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Relationships as the Foundation for Effective Leadership

Your job as a program manager involves interactions with staff members, families, and community members on a regular basis. How effective you are at engaging with all these groups of people depends in part on the strength of your relationship with them. In this lesson, you will identify key aspects of relationship building, discuss the importance of relationship-based leadership, and examine some key things you can do in your role as a manager to build the foundation for positive relationships with staff members, families, and the community.

  • Reflect on who you have relationships with as a program manager and why building those relationships is important.
  • Define key characteristics of positive, supportive relationships.
  • Identify systems and routines for proactive communication with staff members and families.
  • Identify strategies for building relationships with staff members, families, and the community.



Relationships are Foundational

In the field of child care and education, conversations about the importance of relationships are often focused on the relationships that a child experiences, but the truth is, the power of relationships is just as important for adults. Strong, positive relationships are critical to all areas of our life, including our professional lives. Think back to some of the best professional experiences you have had. What was unique or particularly positive about those experiences? Do your coworkers or supervisor at the time come to mind? Often, the people we work with and how supported we feel by those around us are some of the first things that come to mind when we think of a happy and productive workplace.

As a program manager, you set the tone for all relationships at your program. This doesn’t just mean staff members, it also includes families and members of the broader community. The individual relationships you work to build between yourself and each staff member, family member, and community stakeholder can support the satisfaction, motivation, and engagement of each of those parties. Additionally, the way that you model and emphasize the importance of relationships in your program influences how others approach their own individual relationships. For example, when you and other members of your leadership team model respect, clear communication, and teamwork in your relationships with each other, you are showing the direct care staff members the importance of relationship building within their classroom teams, with families, and with children. Collectively, this sets a tone of positivity and support that ripple through the program.

When families come into a program, they want to see adults that are happy, supportive of each other, and having fun with one another because they know that’s the environment their children will spend the day in. Staff members also want to trust that you and their colleagues are fun, joyful, passionate people to be around! If you are only present in times of stress, problems, or evaluation, it will be hard for staff to see you as a person they can have a professional relationship with that is authentic and positive. Micromanaging, being inflexible, and only interacting with staff members in an evaluative way can create a feeling of always being watched and sends the wrong message about how you value and respect staff members as adult learners. Staff members who are scared to make mistakes might follow all the rules, but they’re not likely to be creative, try new things, or feel supported and successful in their work, which can lead to burnout and staff turnover. Staff members who feel appreciated, feel respected, and see management as a part of their team and their professional growth are going to be more engaged and more likely show up as leaders in their own classroom or team.

That positive energy in a program doesn’t come out of thin air—it takes time and effort. But the reward is big. Look at the figure below and think about how your individual relationships can create a ripple effect through your whole program.

Program managers, trainers, coaches, staff, and families all interact

This figure represents different combinations of relationships that occur within a program. A program manager has individual relationships with each of the families, staff members, and the coach. In turn, staff members and families have their own relationships, the coach has relationships with each staff member, staff members have relationships with each other, and so on. As a manager, your actions within each of your individual relationships influence how people approach their individual relationships with others in the program. When you model professional, positive, and respectful language with staff members, they are more likely to model that within their own conversations with fellow staff members. When you model asking questions and seeking to learn more about individual families, it sends a message to your staff member that family input and engagement is important, and they are more likely to do the same within their relationships with families.

It is also important to remember that while at the heart of your job is a focus on supporting the safety and development of children, you are also the leader of a business. Some important markers of the success of your program as a business include things like staff retention, the number of services and enrollment spots you can offer, and the number of enrollment spots that are filled. Cultivating positive, trusting relationships with staff members, families, and the community are at the center of this success. These relationships help you make sure that those in your program want to stay and work to build your program’s reputation, which draws new members of the learning community in.

What Makes a "Good" Relationship?

Every relationship is unique, because every person is different and has different needs. There is no formula for creating and sustaining positive relationships, and if we try to approach it that way we run the risk of it coming off as ingenuine or inauthentic. There are some common elements, though, that are helpful to keep in mind as you reflect on how to build relationships within your program. These common elements apply whether you are thinking about relationships with your staff members, families, or with other community members. These ingredients help set the stage for positive, productive relationships. However, they all require getting to know the people you are building a relationship with so that you can be responsive to individual needs and preferences.

