by Chanie Wilschanski, DiscoverED
The greatest struggle in Early Childhood now?
Staffing! And everything related to teachers.
As an early childhood leadership coach and culture specialist, my eyes and ears are dialed into three components:
- Root cause analysis
- Strategies and solutions-based thinking
Because if we can get to the root cause of an issue, then we can choose the RIGHT strategies that will connect with the problem and actually solve it.
Most value-driven directors who are on their pathway to excellence struggle with these three things:
– Self: How to find the key paradigm shifts in what you are struggling with today, and to see exactly how you can solve it tomorrow.
– Teachers: Creating a common language and framework so you can coach and mentor teachers to align with the culture and values in your school.
– Parents: How to articulate the balance between empathy and authority when communicating with parents, so you can create a pathway for mutual collaboration.
In today’s world of never enough, it’s very easy to share what we don’t want.
But over the past decade in talking, mentoring, and coaching hundreds of EC leaders – let me pull back the curtain and show you some of the things that you DO WANT.
● Work/life balance – actually coming home in time for dinner!
● Veteran staff taking on mentoring roles
● Teachers bringing fresh ideas to the classroom, and leaving behind the mindset of “we did this last year”
● Educators who are excited and passionate about the children they work with
● Teachers who understand child development
I know you nodded yes to at least two of those!
● More than anything, you want to be the teacher’s hero.
● You want to be their guide and mentor: someone they look up to and seek out.
● Oh, and you want accountability with your teachers.
But *how, oh how* do you create the balance between empathy and authority?
Join me on this journey, and let me guide you through some common mistakes and simple strategies that will change the trajectory of how you show up every day.
These perspectives will help you approach the challenges and the daily minutia of leading a team of teachers, parents, and children with a fresh mindset.
Mistake #1 – Taking care of the children, teachers, parents, and admin team BEFORE yourself.
“We cannot give our children what we don’t have.” – Brene Brown
You cannot lead your team to:
● Innovation and risk-taking
● Challenge their ideas,
● Trying to think outside the box
● Being emotionally present with the children
● Being available to truly listen to parents when they talk…
… if you don’t practice these things yourself.
How can you practice it?
Tip #1 – Make self-care a non-negotiable
Whether that means drinking your coffee in the peaceful silence of your office, or eating breakfast behind a closed door and without interruptions, or taking a walk around the building every day for 10 minutes… you must take care of yourself.
You are modeling leadership to your team – you want them to follow in your footsteps and do the same.
Because when they don’t, they have bought a first class ticket to overwhelm, stress and burnout, which ultimately leads to them leaving your school in search of someplace else.
Taking care of yourself is the BEST strategy for retention! (Watch our school of excellence Mini Course for more retention strategies.)
Tip #2 – Make daily door time
Sometimes your door is open, and sometimes it MUST be closed:
“The director who is always available isn’t truly listening.”
If you are always available, you can’t possibly be listening and truly hearing every single story that comes through your door, because you have to get your own work done.
(Watch our school of excellence Mini Course for more on how to implement Daily Door Time, and to give you the printable door sign.)
Mistake # 2 – Sharing ideas, giving materials, and stating expectations.
This leaves all the ownership and accountability with one person – YOU!
Because you have done all the sharing.
You haven’t created the space where teachers can have a voice in the high-morale culture you desire.
There is no space for sacred trust – which is created through vulnerability.
“We need people to be braver, and we need to create a culture that allows for bravery.” –Brene Brown
How do you create a culture of bravery in Early Childhood?
Tip #3 – Meeting rituals
When your team gets together to talk about anything, ensure that it becomes an opportunity for intentional culture building.
What are some things teachers can share at every meeting?
● What are my wins?
● What do I need help with?
This practice embeds a feeling of safety and connection into your school’s culture.
Teachers learn that they can be vulnerable and share, and they won’t be judged for it. Plus, they’ll learn to build momentum by sharing wins, which is a natural morale booster.
Tip #4 – Raise morale and create ownership through gratitude
Do you want one single action to improve morale in your school? Show gratitude to your staff tomorrow with a voice memo.
When you are walking around the building saying good morning, take note of three teachers and something special that they did, or something you see in their class.
Then, record a voice memo of it using the following format:
“Hey Sara, I passed by your class and noticed a beautiful documentation board where every child’s work is represented, and this truly aligns with our school mission. I’m grateful to have you on our team.
If you make this a practice every day so teachers are consistently hearing specific gratitude and feedback from you – your culture will be a different place in less than 90 days!
(Watch our school of excellence Mini Course for more gratitude ideas that don’t cost any money.)
Mistake #3 – Not educating teachers HOW to create pathways for mutual collaboration with parents.
What is the number one reason teachers don’t connect with parents? Why do teachers avoid talking to parents? Minimize the contact they have with parents?
● They’re afraid they will say something stupid
● Or something will happen that will make them look stupid.
Tip #5 – Share about their child – make it about them, NOT YOU
Have your staff focus on 1-2 kids per day, keeping track of something special or funny that they did – then, the teacher can e-mail the parents and give feedback on what happened with their child.
Here is an example of one director and her teaching team putting this into practice. They are focusing on the gratitude part, and showing parents that they care about their child:
The teacher called up the parents to share something special the child did that day.The parents were so thrilled that they posted it on social media and shared and # everywhere! Parent retention and word of mouth in the works right here!
Tip #6 – Practice your empathy and authority script
Too many leaders step into meetings completely unprepared.
“I’ll wing it, I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I know what to say to parents.”
I’m sure you do!
But Jerry Seinfeld is a master comedian, and one of the top three things he says contributes to his success is DETAILS.
They are everything, and the nuance in his tone of voice is the difference between the joke landing or not – the difference between him getting a standing ovation, or blank stares.
How does he ensure he gets a laugh every time? He practices and memorizes EVERY WORD!
When you are meeting with a parent about the most important person in their world to them – their child – you need to prepare!
● Practice how you will demonstrate empathy with their struggle
● Role-play how your tone of voice comes out
● Consider your facial expressions when you speak with authority
Dress rehearse some of the possible responses from the parent, and practice responding to them as a professional.
PRO TIP: When I prepared for a meeting with a parent, I would sit in front of a full-length mirror and practice for hours to ensure my body language and face said what I wanted it to.
How you show up every day is a choice.
It’s consistent practice of the right routines and habits, so we can create a culture and a school of excellence.
When we say, “I don’t have a choice,” it means, “I don’t know that there are other options.”
There is always a choice, and that thought alone will unshackle you!
Your action steps:
- Identify one of the mistakes that you make and choose one tip that you will start putting into practice, starting today.
- Watch our school of excellence Mini Course for more strategies, tips, and the roadmap to building a school of excellence.
With over a decade of experience in the Early Childhood field and a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood and Special ED, Chanie’s leadership coaching and training have been used by hundreds of schools spanning six continents and twenty different countries. Her leadership program is designed to help early childhood directors build a school of excellence, a collaborative culture and create an environment that fosters the growth of teachers as leaders.
Chanie’s writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, Readers Digest, Medium, INC, and Thrive Global. She has also appeared on NBC News Radio and on WBAL-TV.
Chanie currently directs the Early Childhood Teacher Training program at the Beth Rivkah College in Brooklyn, NY – where she lives with her husband and 4 children.