. I notice that it’s hard for the coaches too. We are all so busy with our day-to-day work, it’s difficult to imagine fitting in time to learn a new skill or strategy. And at the same time, as a supervisor, it’s important for me to encourage people to think beyond the busy day-to-day work and think long term about helping them feel like they have the tools necessary to do their work well.

goals

One example of a goal might be to organize your space. What are your goals for the coming year?

I think to be successful with professional development planning and goal setting for the new year, we need to consider writing an effective performance goal with action steps to support meeting that goal. By meeting regularly with staff and observing them as they do their work, I am able to think about each of them as an individual and align their strengths and areas of opportunity to the mission of our agency. These observations keep their goals relevant to them and the goals of the agency. Another strategy that I plan to use to while setting goals and planning for future professional development opportunities with staff is to reference the Core Knowledge and Competencies (CKC) Documents that Ohio has written. Ohio has Core Knowledge and Competencies Documents for After-School Professionals, Early Childhood Professionals, and Administrators. These documents can be found here. Each of these documents has levels and categories to help the staff and I think about things that are relevant and specific to their wants and needs.

So, as I begin to think about the new year and setting goals with staff, I don’t feel so overwhelmed because I know that I have resources. I have the observations and regular conversations with staff to support us as we move forward. I have the CKC documents to inspire those performance goals. And I’m also trying to keep in mind that the professional development plan is a living document. Sometimes plans will need to change and that’s okay. The important part is that we have created a path to help our agency and the staff be successful. Here’s to the coming New Year. Happy 2015.

What motivates your staff?

“Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” — Dwight Eisenhower

There was a day that I hated school and now that my days of studying are finally coming to a close, I am shockingly saddened! I remember dreading homework and getting up early but my parents always reminded me that I could do better at school, if I really wanted to. Looking back, they were so right!

While I knew it was best to actually pay attention in class, do the homework and study for tests, I just didn’t feel like it so I squeaked out some C’s to keep my parents off my back and prepared to just do the status quo again the next semester; however, there were classes that I excelled in. Now as an adult, I can comprehend that while I knew the whole time HOW to do well in all of my classes, the WHY was the deciding factor: motivation.

Motivation kept these hard-working ECE professionals on track to work toward their CDA credential! What motivates you?

Motivation kept these hard-working ECE professionals on track to work toward their CDA credential! What motivates you?

In order to be effective leaders we have to understand what inspires and truly motivates others to reach their full potential, from the classroom full of young children in our care to the staff we work with or manage every day. Motivation is a compelling yet abstract internal force that cannot be seen or measured but we know it exists and it is powerful!

According to RM Steers, co-author of The Future of Work Motivation Theory, effective work motivation must be energizing, direct and have sustainability. Whether intrinsic or extrinsic, motivating your staff or the children in your classroom needs to be energizing to direct their behavior on a path or towards a goal while being strong and nourishing enough to sustain them over time. This will encourage a lasting impression that continues to drive and reveal those positive behaviors we need in our field everyday!

You can easily motivate the staff you work with and the children you care for by building upon the relationships you have already created with them. I found it easy to motivate the children in my classroom to clean up or stay in line by giving them simple affirmations for their great choices! A few small words to your staff can make a big difference and a smile goes a long, long way! When you take a moment to mention that you notice the work they are doing, that can be a way to sustain motivation over time. Don’t underestimate the power of your approval. Motivating the children in your care by giving them your time, attention and approval can leave life-long impressions and I promise you they will last longer than any color stick or candy on the market. “Good job” and “I’m proud of you” and/or a jumping high five can easily energize and direct a child’s behavior.

Directors, what are some things you do to motivate your staff? If you are a classroom teacher, how do you motivate the children in your classroom? And even more importantly, how do you keep your own self-motivation channeled and charged to stay on track, exceed the status quo and avoid burnout?

What to do if life feels overwhelming

Lately, my life has been so overwhelming. In my personal life, my oldest is applying to college and reaching out for every scholarship opportunity available. There’s marching band and dance practice, homework and studying, dinners to cook and oodles of laundry. In my work life, we’ve hired two new staff and two people were moved to new roles. I’m working on a new project. The pace of life both at work and at home just seems to be speeding by and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m out of control.

When your job is to take care of others, it's important to take care of yourself!

When life feels out of control, I notice that I tend to be grouchy. And I’m probably less productive in all areas of my life. What I keep trying to remind myself of is that I do have control, not over the things that are happening around me, but how I respond and react to those things.

When life feels big, either at home or at work, remember these tips:

  1. Talk about it. Don’t get lost in the maze of all the things happening around you. Tell a trusted friend or colleague about your frustrations. Sometimes it can be helpful to label how you’re feeling and why you think you’re feeling that way.
  2. Take it one day at a time. Make a list and divide up your ‘to-dos’ into more manageable chunks. Not only will you break each of the tasks down, but you can feel accomplished at the end of the day when you’ve been able to cross things off.
  3. Be flexible. Think of your long list of tasks creatively, recognizing that there’s more than one way to be complete each piece. By channeling some creative juices, you might find you to-do list becomes more of a to-done list more quickly!
  4. Take a deep breath. When faced with a daunting set of tasks ahead, give yourself permission to walk away and recharge. Take a walk, enjoy a bubble bath, read a good book. When you have a chance to recharge your body and your mind, you come back with a renewed sense of hope.

And now that I can check this one thing off my to-do list, I feel so much better. At the end of the day, I hope that you can check something off your list and feel better to.

Love is a verb

Our jobs in early childhood certainly aren’t “glamorous.” And yet there are people who have been working in our field for decades and can’t imagine doing any other job. I also have been working in the field for most of two decades and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I started to ask myself and others, why do we choose this job? What is it about working with young children that makes us get out of bed each day?  I’ve gotten lots of answers. Most are what I think people expect: “I love children. It’s so rewarding to see them grow. My mom was a teacher and it’s in my blood.”

Why do you love your job in #ECE? How do you show others love through your job?

Why do you love your job in #ECE? How do you show others love through your job?

There was one answer to my questioning that made me just grin from ear to ear. The answer came from a man who is 86 years young and works as the general maintenance man for a local child care program. As he was sharing with me why at 86 years old he comes to work every day to do the important job of repairing the materials and grounds used by so many children, the most profound statement he made was, “because love is a verb and I can build and repair and restore to show the children and teachers how much I love them.”

With that in mind, as you contemplate a fresh day in your classroom, how will you show those you encounter each day that love is a verb? Could you extend a helping hand to the mom who has her hands full dropping off an infant and preschooler in the morning? Could you smile and greet each child and adult by name that enters into your classroom? Could you offer to help your co-worker who is having a difficult day?

I am so lucky. I truly do love my job. I work with a great group of people. I have the joy of visiting with teachers, administrators, families and children. I see teachers creatively provide opportunities for children to learn new concepts. As I thought about the idea of love being a verb, I realized I need to figure out how I can show others just how much I love my job. Knowing that our jobs can sometimes be challenging and life can feel really big, I encourage you to remember why you love your job. I also challenge each of us to show those around what that means, because love is most definitely a verb.