  1. Respect

    As a leader, you earn people’s respect in part by demonstrating your respect for them. Mutual respect is key for developing positive relationships. Think about what others do that makes you feel respected. What have you seen a trusted mentor or previous supervisor do that made others feel welcome and respected? Some examples might include, honoring peoples time by being punctual and prepared, using language that conveys respect for everyone, asking for input and opinions before deciding, etc. Your respect for families is reflected in the way you engage them as the primary decision makers in their child’s life, asking about their beliefs, preferences, and needs when it comes to caring for their child, and making them feel heard when they come to you with ideas, suggestions, or concerns. Your respect for staff members is reflected in the way you value, hear, and act on their opinions and needs, invite them to engage in shared decision-making and set up systems that demonstrate that you value them as professionals (such as a scheduling system that prioritizes release time for direct care staff to engage in lesson planning and professional development activities).

  2. Trust

    Trust is fundamental to all of your relationships as a program manager. Your staff members need to trust that you are going to follow through on actions you have said you will take, that you are committed to supporting their professional growth, and that you have systems set up that ensure they are paid on time and get the time off they need and the materials and personnel they need to keep children safe throughout the day. Families need to trust that you see them as the most important decision-makers in their child’s life, that you prioritize the safety, happiness and well-being of their child, and that you are committed to listening to their questions and concerns and making their voices heard in the program. We gain the trust of others by being honest and transparent, and following through on our words with our actions. As a program manager, this means reflecting on your programs core vision and values and making sure that your day-to-day interactions truly reflect them.

    Trust also means that both parties within a relationship feel comfortable coming to each other with problems and feel confident that the other person will truly listen to them, ask questions to understand more, and work with them to come to a solution. It is particularly important that staff members and families trust that when they come to you with an issue or concern there won’t be retaliation or a breach of confidentiality. You must demonstrate this by opening lines of two-way communication and being consistent in how you respond to and honor staff members and family input, displaying empathy, professionalism, and confidentiality. You can look at ethical guidelines from professional organizations such as National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children (DEC) to understand your obligations to staff and families when it comes to maintaining professionalism and confidentiality. Professional and ethical guidelines are covered in more detail in the VLS Management track, Professionalism course.

  3. Communication

    Communicating regularly and often is key to building relationships and preventing misunderstandings that can lead to frustration or disappointment. Clear, transparent communication is needed for many aspects of your relationships. It is the way that you convey respect and build trust. One of the first messages you want to send as a program manager is that you value everyone’s input and that communication is a two-way street—you will share information with them and you are available to them when they have an idea, need some help, or just need to talk. Communication is most effective when it is proactive rather than reactive, meaning that you are regularly communicating with families and staff members and not waiting until a problem arises to open the lines of communication.

    An important first step is to think about what systems are in place for sharing information with staff members and families and for providing opportunities for them to share information with you. Breakdowns in communication are often at the heart of many conflicts within an organization. In this lesson, we will focus on some strategies and ideas for opening the lines of communication with staff members, families, and community members as a jumping-off point for building relationships. Once those systems of communication are set up, some other important aspects of communication include understanding others’ communication styles, thinking about what is appropriate and necessary to communicate to families and staff members, and listening and feedback skills. You can learn more about these topics and strategies in the Communication course in the VLS Management track.

Relationship Building - It Starts with Knowing Yourself and Others

Think back to the four key types of knowledge leaders need that we discussed in Lesson One. One of them was “knowledge of others.” Your knowledge of the individuals that make up your program’s learning community is key in creating relationships. In Lesson One, we talked about how self-reflection can help you understand your own needs, strengths, and tendencies. To build positive relationships that are authentic, you need that information about yourself, paired with information about individual staff members, families, and other members of your community. Ongoing self-reflection helps you form positive relationships. It supports you in taking action to challenge assumptions, biases, and tendencies that impede your ability to listen and learn about others openly and without judgment. There are many resources available that help you to continuously reflect on personal biases and beliefs that might influence how you interact with others, some of which are in the References and Resources section of this course.

