Tag Archives: staff management

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

Starting With the End in Mind

Do you remember your very first day in your job? I remember my first day of work at 4C. I was nervous. I wondered what the people would be like. I wondered who I would eat lunch with. I wondered if I had the knowledge to do the job well and live up to my supervisor’s expectations. My mind raced as I drove from home to the coffee shop, and then pulled into the office parking lot.

Now many years later I am on the other side, and here I sit, awaiting the arrival of a new employee. I conducted a thorough interview process with help from staff and guided by Human Resources. I narrowed the pool of applicants to those that possessed the skills, experience and qualities that would suit them for the work of the position and to complement the existing team. I knew before the first interview exactly what I was looking for.

Turnover is frequent in child care, and directors often find themselves in the position to advertise, interview and provide orientation for new staff. It is not uncommon to want to rush the process, to think, “I have so many administrative responsibilities; I need to get out of the classroom.” But as sure as the sky is blue, if you hire the wrong person because you rushed, you will be right back where you started, in the classroom. Putting together a careful plan can save you from sleepless nights and a “to do” list that just won’t quit.

There are countless resources and tips on interviewing and orientation. Two tried and true resources for directors in the areas of staffing, orientation, and staff development are Blueprint for Action and Developing and Administering a Child Care and Education Program.

Once my recent interview process was complete and the candidate had accepted the job offer, the real work began to put together a meaningful and thorough orientation. The orientation I have developed includes a balance of company procedures and expectations, talking, reading, reflection time, meetings with staff, community visits and observing. Adults have diverse learning styles, so it is important to plan for a variety of activities to appeal to all types of learners. The other thing to remember is that the orientation process takes time, and ninety days is a typical introductory period in most organizations. It is that length of time and more that a supervisor should be accessible, providing feedback and actively supporting the new staff member.

4C offers several training opportunities to provide directors and administrators with staff management, like “Human Resources: The Pitfalls” at our Northern Kentucky office, “Strength-Based Supervision: Building Staff One Strength at a Time” in the Miami Valley, and “Getting Them Off to a Great Start: The Orientation Process” in Cincinnati and Lebanon.