When I first became an owner of several Early Childcare and Education schools we noticed there was no real leadership. The staff culture of each school was dictated by the level of confidence exuded from the Director. This model was not sustainable and could easily be broken.
There are a lot of constituents within the ECE world; from administrators, state licensors, teachers, and parents. All with different values and ideas of how your school should be run. It was easy to see why staff culture and leadership had been lacking.
Through parent surveys, conversations with licensors, and exercises with teachers and the administration we began to find commonalities within each group and each individual as to what they valued. Finding a way to unite these different groups with a common thread was pivotal. It allowed us to solidify and implement our values throughout.
In each school, we had our values drawn on the walls, we, blended them into the recruiting and onboarding process and used them as performance evaluators. With a clear set of values in place, we started to see changes from my staff. There was less conflict, turnover decreased, and their ability to communicate with each other increased.
We can not stress enough, your values are your schools’ foundation. If you try to build your schools on a shaky foundation where you, your families, and your staff do not share the same values prepare for an unstable and inconsistent business model with significant turnover.
To ensure a strong foundation, follow the 8 elements below that will help you as an ECE owner/operator build an amazing staff culture in your schools.
When you bring individuals into your environment, make sure they have a clear and concise set of expectations. Educate them on your values during the onboarding process and have a strong scheduling plan. Lots of issues tend to arise when staff members aren’t all on the same page with scheduling. An informed individual will tend to feel more welcomed to your school and will be more likely to participate with the rest of your staff.
Most people will expect benefits like healthcare, PTO, holidays, etc… You set yourself apart when you start to offer additional benefits. Things like free swag, time off on birthdays, and childcare are added job perks that show your staff you appreciate and value the work they are doing and you want them to enjoy where they work.
The objective here is to foster an environment that challenges your staff to reach a little further than where they feel comfortable. Start to give them opportunities to grow in their role and develop themselves professionally and tie that into the development of the school as a whole. It’s important to make it known that with more power, comes more responsibility. Let your staff make decisions and choices, but hold them accountable when something goes wrong so they can learn and fix it for next time.
Create a program that truly highlights the specialties of your staff. Something like employee of the month can start to lose value if it’s something everyone gets at one point. The recognition needs to be authentic and individualized.
Respect is something that needs to be earned. Not only do staff members need to earn your respect, but you as the owner need to also work to earn the respect of your staff members. If you have a team that does not respect you, they won’t respect your values and your staff culture will crumble.
When we talk about rewards, typically, the first thing people think of is money. However, if money is the only worth you can bring to the table, that’s not always a good enough reason for staff to stay. However, if you started rewarding staff by asking for advice, asking them to join you at professional events, and giving them additional responsibilities that move them to a higher role, they will see the value in staying.
Most of the time, staff will want to know there are opportunities for growth within your organization. Schools can seem very flat: Assistant Teachers, Teacher, Assistant Director, and Directors. There is no reason you cannot create multiple layers of roles for promotion. Having an opportunity for a career and upward mobility is critical for long-term retention. Consider adding roles like Program Manager, Senior Program Manager, Regional Coordinator, and Executive Director. Combine each role with measurable expectations so your staff is continually coinciding with your school values.
To develop culture there are two different ways to lead. You can manipulate or you can inspire. That’s the difference between management and leadership. Management seeks to control, leaders, want to inspire. Consider the value of asking for your team to help solve an issue as to mandating they solve it a certain way. Leadership is the binder for your entire culture. Without leadership, all the other elements flounder. If you want to recruit and retain top staff, truly consider changing your playing field to a world of team engagement with a coaching leadership style. You may find yourselves with a winning score time after time! Now ask yourself, what can you do today to inspire as to manipulate?
Culture is like trust. It takes a long time to develop and only a moment to lose. You can’t outsource your culture, you have to work at it, constantly. Culture is meant to be curated and celebrated, so it must be administered.
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