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Program Organization

In this lesson, you will learn about program organization. This lesson includes information about the roles of the Training & Curriculum Specialist and the program manager and how each contributes to the overall leadership of the program. Program goals, relationship-based leadership, and cultural sensitivity all play an essential role in a program’s organization. This lesson will focus on how these factors and program organization go hand-in-hand.

  • Learn about the unique roles program managers and Training & Curriculum Specialists (T&CS) hold that contribute to the overall program organization and quality.
  • Reflect on the importance of keeping staff, families, and community members focused on the program’s goals, objectives, and mission.
  • Learn about the importance of relationship-based and culturally-sensitive leadership.



Program organization means all members have specific roles and responsibilities within the program. As you read the following vignette, consider how the program manager and the T&CS have roles and responsibilities that are separate, but complementary. Pay particular attention to the fact that Tori and Maria share a clear vision of the program's goals, objectives, and mission. Their collaborative efforts ensure that children and youth, staff, and families are secure in how policies and procedures will be carried out on a day-to-day basis.

Tori is a T&CS at a School Age Care program located on the installation. She works closely with Maria, the manager of the School Age Care program. As leaders, their focus is to serve children, youth, families, and staff to enhance the quality of the instruction and care provided at the center. Tori and Maria meet regularly to discuss how to best support program staff. In this vignette, Tori discusses her upcoming observation in the school-age classroom and shares information about an upcoming webinar.

Tori: "Hi, Maria. I wanted to open our meeting by letting you know I plan to observe Ken and Marissa's class this week. They asked me to give them some feedback about how to best manage the group games they plan for the school-age children. I also would like to have about 10 minutes during the next staff meeting to discuss a new webinar that program staff may want to view. It's about teaching children conflict resolution skills through stories."

Maria: "I'm happy you are observing in Ken and Marissa's class. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to assist them as well. I know that they have had the school-age children indoors more than usual due to the number of rainy days this month. I'm happy they have asked you to problem-solve with them. I'll make sure to add you to the staff meeting agenda so you can introduce the webinar. I am interested in knowing more about it. I think we can see about using some staff development time to view the webinar and discuss it afterwards."

Tori's role is to support staff in

  • creating and implementing curriculum,
  • implementing classroom management strategies,
  • goal setting and action planning,
  • assisting with professional development planning and implementation, and many other tasks.

Maria, the program manager, knows that the largest resource she is responsible for are the people she supervises. In addition to supervising staff, she also creates a responsive program climate that is welcoming to all children and families. Management tasks can include:

  • ordering food, classroom supplies and materials,
  • meeting with families,
  • hiring staff,
  • creating staff schedules,
  • observing and conducting staff performance reviews,
  • providing orientation to new employees, and many other tasks.

Maria views her role as one of service, striving to balance both management tasks and leadership tasks. Maria and Tori work as a team to bring their individual talents and skills together to enhance the quality of the child and youth program.

Focus on the Big Picture: Program Goals/Objectives/Mission

An important task for program managers and T&CS is to maintain their focus on the big picture. They model and remind staff members that their words and actions support the program's mission. For some staff, it may be a new experience to be part of a collaborative workplace. Child and youth programs are primarily people-centric workplaces. This means that the most important resources are people. The outcomes are happy, secure children, youth and families. Program managers and T&CSs understand that people (staff, families, and children) are what is most important in their daily work.

Both program managers and T&CS must be able to demonstrate and articulate the program's goals, objectives, and mission to staff, families, and community members. You both lead with integrity and by example. It is critical to understand that program managers and T&CS are viewed as leaders and therefore are held to a high standard. It is easy to become overwhelmed by daily tasks, but by keeping focused on the big picture and reminding staff (who are often looking to their leader for guidance) that they are working together, leaders help create the best possible program for children, youth, and their families. Families and community members will also view the program manager as the key representative of the program.

As a leadership team, program managers and T&CS should continuously share the program’s goals, objectives and mission with direct care staff and support staff. Support staff can include clerks, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, cooks, volunteers and contractors. Make sure to share your shared vision and keep open lines of communication with support staff and personnel. Be sure to include these vital members in team meetings so they remain abreast of current policy, procedures, updates and program goals.

Listen as this leader in a military child care program discusses how her professional partnership allowed program leaders to form a shared vision for their program.

Presenting a Unified Vision for the Program

Listen as a program leader discusses the importance of shared vision and program philosophy.

The following ideas will help to keep everyone in the organization focused on the "big picture" of meeting the program's goals, objectives, and mission:

  • Write staff notes of appreciation and describe what they have done to promote the program's goals and mission.
  • Acknowledge whole group accomplishments during staff meetings.
  • Celebrate when program goals are met (order in pizza, bring a special treat for the staff work room, etc.).
  • Revisit and discuss progress on program mission, goals, and objectives during each staff meeting.
  • Post the mission statement in prominent places (each classroom, the office, etc.) throughout the program and include it in staff and family handbooks.

