From the Mailbag: Making Time for Staff Management

mailboxHere’s one submitted by Gina:

One of the areas we struggle with is the inability for childcare center managers to focus on staff management, amidst the looming needs of licensing, tuition and other administrative things. We have tried many things – I was wondering if you would speak to the need for effective time management and intentional management of staff as a priority.

Great question, Gina! I think it’s one many centers struggle with.

The answer is actually hidden within the question itself: In order for something (anything, really) to get done, you need to make it a priority:

1. Train staff on its importance: Especially in a fast-paced environment like a childcare center or preschool, it can be hard to find time to look up and catch your breath. And your teachers may feel (quite reasonably) that if they do all the day-to-day stuff, and do it well, they are doing everything they need to do. During your new-teacher orientation and in regular ongoing training, emphasize the importance of staff development and retention.

2. Carve out time in the schedule: I often read about Silicon Valley companies that give employees massive blocks of time to work on nothing but side projects and develop new ideas for the company. Obviously, in a childcare setting, taking a whole week off to brainstorm simply isn’t feasible!

However, one dedicated hour a week is certainly doable, and/or maybe one whole day twice a year when the center staff gets together to do some big-picture planning and staff-development exercises. (And, yes, you need to pay people for this time – but if you do it well, it will pay for itself many times over.) Schedule this time into the calendar and don’t let anything intrude upon it.

3. Keep staff looped in: Most of us yearn to feel part of something important – something bigger than ourselves. There is a temptation to keep staff in the dark on anything “they don’t really need to know about,” but the fact is they should know about as much as possible regarding your overall mission, your enrollment numbers, staff vacancies, leadership opportunities, and so on. The more engaged and involved they are in visualizing the big picture, the more invested they will be in making it happen.

4. Conduct regular performance appraisals: Twice a year is optimal, but go with any schedule that works. People get so hung up on doing these perfectly that they don’t do them at all, but this is a mistake. The very fact that you make time for performance appraisals is crucial to your staff’s morale and development. And don’t make the common mistake of “saving” something (good or bad) to discuss at the performance appraisal – regular feedback is key. Nothing that’s raised at the performance appraisal should come as a surprise to the employee.

5. Look for volunteers: Especially if you have a small center, there may not be a lot of room for upward mobility. But there’s probably something every teacher is really good at, enjoys doing, and would welcome the chance to do more of at work. Whether it’s spearheading your social media efforts, creating a beautiful photo montage for your front entrance, or starting a mentoring program, there are a variety of ways your teachers can contribute and get more involved at your center.

6. Don’t let things slide: Many child care professionals are kind, nonconfrontational people who would rather cut off one of their own arms than hurt someone’s feelings! When it comes to effective people management, however, the head-in-the-sand approach is one of the worst things you can do. Don’t let things fester at your center – discipline as needed and terminate when necessary. If you do this consistently from the top down, your entire center will be stronger and more effectively managed.

Click here to get your copy of our exclusive free report, 6 Easy Ways To Boost Enrollments and Attract the Very Best Staff.

From the Mailbag: Where Are All the Teachers?

mailboxToday we’ve got a great question from a reader that will resonate with many of you:

I was wondering if you could advise on WHERE to find qualified childcare teachers!!!!!  We’ve really struggled with this over the years and can’t seem to find a good resource to use that generates qualified leads.  We’ve tried local colleges, Facebook posts on local community pages, Craigslist, Indeed, bulletin boards in local shops, word of mouth/friends/family (including our existing teachers doing this)… It just doesn’t seem to provide good, qualified leads!  HELP!  I need a head hunter!   -C.S.

Make no mistake, this is a huge problem in early ed – and it sounds like our reader has done a great job covering all her bases (including both online and offline sources, as well as good old-fashioned word of mouth).

While there’s unfortunately no easy solution that will work for every center – especially if you’re in a small geographic area – there are a few things you can do to up your odds:

1. Always be hiring. Don’t wait until you have an opening to start looking. Always, always be on the lookout for great talent.

2. Be open about the fact that you’re always looking for great talent. Now, this is a little like dating – you definitely don’t want to come across as desperate – but you do want to let qualified folks know you’d love to hear from them anytime. This could be as simple as a short note on your website: “Here at Fun Kids USA, we are always looking for fantastic new members to join our teaching team! If you’d like to learn more, call or send an email to…”

You could also repeat that message in your staff and parent handbooks – you might even include a few staff testimonials about why they love working there, just as you do with parents. The more clearly you can get across why you’re a great employer, the more interest you’ll generate.

3. Figure out what’s in it for them. I always tell schools that have trouble finding good teachers to clean their own house first. In other words, look around and honestly assess whether you run the type of center a great teacher would love to teach at. If not, you need to get that sorted out first. You may be hoping one or two good teachers will help you raise the bar, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way – you need to raise the bar first.