Communication and relationship building must be consistent, proactive, and a clear priority early in your time at the program. During times that are busy or stressful, you are likely to feel pulled in multiple directions. If you don’t have solid habits and routines built in, in which you have prioritized and carved out time for relationship building, you may find that things like spending time in the classroom to get to know children or waiting outside your door to say hi to families might be the first thing to fall by the wayside. When you keep these routines, even during times of high stress, you show staff members, families, and children that they matter and that your connection with them is a priority.

Building these relationships upfront also works to set up more efficient problem-solving when issues do arise. You can’t prevent all conflicts or issues. Even with effective relationship-building strategies in place, there will still be moments of tension, conflict, or complaint from staff members and families. Establishing relationships can help with these challenges in a few ways: (1) When you have strong relationships and communication with staff members and families, you're more likely to get a sense of emerging challenges or conflicts before they become major issues. Remember, trust is one of the core components of positive relationships. If you have worked to build trust between yourself and staff members and families, they will be more likely to come to you and share openly and honestly about something that may be bothering them (2) Hard conversations will be easier to have within the context of an existing relationship. When a conflict arises and there isn’t a strong foundation, or if the foundation is one of mistrust or frustration, people may be more likely to enter those conversations feeling defensive or not confident that you can help them solve the problem. Proactive communication and relationship building helps solve problems or concerns faster and can stop you from feeling like you are constantly putting out fires.

How Do I Get Started?

In this next section, we will review some tips for building relationships that you can use in your first few months as a new program manager. Whether you are brand new to the program or you are starting in a manager role within a program you have worked at for a while, think about how you could apply some of the ideas below to set the stage for positive relationships with staff members, families, and the community. Though these are written with a new program manager in mind, they are all things you could do regardless of how long you’ve been at the program.

Ideas for Building Your Relationships and Getting to Know Staff Members in Your First Three Months

  1. Set up “get to know you” meetings.

    Consider launching your relationship with staff members by asking everyone to sign up for a time to have a 30 minute get-to-know-you meeting. Offer several time options throughout your first few months at the program and let staff members sign up for a time that works for them (and be sure to plan for classroom coverage if needed). It’s important to have opportunities to connect with and talk to staff members in a setting that isn’t evaluative, like a yearly performance or job review or when an improvement plan needs to be put in place. You want to make sure that your first one-on-one interaction with a staff member isn’t to resolve a problem. Remember, hard conversations can’t always be avoided, but putting in the time up front to get to know each other can make them easier down the road.

    During these meetings, you’ll get a chance to ask about their history with the program, their ideas and goals, and what they love about working with children and families. You will also get a chance to share a bit about yourself, find points of connection or shared passions, and give staff members an opportunity to ask you questions. Though it might feel strange to hold these types of meetings if you are already very familiar with the staff, they might be particularly important if you are moving into a leadership role from a classroom staff role, and the individuals you will be managing and leading are longtime peers and colleagues. Navigating your relationships with staff members in this time of transition can feel like a shift in power dynamics and can be potentially uncomfortable. Some of this discomfort can be prevented through open and upfront communication about how your roles and responsibilities have shifted and how you can continue to build on your existing relationships with coworkers. It is also important to set clear boundaries about what is and is not appropriate to talk about or do in your professional setting.

  2. Give out an anonymous survey

    You can learn a lot of great information about staff members from talking with them, both formally and informally. However, there may be some things that staff members might feel more comfortable sharing through a survey, where they have time more time to think about their responses and can share some ideas or feedback anonymously. Giving the entire staff the opportunity to respond to the survey, and then looking at responses wholistically, can help you learn about any patterns or things you might want to address right away to help staff feel more supported. This shows staff you are committed to getting their input and making them feel heard. You can find some sample staff surveys in the resources and reference section of this course. After you review the survey responses, share some important things that you learned with your staff (both positive and things that are potential areas of growth for you and the program to act on). Be sure to discuss and share in a way that doesn’t call out any single answer but reflects what you’ve learned overall by looking at responses collectively. Share what steps you’re able to take right away based on their input, and what is on the long-term agenda as you grow the program—remember transparency and shared decision-making are important to building trust and mutual respect.

