- Learn the importance of the hiring process in overall program quality when adding or replacing staff members.
- Learn that attention to orientation activities and staff members’ job-embedded professional development is critical to retaining and engaging all employees in the program’s mission and vision for excellence.
- Connect staff members’ evaluation process to the development of professional goals.
- Reflect on the reasons and process of working collaboratively to create positive experiences for staff members and to strengthen the management of your program.
"It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?" - Henry David Thoreau
Program managers and Training & Curriculum Specialists (T&CSs) are in positions that require them to interact with numerous staff and families. Their work plans can include a variety of tasks. Staying focused on the aspects of the work that have the greatest impact on creating and maintaining a high-quality program for children, youth, and families can be difficult when there is so much to pay attention to. This lesson points out those aspects of program management (hiring and supporting staff) that contribute to the quality of the program.
The Importance of Hiring
Program managers and T&CSs are the recognized leadership team within child and youth programs. Their role is to support the ongoing work that the staff does every day with children, youth, and families. The support they provide is both individual and program-wide. Program staff are responsible for what happens in their own classroom setting, but the leadership team has the responsibility to oversee the quality of all aspects of the program. There are many ways to provide program support that fosters continuous quality improvements, but the most influential is hiring and retaining exceptional staff members. The largest budget line in care and education programs for children and youth is always the staff members. Staff are the heart and soul of the program.
Your Service will likely have specific procedures that must be followed for hiring and onboarding new staff members. There are many employment laws and procedures that must be adhered to in the hiring process. This may involve a team of people in addition to the program manager (e.g., a supervisor, a lead teacher, or a member of the family advisory board). Human Resources (HR) will also be a key member of the team when it comes to hiring new staff. Program managers need to work with HR partners to ensure each step in the recruiting process is effective and timely. For assistance in understanding employment laws and procedures, refer to your Service specific guidelines concerning hiring or get in touch with your state licensing agency.
Hiring new staff can be very time-consuming and expensive and should be undertaken with great responsibility by program managers. Careful selection of the best qualified staff is essential to creating and maintaining a high-quality program. Program managers know what knowledge and skills they want staff to possess, and they look to hire individuals who are open to learning and developing as professionals. Managers should also consider hiring staff who speak the home languages of children in the program and are part of cultural communities the program may serve. Program managers are typically aware of aspects of their program that are less successful and may wish to add staff members who bring new ideas and energy to their program.
Procedures for Hiring
Once you have identified the required qualifications and characteristics for a candidate, the hiring process can begin. A successful hiring process consists of multiple stages. Each stage is set up to confirm that potential employees have the qualifications and characteristics necessary to keep children safe. The hiring process will be prescribed by your Service, but it often includes written or electronic applications, one or more interviews, background screening, review of references, and a probationary period (Child Care Aware, 2021). The qualifications are initially assessed through an application questionnaire and crediting plans that are used to screen applicant qualifications such as education, credentials, and experience. Interviews are then used to assess demonstrated competencies and individual dispositions.
Interviewing applicants is an important step in the employee selection process. If done effectively, the interview enables you to determine if an applicant's skills, experience and personality meet the job's requirements and if they are a good match for your team. Planning and conducting interviews requires a team effort. The program manager will need to work with HR, T&CSs, and current staff, to build an effective interview team. This team will develop, create or assess a set of core interview questions for each respective recruitment cycle. You may want to consider cross-functional interview panels and designate specific roles for each panelist. Some members of the team may not actually sit in on the interview but may be needed for input prior or after the interview process.
You should conduct comprehensive interviews with potential staff members before hiring. This will help you get a feel for how the staff member interacts and might fit with your program’s philosophy. Ask interview questions that help you determine whether candidates have the qualities and dispositions you are looking for in a team member. Also look for any warning signs that the individual might not be a good fit for work with children. Make every effort to speak to references rather than simply requesting a written reference. You can gain more information and a better impression of the applicant’s history by having a conversation. While in-person interviews offer the best opportunity for personal engagement, they may not be practical given operating environments and the functional level of the position. For more information pertaining to best practices for conducting virtual interviews please see the Harvard Business Review article, 8 Tips for Conducting an Excellent Remote Interview, listed in the References & Resources section of this lesson.
