- Describe connections among staff members’ sense of self and overall well-being and children’s sense of self.
- Describe policies and practices that support staff members’ wellness and sense of confidence and competence.
- Learn about reflective supervision that supports staff members’ self-esteem and sense of competence.
- Describe materials and resources for staff to engage in healthy self-care practices.
- Learn about how stress impacts relationships with children, staff, and families.
Connections: Staff Members’ Sense of Self and Overall Well-Being and Children’s Sense of Self
"I think when we talk about the rights of children, the rights of teachers fall under the same broad stroke, and by that same broad stroke, those same rights need to be conveyed to directors. They are, after all, basic human rights. To grow. To learn. To be challenged. To feel safe in failure."
— Michael Koetje (Bruno, 2009)
You have your pulse on the overall well-being of your staff members. According to early-childhood expert Margie Carter, job satisfaction among child-care providers is dependent upon the supports they receive from their directors. The working environment in a child-care center influences the sense of self (confidence and competence) of the caregivers, which in turn affects the children’s sense of self. If the adults in the environment are anxious or fearful of reprisals from the director, then their feelings will be conveyed to the children in their care. Carter indicates that directors should be attuned to the “physical, social, and emotional environment of the program.” Carter describes a list of leadership behaviors that she learned were most important from her conversations with early care and education providers:
- Offer genuine respect and trust: Give teachers the time, support, and tools they need; trust and respect cannot be coerced but must be developed over time.
- Work with a vision: Program directors are moving the program forward; they include staff in creating the vision and provide them with leadership roles that help create the vision.
- Share the decision-making process: Staff members should have an understanding about which decisions will be made alone by the program director and which decisions will include staff members’ reaching consensus.
- Reject a scarcity mentality: The staff wants the program director to be optimistic and forward-thinking when brought new ideas.
- Tend to the physical environment: Program directors need to pay attention to the environment such as appropriate adult work spaces, comfortable staff lounges, a place to store one’s personal belongings, etc.
- Walk your talk: Program directors need to follow through on promises made to staff, model self-care, practice confidentiality, and work toward reaching program goals.
Program Policies and Practices that Support Staff Members’ Self-Esteem and Sense of Competence
Managers are required to implement many policies and practices in terms of supervision of employees. When implementing these policies and practices, it is important to know each employee well. Staff members may be at different stages of expertise in their work. As a leader, you are there to enforce policies, but to do so in ways that supports staff members' positive self-esteem and sense of competence.
Educator and attorney Holly Elissa Bruno describes supervision as "helping employees perform at their best, in service to their organization's mission." Just as you nurture the children in your program, so, too, your staff needs positive, responsive supervision. Having established policies (such as straightforward and clearly written personnel policies) that are reviewed and discussed with staff members on a regular basis keeps everyone informed. Policies about absences, tardiness, professional-development opportunities, and the format for employee evaluation sessions should be clearly understood by everyone. As a supervisor, you will want to include your staff in decision-making that affects them whenever feasible. Decision-making formats should also be clearly stated in the personnel policy handbook (e.g., which decisions will involve staff consensus and which decisions are made only by the manager).
As a manager, you can support the creation of program traditions and document history through online picture albums (e.g., photos of staff holiday events, birthday celebrations, program anniversary celebrations, etc.). You help create a sense of community among the staff. Acknowledging staff members in the ways they are most comfortable and find most meaningful is another way to enhance self-esteem. In their book, How Full is Your Bucket?, authors Tom Rath and Donald Clifton describe the importance of positive recognition for employees. However, they say, "Recognition is most appreciated and effective when it is individualized, specific, and deserved." This means getting to know each staff member individually in order to recognize them in a way they most value (e.g., one teacher may prefer a private recognition such as a personal email, while another teacher might prefer verbal recognition during a team meeting). It's important to know what is meaningful for each staff member and what supports feelings of competence and self-confidence.
Engage in Reflective Supervision
You will be engaged in supervising staff members and evaluating their work. Having clearly detailed job descriptions and responsibilities assists both you and the staff member to know what the expectations are for individuals holding a particular position in your center. Building ongoing and trusting relationships with all staff on a daily basis establishes a sense of mutual trust to the supervision relationship. Staff will know that you are using supervision and evaluation as a process for enhancing their individual professional growth and to maintain high standards for employees in your program. Your leadership skills will determine your ability to use reflective supervision in a supportive, safe environment.
Reflective supervision happens daily. Your job is to know your staff as individuals, what they need in order to grow professionally, and what you can do to support their growth. In reflective supervision, you assist the staff member to reflect critically about her or his practice and set goals for personal growth. For reflective supervision to be effective, the staff member must be able to be aware of limitations and strengths and be eager to learn how to improve practice.
According to Bruno, reflective supervisors and supervisees together build relationships that:
- Foster safety and trust
- Support and honor differences
- Invite growth, risk taking, and humor
- Acknowledge and build upon strength
- Become aware of blind spots
- Partner on vulnerabilities
- Slow down the process
There are excellent books and DVDs that you can obtain to learn more about the reflective supervision process and how it can enhance employee performance (see the Supervision Resource handout).
In reflective supervision, you assist the staff member to reflect critically about her or his practice and set goals for personal growth. For reflective supervision to be effective, the staff member must be able to be aware of limitations and strengths and be eager to learn how to improve practice.