  3. Spend quality time visiting each classroom every week

    Block off time on your calendar to spend some time visiting in each classroom and activity space every week—but not observing or evaluating. Being present at the program means more than just physically being in your office. Visiting classrooms and activity spaces—spending time with staff members and children while they are engaged in their everyday activities and routines—can be an excellent way to build rapport with staff members and learn about their classrooms and the children. These visits should be different from when you are observing for evaluations or supervision purposes. When we are doing an evaluation or an observation, we’re primed to be looking for certain things, such as specific practices, or aspects of the learning environment. When you visit and join in without an agenda, you’re able to see things with a different lens. Make sure it is clear to staff members that this is not evaluative, but a time for you to be a part of the learning community with them. Get on the floor and play with children, join or lead an activity, help with classroom tasks. Normalize spending time in classrooms, getting to know the children and youth, enjoy moments of laughter or excitement together with children and youth and staff members. This can help staff members see you as a partner in their work, instead of just as an evaluator, which helps build rapport and trust.

Key reminders as you work on building relationships with staff members:

  • A learning community is not just made up of the direct care staff members and the families they serve. We all know how essential other staff members are to keeping the center running smoothly—the program cook, the front desk staff, facilities managers. These individuals are a part of the makeup of your program, and they interact with children and families, too. Make sure you are making efforts to make every staff member feel like a part of the team and that you are supporting them in helping families and children feel welcomed in the program.
  • The commitment to building relationships with your staff members is never ending. Things change. What people need to feel supported might change. Don’t assume that asking once is enough. The tips above are only starting points to help you think about how to begin building relationships. Make sure that you have regularly scheduled check-ins with individual staff members to allow them to share how things are going, what they need, and any concerns or frustrations. Also make sure you communicate a clear open-door policy, and let staff members know they can always email you or stop by your office to set up a time to talk outside of your regular check-ins. You might even consider using a calendar system that allows staff to book a time with you so they can see when you are available for a meeting. Lesson Four of the Communication course in the VLS Management track offers other ideas and strategies for facilitating ongoing, two-way communication with staff members.
  • Modeling relationship building in your individual interactions with staff members is only one piece of the puzzle in creating a positive team environment. It is also your responsibility to work with your T&CS (or leadership team) to facilitate team building within classroom teams and across your staff as a whole. Lesson Five of the Social Emotional Development course in the VLS Management track offers resources and ideas for facilitating team building with your staff.
  • Your relationship with the coach is different from that of other staff members. While many of the recommendations above would be important to engage in with coach, it will also be important to have specific discussions about how you will work together to lead and support staff members, families, and children. It is important that you and the coach present as a united front and that you both have the same understanding of expectations, goals, and any overlapping roles and responsibilities to avoid confusion. In Lesson Five of this course, we will dive into more detail about clarifying your distinct and overlapping responsibilities with the coach as it relates to supporting staff members through the hiring process, onboarding, professional development, and job evaluations.

Ideas for Building Your Relationships with Families in Your First Three Months

  1. Send a letter introducing yourself.

    When you first start as a new program manager, families will be curious to get to know you, and they may be a little apprehensive about what a transition in management means for their family and child. One of your first steps to help families get to know you can be through a letter introducing yourself. This might be an email that goes out to all families, a written letter that goes home in backpacks, or a special edition of the program newsletter. Instead of writing, you might even consider recording a video of yourself to help children and families put a face with a name. Whichever mode you choose, be sure to make sure that it is accessible to all families and uses inclusive and strengths-based language (see Lesson Two). In your communication with families, consider sharing things about yourself professionally (such as your history, what makes you excited to be leading the program, your vision and hopes for the program, your core values that drive your work, etc.) as well things that help families see you as an individual (fun facts, hobbies, your family, etc.). Be sure to also include language that lets families know that your door is open and that you are looking forward to meeting each of them, and share exactly how families can get in touch with you.