Refer to your Service’s specific policies regarding interviewing candidates, and consider some of these tips from the National Head Start Office of Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC) article, Conducting Effective Interviews: What You Need to Know:
Develop an interviewing structure that can be kept consistent across all candidates. As much as possible, standardize the questions, environment, and interviewers involved so that you can really compare apples to apples when it comes down to a few viable candidates. This structure will not only make your interviews more effective but will also increase the professionalism, equity, and legality of the whole process.
Choose your interview format carefully. A one-on-one meeting is more likely to put a candidate at ease and facilitate a conversational relationship, but it does not provide the objectivity gained by having two or more interviewers involved. In the latter case, make sure that each participant's role is distinct and mutually understood. For example, have one person focus on employment history and experience, another on skills capacity/job requirements, and a third on culture/personality fit.
Defining the Role
Know what you want to see before the interview starts. To the greatest extent possible, candidates should be selected for roles; roles should not be defined around candidates after the fact. Brainstorm with colleagues about the characteristics of an ideal candidate. Identify the core competencies that are required for success in this role and in your organization as a whole. Keep in mind that some competencies should be based around skills and experience, whereas others should consider personality attributes and cultural fit. Make a list that can be developed into an interview template and scoring sheet, as described later.
Ensure that all your questions are:
- Relevant: focusing on the required core competencies and pertaining only to areas that equal opportunity laws refer to as Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications (BFOQ), which are those qualifications required to perform a job safely and efficiently and that are reasonably necessary to the operation of the business.
- Behaviorally Based: asking candidates to describe past experiences in which they successfully demonstrated specific competencies.
- Open-Ended: allowing insight into a candidate's thought processes without "leading" the answers you want or requiring unknowable, organization-specific facts. Structure your interviews to provide candidates with multiple opportunities to prove their potential values and abilities to succeed in the role. It is easy to miss out on a great candidate if you focus more on making someone nervous and setting them up for failure than you do on evaluating their potential.
The Interview Conversation
Begin with introductions, a review of the meeting goals and timetable, and opening questions designed to put the candidate at ease. Then move into the format that you have prepared. You may want to have a template, on which you can quickly write notes around responses, handy. Make sure to keep notes focused around required qualifications and competencies.
Remember that in a good interview, information should flow both ways. Plan time in the interview to take advantage of this opportunity to tell your organization's story to a person who may end up being important to you, whether or not they are right for this particular job. Allow the candidate to talk for approximately 70 percent of the time and you (and your colleagues) to speak for 30 percent of the time. Watch for responsive comments and intelligent questions.
Making a Decision
Complete an evaluation sheet as soon as possible to capture your thoughts around a candidate's capacities related to your specific areas of focus. This information should be recorded both numerically (1-10 scale) and in short commentary form. If multiple interviewers are involved, have each one complete the scoring sheet individually and then convene the group to compare impressions.
Try to prevent immediate reactions, premature conclusions, and irrelevant subject matter from clouding your judgment about whether or not a candidate will be able to succeed in a role. You may not be able to gain adequate perspective on any one candidate until you have interviewed several individuals.
Although all interviews should carefully consider a candidate's personality fits with the organizational culture, remember that you need to focus on selecting the right employee, not a new best friend.
The following are some additional suggestions that you may want to consider for your program’s interview process:
- Collaborate with Human Resources (HR) when you develop new interview questions. Typically, all of the interview questions developed by the program manager need to be approved by the HR office first.
- Use scenario questions that you have encountered at your program, to assess how a candidate would approach various child care scenarios.
- Plan and be prepared to answer questions that candidates will commonly ask: What are you looking for in a candidate? What do you like best about working here? What is a typical day like here?
- Do not overwhelm candidates with too many questions in a 30–45-minute interview. 4-6 well-crafted questions should guide the conversation.