Your Role in Promoting a Sense of Self and Self-Care
The environments in which we work can have a significant influence on our well-being and on our level of self-care. Individuals who work in a supportive and caring environment may generally have a better outlook on life and feel better about coming to work every day, even if the work is challenging at times. Those working in a high-stress environment with little emotional support are more likely to experience the effects of burnout. According to child-care expert Jeff Johnson, most burnout comes from not having much control in the environments in which we operate. Think of a teacher who has a classroom of young children and is constantly getting more new children, but no additional classroom support. It is likely that this teacher is going to become overwhelmed because the work environments make it almost impossible for this teacher to do as good of a job as he or she may wish. Managers and other supervisory staff commonly personalize their burnout and blame themselves for their conditions.
Building a staff-member-friendly environment can help to reduce the stress of your staff members. Johnson has six suggestions:
Working with children is physically and emotionally demanding. We all need breaks throughout the day to recharge ourselves. Incorporating regular breaks into the daily schedule is a simple way to show you care about staff members and the children in your program.
Clear expectations and feedback
Turnover at child development and school-age programs can be high, but it is very important to make sure everyone is properly trained and knows what is expected throughout the day.
- Everyone should know the program's missions, goals, and philosophy.
- There should be detailed job descriptions for each position.
- A staff handbook should be available to all staff members noting how situations should be handled.
- Regular and efficiently run meetings should be held. These meetings should have clear agendas and goals.
- Develop a mentorship program between experienced staff members and new staff members.
- Be sure everyone understands the center's organizational flow chart and reporting chain of command.
- Use clear and concise language, especially when delivering feedback. Try to avoid general or contradictory statements like, "You're doing a great job with the toddlers, but try to be a little neater during snack time."
- Express appreciation to staff members who fulfill expectations.
- Encourage parents to share their appreciation to staff members.
Useful goals and training
All staff members and managers should develop a list of long- and short-term goals. These should be both personal and professional. When people start to get burned out, it is easy to lose sight of dreams, ambitions, and things that make them happy. Ask staff members what kinds of training they would like rather than deciding for them. When staff members are forced to attend trainings they find useless or unmotivating, they are not developing professionally.
A voice in planning and decisions
When staff members are invited to help develop center policies and procedures, they are more apt to follow them. It may be difficult to invite them to participate in all decisions, but small decisions like which activities to teacher or which paper to order can help empower individuals. This in turn may provide an opportunity for leaders to emerge while also lightening your load.
Productive meetings and planning time
Be sure to allow time in the schedule for planning. If you want staff members to do their best possible work with children, they need time to plan the daily and weekly activities. Make sure regular staff meetings are productive, to the point, and useful. To help make meetings more productive:
- Allow staff members to have input into the meeting agenda.
- Provide a copy of the agenda prior to the meeting.
- Be prepared with handouts and supplies.
- Start on time.
- Stay on task and table any unrelated but important discussions for the next meeting.
- Finish on time.
Staff members do not have to be best friends or even like each other, but they do need to work with each other in a professional manner. It is important to model the behavior you want to see in others. Slow down and make the time to connect with staff members. It will help strengthen relationships and make you more approachable.
Promote Opportunities for Self-Care Practices
As a manager, you can promote opportunities for staff to practice self-care. This is especially important because child care can be a stressful occupation. Staff may be dealing with deployment of a family member or other stresses unique to military families. You model self-care practices for those you supervise. You have to "walk the talk" and use your influence to help staff members engage in self-care. A great way to do this is to use some staff meeting time to brainstorm self-care practices as a staff. Staff may want to post this list in the staff workroom or even in their classroom. As you brainstorm ideas, decide on specific ways you and your staff can engage in self-care (e.g., start a walking group and keep track of your combined miles). You and other staff members may want to make specific self-care practices part of your written professional goals. Writing down goals for self-care indicates that you and your staff are serious about promoting healthy lifestyles and avoiding burnout. When you promote and self-care practices to your staff members, they will feel safe in discussing their own needs with you (e.g., when they need to take breaks, seek a therapist for family issues, etc.). Sharing concerns and caring for each other creates a community of learners which, in turn, promotes a safe and secure environment for all.
As a manager, you can promote opportunities for staff to practice self-care. This is especially important because child care can be a stressful occupation.
Complete the Relationship Questionnaire to learn more about yourself as a leader. Which leadership behaviors contribute to creating a program environment that contributes to your staff members’ sense of self- competence?
Use the Action Worksheet to reflect on your leadership skills and set goals in those areas that you would like to make a change. Share your thoughts and goals with your supervisor and set a future date to revisit your action plan to update your progress.
Bruno, H. E. (2009). Leading on purpose. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Publishers.
Carter, M. (2000). What do teachers need most from their directors. Child Care Information Exchange, 136(136), 98-101.Retrieved from https://www.childcareexchange.com/library/5013698.pdf
National Military Family Association (2006). Report on the Cycles of Deployment: An analysis of survey responses from April through September 2005. Retrieved from https://www.militaryfamily.org/wp-content/uploads/NMFA-Cycles-of-Deployment_Report__2005_.pdf
Rath, T., & Clifton, D. O. (2004). How full is your bucket? New York, NY: Gallup Press.
Zero to Three Military Family Projects. Retrieved from: http://www.zerotothree.org/about-us/funded-projects/military-families/