  2. Open your door and tell families where you are.

    Let families know that you are available to them by keeping your office door open as much as possible. Small gestures like standing right outside your door to say hello to children and families during drop-off or waving and asking a family how they are as they walk by your office door can go a long way in helping families feel seen and welcomed in the program. It is of course not possible to always be available to families or to always be in your office with your door open. You are likely not at the program for the full length of time each day that the program is offering care to children. You also likely need to attend meetings outside the program, take phone calls or meetings in which you cannot be interrupted, and will want to prioritize spending time in classrooms during some part of your week. What you want to avoid is setting up a scenario where you are never in your office or your office door is constantly closed and families don’t have a sense of when you are available to them. To address this, consider creating a board outside your office that shares with families where you are and includes general information about when you will be in your office and available to chat and when you are in classrooms or in meetings. You can move a magnet or other marker to indicate where you are. This board might also include information about who is in charge when you are not in the building so that families (and staff) know who to go to in case of an urgent need (we will review a guide for selecting and supporting this person is in Lesson Five).

  3. Think about and plan for the ways you will continuously communicate with and interact with families.

    Though communicating an open-door policy with families can go a long way in supporting your relationship, you want to make sure that you are also actively identifying opportunities to communicate and build relationships with families. This can include both formal and informal modes of communication:

    • Include a “note from the director” in each program newsletter in which you share information, reminders, and opportunities that families might want to explore.
    • Create a family bulletin board with information about upcoming meetings, community opportunities and events that might be of interest to families, center celebrations, etc.
    • Host family events and use these as an opportunity to share information, provide resources, provide opportunities for families to interact with one another, and get to know families or family members you don’t have the opportunity to interact with otherwise because they drop off or pick up at a time when you are not at the program.
    • Learn children’s and family members’ names and use them whenever you see them. Learn something unique or special about each family and child so that you have something personal to connect with them about when you have formal and informal conversations.

Key reminders as you work on building relationships with families:

  • The way you interact with and talk about families should act as a model to direct care staff members and demonstrate expectations for interacting with the families they serve. This should also be reflected in the way you talk about families with staff members. Always model positive, respectful language that embraces diverse family beliefs and opinions and is focused on strengths and shared goals for supporting children’s development.
  • Every family is different. Don’t assume that just because you know that a family is of a certain cultural, racial, or ethnic background means you automatically understand their preferences or beliefs about raising and supporting a child.
  • Families should have opportunities to provide input about the center, your leadership, and what they and their children need to feel supported. You are likely required to survey families as a part of your licensing or accreditation requirements. Make sure you are thoughtful about how you use this information. Share with staff members and families changes or initiatives that their input contributed to—this builds trust and demonstrates to families that their voices and input are valuable to you and the program.
  • New families join the program on a regular basis—think about how you can carry forward some of the ideas and suggestions above into your relationships with new families and helping them to feel welcome. Lesson Two of the Communication Course in the VLS Management track offers ideas and more detail on communicating with families and orienting new families to your program, including information about welcoming new families, keeping family handbooks up to date and types of information they should include, ideas for supporting family involvement and engagement at the program, and things you as a program manager should support teachers in doing to make sure there is consistent two-way communication between families and classroom staff members.

Relationships with the Community

Building relationships with the broader community might feel a little less familiar to you than building relationships with people within your program. Learning about other businesses, organizations, and resources in your broader community is important for your program’s reputation and can also offer connections for things like partnerships that provide other services to meet family’s needs. An important first step is to do some research and learn about the other “players” in your community or installation—what local businesses are near you, are there any child- or family-focused organizations nearby, is there a community center? Talk to people who have been at your program for a while, and to staff members who live in your program’s community. Ask whether the program already has ties to any organizations, and seek ideas for people or organizations you might want to connect with. Learn about organizations on the installation that you can connect with, for example New Parent Support, and reflect on the resources that you may share with one another. In a NAEYC blog post, “Building Reciprocal Relationships with Communities,” Ludmila Batista (2018) offers some ideas for setting your program up to be a strong and respected member of the broader community, including:

    • Hosting family education events where you share resources and ideas with families and invite members of the broader community to join.
    • Connecting with local service agencies (e.g., parks and recreation centers, agencies that provide social services) and offer to keep handouts or business cards with their information at your program and serve as an avenue for referrals for them. This could go both ways—you can ask them to also keep information or flyers about enrollment at your program in their spaces.