Effective interviewing is essential in the child care hiring process. As a program manager, it is important to continually assess the interview questions you are asking to ensure that they are effective in providing insight into the candidate’s knowledge, skills, and personality or disposition. For more information on effective interview questions see the Assessing Interview Questions activity in the Apply section of this lesson.
A thoughtful and well-planned interview process will increase your efforts in evaluating and choosing high quality staff. It is particularly important to remember that the interview process you use reflects how your program is seen by all future candidates. This should not be looked at as a chore, but an opportunity for potential staff to have insight on the values and quality of your program. In addition, interviews provide a wonderful opportunity to meet and track other potential candidates for future job openings.
Creating a Welcoming Workplace for All Staff
Program managers and T&CSs are responsible for acclimating new staff to the program. As the recognized leadership team, program managers and T&CSs are tasked with helping all staff succeed in their jobs. Intentionally welcoming new staff when they join the program may help them feel a part of the staff community and influence their desire to remain employed in the program. A new staff orientation, as well as a training and mentoring process, may eliminate future problems where a staff member is unsure of a program rule or procedure. In addition, some of the benefits of having a new-staff orientation, and a training and mentoring process, is that you can highlight from the start, and continually reinforce your program’s goals, missions and objectives for serving children, youth, and families. These experiences also offer time and structure to create trust and professional partnerships that support high quality care. Staff members know from the beginning that you are there to support their professional development, and that asking questions, seeking support, and learning together is encouraged. Your Service or program may have an excellent formal orientation process for new staff, but you may want to create opportunities to orient new staff within your particular setting. Each workplace has a culture or way of doing things. It helps new staff to feel part of the team when they are welcomed and invited to be a part of a workplace’s culture. (e.g., program staff enjoy a complimentary chair massage during their break or take part in a healthy treats potluck).
The following are some suggestions for welcoming new staff:
- Have current staff create a list of “Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Working Here.” Include it in orientation activities and add it to the staff handbook. Include humorous examples (laughter is a great ice-breaker).
- Program managers and T&CSs should intentionally schedule brief check-ins with new staff members to make sure all is going well. T&CSs especially can provide constructive feedback and help new staff members celebrate successes as well as provide additional information and clarification of policies or procedures. Many new employees see the job as working with children and youth, but it is important they understand that working with adults is also a critical aspect of their position. This often becomes clear during their first weeks of work.
- Assign a seasoned staff member to be a mentor to the new staff member. Your Service may have a sponsorship or mentor program that matches seasoned staff with new staff. Think carefully about this assignment and personally ask staff members if they would be willing to take on this leadership role. It is important for new hires to make connections with their team members and have allies/advisors for role-modeling and learning.
- Leave a brief positive descriptive note in the new employee’s mailbox describing something you saw them doing (e.g., “I saw how excited Juan was to see you when you came in this morning, and how happily you greeted one another. I can tell the children and families are beginning to develop strong relationships with you.”). Encourage them as they learn their new job responsibilities. Everyone needs recognition, but especially when starting a new job.
- With approval from the new staff member, introduce them to families through a program newsletter article or a picture and brief biography on the program website or social media.
All staff members need to feel welcome and connected to the program. It is especially important to create a welcoming place for new staff. Building a strong relationship with each staff member from the start is how effective program managers ensure each employee feels valued.
Watch the video below to hear how staff members create a welcoming and supportive environment for fellow staff members.
Supervise & Support
Conducting Successful Performance Evaluations
Performance evaluations are an important part of the process for supporting staff members in working towards their professional goals. Performance evaluations are generally conducted and documented by a program manager and not the program coach, and serve a different purpose than coaching observations and meetings. Performance evaluations serve two purposes. 1) they are an accountability tool to help monitor compliance and can help you identify potential lapses in adherence to policies so that you can address them and clarify expectations to prevent issues of safety and harm to children’s wellbeing 2) they are an opportunity for you to engage with staff as they work on their goals for growth as professionals. While performance evaluations can and should be an opportunity for you to support the individual goals of each staff member, there is a focus on compliance that is distinct from coaching. Your role as a manager is to observe and understand if and how staff members are meeting expectations and standards associated with professionalism, following of safety procedures, completing training requirements, demonstrating basic competencies associated with providing quality care to children and youth, and engaging in activities and practices that demonstrate growth over time.