Your Program's Records

Your advance preparation and planning can ensure the well-being of the children and families you serve. Take a moment to reflect on why documentation of those attending, working, and volunteering within your program is important. How does having the documentation listed below help ensure and promote well-being in your program? How might you communicate this with staff?

One crucial role as a program manager is to make sure you have accurate and up-to-date records and documentation. You will want to have a system (such as color-coding files, email reminders, spreadsheets) to track and organize all required documentation based on expired dates of annual requirements.

Be sure your files contain:

Documentation related to staffing and/or providers, such as:

  • Employee’s health screenings
  • Employee’s required immunizations (including any documented exemptions)
  • Pre-employment reference checks
  • Statement of non-conviction or similar as required by your state licensing agency, along with annual updates
  • Employee’s education, experience, and training record
  • Driving records for all staff who transport children
  • Current background checks

Whether employee, regular volunteer, or contractor, make sure you have a system in place to address uncompleted background checks. For example, staff, volunteers, or contractors whose background check is pending must work within line-of-sight of a cleared staff member and also wear identifying apparel that indicates line-of-sight supervision.

Documentation related to regular, non-paid helpers, volunteers, or family child care providers' family members such as:

  • Statement of non-conviction or similar as required by your state licensing agency, along with annual updates
  • Reference checks for regular volunteers
  • Signed agreement forms for regular volunteers 
  • Immunization forms for regular volunteers
  • Current background checks
  • Daily visitor sign in log

Documentation related to contractors (for example, contracted camp staff):

  • Contractor agreements
  • Statement of non-conviction or similar as required by your state licensing agency, along with annual updates
  • Current and completed background checks for contractors

Documentation related to your program, such as:

  • Daily attendance records
  • Sample plan of program activities or daily lesson plan
  • Findings and remedies from any recent inspection reports, for example:
    • Safety inspection documentation, including documentation of any remedies resulting from inspections
    • Health and sanitation inspection documentation, including documentation of any remedies resulting from inspections
    • Playground inspections, including documentation of any remedies resulting from annual inspections

Fire-related documentation, such as:

  • Fire evacuation plans, including posted primary and secondary routes
  • Fire drills include methods to account for all persons and to note deficiencies for correction, such as lack of complete and safe evacuation.
  • Fire inspections, including monthly inspections and fire drill documentation, including documentation of any remedies resulting from inspections
  • Documentation that fire drills vary and do not occur at the same time of day or evening each month

Documentation related to those enrolled in your program, such as:

  • List of the names, addresses, and birth date of each child enrolled in your program
  • Updated list of parents’ or guardians’ names, addresses, telephone numbers and places where they can be reached in an emergency
  • Annual sign-off or update from guardian regarding accuracy of information in their child’s information file 
  • A list of the names and addresses of people authorized to pick up children from your program, and a system in place to ensure release occurs only from authorized individuals 
  • Children’s health records, including current immunization records and their updates
  • Informed, written consent (as appropriate) from enrolled children and youth, and their
    parents or legal guardians, prior to recording, photographing, or filming. Rather than obtaining consent each time, instead consent could be provided at registration and maintained in program records or files. Consents should be reviewed and updated annually.

Contact your administrator or licensing agent for a list of exactly what forms and documents must be available for inspection at all times. Work with this individual to ensure you are using the most current forms necessary.

You will also want to think about what happens when or if your program receives a request for the release of confidential information about a child or youth, or when the release of confidential information is necessary for program participation. Prior to releasing such information, you will want to:

  • Determine if the reason to release information is valid
  • Obtain informed, written authorization from the child or youth's parent or legal guardian
  • Offer a copy of the signed authorization to the parent or legal guardian, and maintain a copy in the child's file
  • Involve the child or youth in the process, to the extent possible and appropriate based on age and developmental level.

Documentation is always important. Take some time now to review this list and think about any areas where your program’s record-keeping process might need adjustment. Strong programs have standard enrollment processes they use for children, families, staff, volunteers and contractors to ensure the necessary documentation is gathered and also have an annual review process to confirm all information is up-to-date. In the long term, this process should make your job run more smoothly.

Supervise & Support

Relationship-Based Care: It's Not Just for Children and Families

Caring for children and families is all about relationships. Positive, warm interactions build a sense of trust among program staff, children and youth, and families. Building a strong foundation of care that is relationship-based makes challenging situations easier for everyone to navigate. Just as relationship-based care is essential when program staff interact with children and youth and families, relationship-based leadership is also important when program managers and T&CSs interact with program staff. When program managers and T&CSs build warm, trusting relationships with program staff, it demonstrates to staff members how they should interact with children and families. It is critical for managers and T&CSs to understand the impact their words and actions have on the individuals they supervise. Just as program staff should focus on children’s strengths and talents, program managers and T&CSs should focus on staff members’ strengths and talents while working alongside staff to strengthen areas in need of improvement. Program managers and T&CSs should take time to acknowledge staff members’ effort and progress in their professional development as teachers and caregivers.