    Managing Conflict

    Even with strong relationship-building efforts in place, you can’t prevent all conflicts or problems. Part of your role as a manager is to provide support to staff members and families in resolving conflicts or challenges. While every situation is unique, it is important to have a plan in mind for how you will approach these harder conversations. Some key aspects to keep in mind to prepare yourself for responding to conflicts or issues and supporting staff and families through challenges include:

    • Make sure all staff members and families know that they can come to you with questions or concerns and that they know the different ways that they can get in touch with you to share a question or concern. Remind them that you want to hear about concerns big and small to help make sure everyone feels supported, safe, and comfortable in the program.
    • Set clear expectations and policies. Make sure it is clear in staff and family orientation materials and communications: (1) how you approach conflict resolution; (2) your commitment to confidentiality and professionalism; and (3) what types of information you are legally required to report to others (such as concerns of harm toward self or others).
    • Set “hard conversation” ground rules. Having shared ground rules for hard conversations can help to prevent emotions running high and escalation. Some examples of ground rules include avoid assumptions, listen actively, share honestly and from your own experience, use respectful language, ask clarifying questions (LeeKeenan et al., 2019). You might consider asking staff members and families for input about what they think are important ground rules for helping to keep conversations respectful and productive.
    • Reflect on your own emotions or experiences and how they might influence how you respond or offer support in a certain situation. Stress plays a huge role in how we react to others. Regularly engage in self-care and stress-reduction techniques. You are better primed to support others through an emotional conversation or situation when you are also focusing on your own emotional and mental-health needs. You can learn more about self-care and stress-reduction strategies in Lesson Three of the Self & Cultural Understanding course in the Management track.
    • Learn about approaches for analyzing and addressing concerns. For example, Louise Derman-Sparks and colleagues recommend applying a three-step process to resolving issues. (1) Acknowledge the problem or tension that exists; (2) Ask questions to better understand each person or family's point of view, priorities, beliefs, and desired outcomes related to the situation; (3) Adapt by finding common ground that is guided by professional standards and ethical or safety requirements and facilitating a solution.
    • When dealing with a potential ethical dilemma, NAEYC provides guidance for steps you can take to better understand the situation, consider the conflicting sides or opinions, and identify compromises that meet ethical standards and address individual concerns.
    • Reflect on any common concerns or issues that come up often for staff members and families. Consider whether a recurring issue may be because of a breakdown in communication or unclear roles or expectations. Through your relationships and consistent communication, you might be able to predict some problems and clarify expectations or misunderstandings before they get any bigger.

    Supervise & Support

    All program managers experience successes and challenges as they work to establish and maintain relationships with staff. Listen as program managers describe their relationships with staff and the intentional ways they build and foster relationships in their program.

    Respectful Relationships

    Learn about communicating respect and appreciation for staff members.

    Fostering Positive Relationships with Staff

    Simple strategies to build and maintain positive relationships with staff members.

    As a new program manager, consider some of the following strategies as you begin building relationships in your program.

    • In your first 30 days:
      • Reflect on the importance and impact of your individual relationships with staff, families, and the community.
      • Be present throughout the program—make sure staff members and families know you are available to them and find ways to greet and interact with them every day.
      • Send a letter introducing yourself to staff members and families, highlighting your open-door policy and all the ways they can get in touch with you.
      • Meet with your coach or other leadership team members to clearly outline and understand how you will work together to support staff members, families, and children and the overall operations of the program
    • In your first 60 days:
      • Prioritize and plan opportunities to meet individually with each staff member. Learn about their goals, what makes them unique members of your learning community, their preferences, and what they need from you to feel supported.
      • Establish routines for ongoing, two-way communication with staff members and families.
      • Learn about other businesses and organizations in the community and identify potential connections or partnerships that you could form.
    • In your first 90 days:
      • Make a plan to apply what you learn about what staff members and families need to feel supported through your initial getting-to-know-you meetings or surveys.
      • Reflect on communication approaches you have tried with staff members and families, and consider if there are any changes you could make to expand them based on what you’ve learned about individuals at your program in your first few months as the manager.