Performance evaluations will include job related competencies such as arriving to work on time and following dress code requirements, as well as those related to safety, supervision, and education of children and youth such as turning in lesson plans on time with all expected components, adhering to staff-to-child ratios and using active supervision at all times. Your evaluations should directly align with the expectations that were communicated to staff through their written job description, your staff handbook, and your onboarding procedures. While you are primarily responsible for conducting performance evaluations, partnering with the T&CS and sharing observations and knowledge about staff members with one another can help you make informed decisions about a staff’s performance. Consider the following key practices to help make your staff evaluations supportive and effective:
- Use the same structured observation tool or checklist for all staff members’ performance evaluations.
- Share the performance evaluation tool with the staff member and ask them to self-evaluate their performance.
- Provide regular and consistent informal feedback to staff to avoid surprises in a performance review. Feedback should not be limited to the annual performance evaluation.
- Be honest about a staff member’s performance, clearly explain your expectations.
- Written evaluations are important for documentation purposes but the performance review should always occur in person. Schedule time to meet with each staff member face to face.
- Review and reflect on the goals from the prior year. Determine if the goals were achieved or what progress has been made.
- Use specific, tangible examples of performance and how you expect those to be improved.
- Provide constructive feedback in a respectful and supportive way.
- Identify a staff member’s strengths and areas for improvement.
- Use the review as an opportunity to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-sensitive) goals specific to the expectations the staff member is not meeting and include them on the annual individual development plan.
- Create an action plan for achieving and following up on goals set during the performance review.
Connecting Individual Staff Performance Evaluations and Goal Setting
In most centers, program managers are responsible for conducting staff evaluations, however, the T&CS may offer insights and share observations with the program manager. Different programs will have their own staff evaluation protocols. Individual staff evaluations should always be a collaborative process between the program manager (or other evaluator) and the staff member who is being evaluated. Using observation and objective data collection techniques is critical when providing staff members feedback about their work performance.
Staff evaluations should always be conducted in a positive, constructive manner. Program managers should remain professional, polite, clear, and objective when conducting evaluations with staff. The outcome should always be that staff members learn more about their practice and how to improve their work with children, youth, and families. Performance goals and objectives that are decided upon between staff and program managers should be observable and measurable. Timelines for achieving individualized goals and the specific resources needed (e.g., coaching, materials, webinars, readings, videos, training or conference sessions) to assist staff in achieving their goals should be documented.
Staff evaluations and documentation should always be kept confidential. Program managers need to make sure personnel files containing these documents are not accessible to other staff members or families. The professional goals set and the means by which staff are to attain those professional goals can serve as program goals as well.
Including staff in decision-making about performance evaluation and professional development plans acknowledges that they are professionals and able to reflect on and contribute to their own growth. Creating opportunities for staff members to learn and problem-solve together creates a sense of belonging, where everyone is able to share ideas.
Enhance Quality Through Professional Development Activities
Program managers and T&CSs will want to engage staff members in job-embedded professional development activities as much as possible. Staff working in child and youth programs are required to learn about a variety of topics (e.g., child development, teaching techniques, child guidance, child assessment, building relationships with families, health and safety, team-building and collaboration with colleagues). Research has shown that coaching is the bridge between learning in trainings and implementing practices in the classroom as learning often occurs in the context of day-to-day work in the program.
|percent of participants showing increased knowledge||percent of participants demonstrating skills||% participants who applied practices in the classroom|
|When teachers are given information on theory||10%||5%||0%|
|When teachers are also given demonstrations in training||30%||20%||0%|
|When teachers are also given practice and feedback in training||60%||60%||5%|
|When teachers are also given coaching in the classroom||95%||95%||95%|
Just as staff members are continuously learning, so are T&CSs and program managers. Again, as program leaders they model an open attitude toward improving their skills and practices. T&CSs and program managers may wish to openly state to the staff what their own professional goals are and how they plan to meet them. Seeking out face-to-face professional communities of practice, working with a mentor, or scheduling conference calls with other T&CSs and program managers can be helpful in their growth as leaders. Continuously learning new skills and knowledge is part of being a professional; it is important for staff to see leaders who are not perfect and who show a personal commitment to expanding their knowledge and skills.
