- To learn the importance of the hiring process in overall program quality when adding or replacing staff members.
- To 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.
- To connect staff members’ evaluation process to the development of professional goals.
- To 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 T&Cs are in positions that require them to interact with numerous staff and families. Their work plans can include a variety of tasks. It can be easy to get caught up in the small, mundane 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 their 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 most contribute to the quality of the program.
The Importance of Hiring
T&Cs and program managers 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 may have a view of 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 supports 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.
A particular service or program model will likely have specific procedures that must be followed for hiring 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). For assistance in understanding these laws and procedures, refer to your Service specific guidelines concerning hiring.
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 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. When a new staff person is hired, program managers and T&Cs are often the first to welcome them to the work setting.
Creating a Welcoming Workplace for All Staff
T&Cs and program managers are responsible for acclimating new staff to the program. As the recognized leadership team, T&Cs and program managers are tasked with helping all staff succeed in their jobs. Intentionally welcoming new staff when they join the program may 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 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).
- T&Cs and program managers should intentionally schedule brief check-ins with new staff members to make sure all is going well. T&Cs 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. Think carefully about this assignment and personally ask staff members if they would be willing to take on this leadership role.
- Leave a brief positive descriptive note in the new employee's mailbox describing something you saw him or her 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 from a coach or supervisor, but especially when starting a job in a new setting.
- With approval from the new staff member, introduce her or him to families through a program newsletter article or a picture and brief biography on the program website or Facebook page.
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 T&Cs and 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.
Connect Individual Staff Performance Evaluations and Goal Setting
In most centers, program managers are responsible for conducting staff evaluations. Training and curriculum specialists 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 measureable. Timelines for achieving goals and specific supports that will be put into place (e.g., webinars, readings, DVDs) 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. A training and curriculum specialist may notice that when she or he observes across various classrooms that the staff members need some strategies to help the children and youth transition from outdoors. The topic of transition strategies could be something the T&Cs may want to focus on during a professional learning day. This will let staff members brainstorm with one another about strategies to guide children and youth during transitions.
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
T&Cs and program managers will want to engage staff members in job-embedded professional development activities as much as possible. For instance, a training and curriculum specialist observes in a preschool classroom as they transition to lunch and notices this is a chaotic time. After discussing his/her observations with the staff member(s), the T&C suggests that he or she visit tomorrow during the same transition and lead the children in fingerplays or songs as they prepare for lunch, modeling some new strategies for the program staff. 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). Learning often occurs in the context of day-to-day work in the program.
Just as staff members are continuously learning, so are T&Cs and program managers. Again, as program leaders they model an open attitude toward improving their skills and practices. T&Cs 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&Cs 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&Cs, 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, communities of practice, professional book groups)
- Staff trainings
- Performance appraisals
- Visits to other programs
- Membership in 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 appropriate webinars, workshops, and other professional development resources for program staff and for themselves. Service 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
- Family Engagement, Language, and Literacy Webinar Series
- 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 you, as T&Cs or 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, and your special 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 or 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&Cs or managers 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 with you.
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, and indeed, you are a 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 T&C or program manager. Child-care settings are primarily people-centric workplaces. The biggest resources are people. The outcomes should be happy, secure children, youth and families.
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, your T&Cs or program managers:
- 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 the staff, as well as among staff, children 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, and a willingness to learn, change, and be flexible in order to address the multiple and often complex needs of those in your program. It is your responsibility to maintain professional conduct and seek the advice of colleagues or appropriate points of contact 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 they are unsure about how to address.
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. T&Cs and 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 Apply section handout to think about and write down your thoughts and ideas.
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.
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.