    Remember that one of the main ways you promote positive relationships at your program is through modeling—use respectful and inclusive language, take time to talk to people and ask questions, maintain confidentiality and professionalism—and don’t forget to have fun! Don’t disregard the power of small gestures—regularly show people that you see them, hear them, and value them—even if it is just a quick note or mentioning something great you saw them do or accomplish as you pass them in the hall. As you work on building relationships, revisit your responses to some of the self-reflection questions posed in Lesson One about how you tend to react in certain situations. Make sure to keep your own tendencies and communication styles in mind when you are navigating your relationship with others.


    Leadership expert Susan Macdonald recommends using strengths-based questions as way to get to know your team members and build trust and communication. These are open-ended questions that encourage staff to talk about their own strengths and what things help them thrive in the classroom (Mcdonald, 2016). These types of questions can help you get to know what staff members feel excited or passionate about and give you a chance to learn about skills they have and those they want to develop. Examples of strengths-based questions might include:

    • “Describe your best experience working with youth in this after school program.”
    • “Tell me about something you know you do really well in your classroom.”
    • “What do you need to feel like you are doing the best job you can do to support children and families”?

    It can also be helpful to engage in reflective questioning with staff members when challenges or difficult situations occur within the program. You can strengthen relationships within your program by resolving conflict in productive ways and by helping your team reframe their thinking about challenging situations. Use the Questions to Reframe Challenging Situations handout to help you and your team reframe your thoughts about difficult situations that occur with families or with your team.


    Proactive communication—that which is ongoing and anticipates rather than reacts to problems—is absolutely essential to establishing strong, positive relationships and conveying important information to families, staff members, and the community. Early in your time as a manager, you will want to work hard to set up your lines of communication with staff members, families, and the community. This involves thinking about the different types of information that you need to convey and how you can communicate the information effectively. Use the Formal and Informal Communication guide, developed by the federal Office of Head Start, to intentionally think about the methods you use to share information with staff and families and the benefits of using a balance of formal and informal communication


    Strengths-Based Questions:
    Open-ended questions that can be used to get to know staff members and families by focusing on their unique and individual strengths, interests, and experiences


    True or false? It is my job as a manager to make sure teachers are supporting family engagement, but direct-care staff are really the ones that have individual relationships with families.
    Which of the following does not represent a strengths-based question that you could use to get to know more about a staff member?
    Complete the statement. When two staff members come to me with a conflict or problem, as a program manager my role is to...
    References & Resources

    American Academy of Family Physicians (2019 August 16). Eight tactics to identify and reduce your implicit biases.

    Batista, L. (2018 March 30). Building reciprocal relationships with communities. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    Capatosto, K. (2015). Strategies for Addressing Implicit Bias in Early Childhood Education. Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University.

    Carillo, R. (June 19, 2019). 5 Crucial Elements of Relationship Centered Leadership. [Webinar]. Early Childhood Investigation Webinars.

    Derman-Sparks, L., Nimmo, J., & LeeKeenan, D. (2015). Leadership Matters: Creating anti-bias change in early childhood programs. Exchange, 37 (6), 8-12.

    Kelm, J. (2014). The Joy of Appreciative Living: Your 28 Day Plan to Greater Happiness Using the Principles of Appreciative Inquiry. Mooresville, NC: Venet Publishing.

    LeeKeenan, D., & Ponte, I. C. (2019). From Survive to Thrive: A director's guide for leading an early childhood program. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    MacDonald, S. (2016). Inspiring Early Childhood Leadership: Eight strategies to ignite passion and transform program quality. Gryphon House.

    MacDonald, S. (January 18, 2017). Get Inspired to Lead and Lead to Inspire: Techniques that advance early education. [Webinar]. Early Childhood Investigation Webinars.

    MacLaughlin, S. (2017). Reflection: The First Step for Addressing Bias in Infant and Toddler Programs. Young Children, 72(5), 90-93.

    McCormick Early Childhood Job Satisfaction Survey:

    Strengths Based Communication Strategies, Reflection, and Sample Survey.