In addition to job-embedded learning opportunities, there are many other ways T&CSs, program managers, and staff members may want to engage in learning. Educator and author Gigi Schweikert (2012) offers these sources for further learning:
- Colleges and universities (face to face and online)
- Formal courses and webinars
- Other people (mentors, coaches, communities of practice, professional book groups)
- Staff trainings
- Performance appraisals
- Visits to other programs
- Membership to professional organizations (e.g., Zero to Three; National Association for the Education of Young Children; National After School Association)
Program managers should always carefully choose evidence-based webinars, workshops, and other professional development resources that support the program’s mission for program staff and for themselves. Service or program specific guidelines should always be applied. There are many high-quality free webinars and modules available online. You may want to become familiar with the following excellent online resources:
- Early Childhood Investigations Webinars
- National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) webinars
- Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center 15-minute In-service Suites
- Family Engagement, Language, and Literacy Webinar Series
- Circle Time Magazine
- Hatch Early Learning Webinars
- IRIS Module: Early Childhood Environments
The Process of Creating Collaborative Teams
In addition to the professional development resources and practices highlighted above, part of the way program managers can help create and encourage shared ownership is to think carefully about creating collaborative teams and your own role as team members. Like everything else we do, learning to work with others is a skill that does not develop overnight. On the contrary, it is a process that takes place over time. Just like when you are learning any new skill or experience you have to invest time and effort in learning and practicing new things. Being able to work well with others requires ongoing work, energy, and commitment. Remember that each person you engage with is a unique individual. In your daily interactions with colleagues, families and program staff, you always bring who you are: your interests, your personality, your temperament, your background experiences, your biases, and your unique abilities and talents. The way you view yourself as a leader within the program can define your interactions and relationships with colleagues, families, and staff members. When you work together with program staff and families, the time spent on collaboration can benefit the whole program, including you, but most importantly the children and youth for which you care.
Building collaborative relationships takes time, effort, and attention, but often has meaningful outcomes that enhance the overall quality of your program. As you work with the T&CSs or other leaders in your program, you should have opportunities to share successes as well as challenges with each other. You may also see these experiences as opportunities to make new friends and network with others who have similar interests.
Two of the country’s leading experts on building collaborative teams, Jacqueline Thousand and Richard Villa, identify five elements as critically important in creating a collaborative process. (Johnson & Johnson, 1997; Thousand & Villa, 1990, 2000, p. 258). As you read these, think about how they reflect your experiences with collaboration in your program:
- Face-to-face interaction among team members on a frequent basis
- A mutual “we are all in this together” feeling of positive interdependence
- A focus on the development of small-group interpersonal skills in trust building, communication, leadership, creative problem solving, decision making, and conflict management
- Regular assessments and discussion of the team’s functioning in setting goals for improving relationships and effectively accomplishing tasks
- Methods for holding one another accountable for agreed-on responsibilities and commitments
In your daily work, you make conscious, intentional decisions about how to interact in daily encounters with colleagues, family members, and program staff. You are a role model that others look to for how collaboration happens in your program. Being part of a team requires that you enter partnerships with a positive attitude and commitment to ethical behavior. No matter how experienced you are, being part of a collaborative workplace should be central to your practice as a program manager.
Reflecting on your Own Experiences and Practices
High-quality environments for children cannot be created unless these environments are also good for the adults who work in them. Education professor Lilian Katz, in Talks with Teachers of Young Children (1995) urges professionals to ask themselves the questions below. As you read each of these questions, think about how things are in your own work environment.