Nurturing and responsive relationships should be at the core of your practice with children, youth, families, colleagues, and program staff. It is important to build relationships with each staff member to promote trust. You build trust by taking the time to get to know each staff member, honoring and incorporating their values and culture in your program and inviting their input on the program. The relationship between a supervisor and an employee can withstand difficult situations when there is an understanding that the supervision relationship is professional and supportive. Program managers and T&CSs should continuously focus on building collaborative partnerships with staff members. In addition, using relationship-based leadership in supervision meetings builds a strong sense of community within a program. Part of relationship-based leadership is knowing that different staff members may need different kinds of support. Just as each child is unique and has a right to experiences and care tailored to their development and needs, the same is true for staff members. Every member of the staff, including T&CSs and program managers, is on their own professional journey, understanding what it means to provide high quality care and education and embody the program’s goals, missions and objectives. Strong program managers and T&CSs meet program staff members where they are and support them to move forward.

Staff members who have strong relationships with their program manager and T&CS feel more comfortable seeking the support they need, whether it be training, additional coaching, or resources, to provide optimal care for the children and youth in the program. In addition, when program staff witness a supportive, strong professional relationship and teamwork amongst T&CSs and program managers, this provides a model of how to approach their professional relationships with colleagues.

Culturally and Linguistically Sensitive Leadership

Program managers and T&CSs demonstrate that staff, children and youth, and families are welcome in the program setting. As leaders, program managers need to learn about the cultural and linguistic practices of the staff members they supervise and provide resources to staff members to assist them in working with culturally and linguistically diverse families. There are a variety of books, articles, videos, and webinars that address culturally and linguistically sensitive practices with children and families. As leaders, program managers need to learn about each staff member. It is best to ask questions to learn how a staff member prefers to communicate, receive feedback, and request help. One staff member may be uncomfortable sharing or being called on in a large group. This may or may not be true for other staff members in the same cultural group. Once again, the focus is on building relationships and trust between the program leadership and each staff member. Being sensitive to language differences and cultural practices demonstrates an openness to learning about an individual’s knowledge and beliefs. Learning key words and phrases in a staff member’s home language and using the staff member’s preferred method of communication shows that you respect and honor individual staff members. Program managers and T&CSs demonstrate what they want staff members to model with colleagues, children and youth, and families.

Regarding workplace sensitivity, it’s important that program managers and T&CSs avoid blanket statements and management strategies based on stereotypical characteristics of generational groups. We know that humans, by nature, generalize and make stereotypes about groups based on age, racial identity, language, sexual orientation, gender, disabilities, etc. Our biases are telling us stories and making assumptions about others all the time. These stories and assumptions may or may not be accurate. It is helpful to be aware of, acknowledge, and question our biases so we can act in ways that are respectful of others.

Watch the video below to hear staff members share what program management means to them.

Program Management: An Introduction

Staff members describe what program management means to them.

Completing this Course

For more information on what to expect in this course and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Management Program Management Course Guide

To support the professional development of the direct care staff members or family child care providers you oversee, you can access their corresponding Course Guides:


Leadership responsibilities and program organization go hand in hand. Organizations that serve children and youth and families are organized differently than organizations that produce a product. Caring for other people’s children is a privilege. Read and reflect on the attached list of knowledge and competencies for leadership in child and youth programs. Using the handout, Knowledge and Competencies for Leadership in Settings with Children Birth Through Age 8, circle the knowledge and competencies for leadership that lend themselves to your role in your program’s organization. Which are more geared toward the role of the T&CS? Which competencies do you already demonstrate? Which competencies would you choose to focus on to develop your own leadership skills?


Read some of the following articles about leadership and then use the handout Perspectives on Leadership to reflect on leadership in your program.


Measurable or observable knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors critical to successful job performance


True or false? The roles and responsibilities of managers and T&CSs are separate and do not complement one another.
Which of the following ideas will help managers and T&CS keep staff members focused on program goals?
Staff members in your program have diverse cultural practices. You are planning to videotape staff during their circle time activities so that you can offer constructive feedback. What do you need to consider?
References & Resources

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

Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center. (2020). Practice-Based Coaching (PBC).

Jablon, J., Dombro, A. L., & Johnson, S. (2014). Coaching with Powerful Interactions: A guide for partnering with early childhood teachers. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020.) Are generational categories meaningful distinctions for workforce management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (n.d.). The 10 NAEYC Program Standards.

Neugebauer, R. (2015). Knowledge and Competence of Early Childhood Leaders: New insights from the National Academies of Science. Exchange, 37(6), 92-94.

Schweikert, G. (2014). Winning Ways for Early Childhood Professionals: Being a supervisor. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.