On the whole, are relationships with the program staff or the T&CSs:
- Supportive rather than contentious?
- Cooperative rather than competitive?
- Accepting rather than adversarial?
- Trusting rather than suspicious?
- Respectful rather than controlling?
Effective leaders value collaboration and acknowledge it is important to work together with each other, program staff, and families to be successful. They know it is important to critically think about their program practices, and to make changes when needed. They also know it is important to celebrate successes and acknowledge the efforts of others, like colleagues and program staff, in their daily work. Your program may plan joyful events that build community at different levels: among staff or among staff and families (e.g., acknowledging individual staff members during staff meetings, celebrating staff birthdays and life events with potluck lunches, attending a professional training together, organizing family nights, inviting families to participate in classroom and program experiences, inviting families to spend time with children and youth in the classroom).
While working with others is one of the most rewarding parts of your job, it can also present challenges. It requires dedication, commitment, problem-solving skills, a willingness to learn and adapt, and flexibility in order to address the multiple and often complex needs of those in your program. It is your responsibility to remain professional and seek the help of colleagues or your supervisor when faced with unique challenges. You also need to be prepared to help program staff address challenges collaboratively when they are faced with difficult situations and need assistance.
When you intentionally work on creating collaborative teams and reflect on your own contributions and practices in the team, you help retain high-quality staff members. You encourage staff members’ investment in your program’s goals, missions, and objectives. Program managers help create and sustain quality programs when they value what each person brings to the team and uphold their roles and responsibilities in modeling and supporting collaborative teamwork.
Use the Welcoming New Staff activity as you reflect on how to set up your staff for success. Discuss your responses with a colleague.
Many books and articles on the topic of leadership discuss the importance of creating a positive workplace climate—one that demonstrates how valuable employees are to the mission of the organization. Leaders need to use communication and shared decision-making to facilitate a sense of ownership. Leaders are models that demonstrate how to live with integrity, handle errors, commit to the program’s goals, and focus on supporting others in their work. Use the Planning for Communication and Shared Decision-Making with Staff handout to think about and write down your thoughts and ideas.
Effective interviewing is essential in the hiring process for your program. As a program manager, it is important to continually assess the interview questions you are asking to ensure that they are effective in providing insight on the candidate’s knowledge, skills, and personality or disposition. Use the Assessing Interview Questions activity, to reflect on the interview questions that you are asking candidates to see if any improvements or changes are necessary.
Cannon, B. (2021, June 9). Staff retention from inception: effective interviewing and onboarding in ECE [Webinar]. Early Childhood Investigations Webinars. https://www.earlychildhoodwebinars.com/webinars/staff-retention-from-inception-effective-interviews-and-onboarding-in-ece-by-beth-cannon/
Case Western Reserve University. (2020). Best practices for virtual interviewing. https://case.edu/diversity/sites/case.edu.diversity/files/2020-12/BEST%20PRACTICES%20FOR%20VIRTUAL%20INTERVIEWING.pdf
Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center. (2018). Conducting effective interviews: what you need to know. https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/human-resources/article/conducting-effective-interviews-what-you-need-know
Jablon, J., Dombro, A. L., & Johnsen, S. (2014). Coaching with Powerful Interactions: A guide for partnering with early childhood teachers. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Quichocho, D., Lucier-Greer, M., Nichols, L. R., Frye-Cox, N., & O’Neal, C. W. (2019). Retaining high-quality employees: Contextual considerations and strategies for facilitating retention within child care settings. Auburn, AL: Military. https://militaryreach.auburn.edu/dr?id=0cc2c327-73c8-4d86-9f42-74795874b8cb&rt=rs
Ringle, R. (2021, October 5) Eight tips for conducting an excellent remote interview. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/10/8-tips-for-conducting-an-excellent-remote-interview
Schweikert, G. (2012). Winning Ways for Early Childhood Professionals: Being a professional. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Schweikert, G. (2014). Winning Ways for Early Childhood Professionals: Being a supervisor. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.