4. Present your benefits effectively. If you can honestly say you run a great center, the next question is whether you are conveying this well to applicants and would-be applicants. Do you know what makes you special and different? Do you run interesting ads that do a good job of demonstrating this, including all the special perks of working at your center? (Some possible examples: Paid time off, continuing ed opportunities, tight-knit staff with low turnover rate, early ed library for teachers’ use, pizza lunches once a month, etc.)

It’s particularly effective if you can show prospective teachers that you are offering them a richly rewarding career opportunity – rather than simply a way to fill a few years while they figure out what they really want to do.

5. Don’t be boring! This is a biggie – I’ve seen some wonderful centers run ads that are about as exciting as an invitation to the National Watching-Paint-Dry Convention. If you don’t come across well on paper, you won’t attract the folks you’re looking for. An offbeat, irreverent ad may well turn off some people – which is just fine, as it will attract like magic the folks you do want.

6. Consider online ads. You know those little ads that turn up as part of your results when you run a search online? They are a fantastic way to narrowly target people in a certain geographic area who are searching for a few specific terms you specify (e.g., “childcare jobs in Iowa City” or “ECE teaching positions Seacoast NH”). When people click on your ad, they go to a specific page on your website – maybe your “Careers” page or a specific job posting. Best of all, you pay only when someone clicks on your ad, which keeps costs down.

Google AdWords is pretty user-friendly, and they offer free phone support. If you want more detailed training, I always recommend Perry Marshall’s resources (no affiliation; he just really knows his stuff).

7. Leverage the power of referrals. When you consider how much a great teacher is worth to your center, even a hefty referral bonus is a bargain. Click here for more details.

8. Remember: It’s not about the money. A lot of child care centers worry about the fact that they can’t offer even fantastic teachers a whole lot of money. While you certainly want to be competitive with what other centers in your area are offering – and if you can even go a little higher, that’s great – the good news is that nobody goes into early childhood education for the money! As such, money is not going to be the determining factor in the talent you’re able to attract. Focus on what you can and do offer your valued staff, and the money will largely take care of itself.

Thanks again for your question, C.S. – good luck and happy hiring!

Click here for your copy of our exclusive free report, 17 Secrets to Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers.

From the Mailbag: Chomping Toddlers

33632889_f1d74de61f_zAny tips on calming parents whose children of two year olds who are being bitten by their classmates? We have tried so many things but some parents are understandably are angry. Any advice will be appreciated.

Great question, Sandra! This is an issue that plagues childcare providers around the world. And while there’s no simple solution to the biting behavior itself, there is an effective strategy you can use that will serve you well in dealing with parents – for a wide variety of issues.

In a nutshell? Advance warning.

You may be tempted to avoid all mention of biting until it actually happens, for fear of parents thinking you foster an out-of-control, toddler-eat-toddler, Thunderdome sort of atmosphere at your center. But that’s actually the worst thing you can do.

Parents of a child who has just been nibbled on will be upset, and concerned, and probably very angry (at both you as a caregiver and the nibbler in question). This is especially true for first-time parents, who tend to be a) less informed and b) more prone to hysteria.

Instead of hiding your head in the sand and hoping the biting problem passes you by, make a point of bringing it up as part of a family’s orientation to your toddler room (or whenever a child enters prime biting territory), along with nap schedules, potty training, and all other things toddler.

Explain that biting is a very common part of normal toddler development due to teething, lack of sophisticated verbal skills, and so forth. Explain your policies on redirection, why disciplining the biter is not developmentally appropriate, that serious injury almost never results, etc. Parents will get prepared for the likely possibility that their child will bite – or be bitten – and that it doesn’t mean the children at your center are evil, or improperly supervised.

In short, if you present biting as no big deal, it’s much less likely to become one.

And this same philosophy holds true for snow days, tuition increases, and most other unpleasant-yet-inevitable parts of running a child care center. People may not love hearing bad news, but they dislike being blindsided with it even more. If you prepare them in advance, it all happens much more smoothly.

So bite the bullet on biting, so to speak, and start educating those pre-toddler parents!

Click here to get your copy of our exclusive free report, 6 Easy Ways To Boost Enrollments and Attract the Very Best Staff.

From the Mailbag: What To Say on the Tour

toddler photoMy daughter and I are in the process of opening a daycare. I would like tips on what to say when I take the parents on the tour.

First of all, congratulations to you and your daughter! This is very exciting news and I wish you both all the success in the world. And you’ve asked a great question.

The most important thing to remember about the tour is more of a mindset shift than anything else: The primary purpose of the tour is not to tell prospective parents about your center. While that’s certainly part of it, the main purpose of the tour is to get those parents to enroll with you.

For many child care professionals, this whole idea of selling your center can feel very uncomfortable. But look at it this way – if you are proud of your center and feel it would be a good fit for a particular family and their child(ren), you’re actually doing them a disservice if you let them walk out your door and enroll somewhere else. Be confident about what you’re offering!

In a general sense, here are 3 important things to remember about your tours.

1. Focus on what makes you unique. You should already know what makes your center unique and special. Focus on these things (no more than 3) during the tour rather than trying to kitchen-sink a list of everything you can think of. Even if you’re the only center a parent is looking at, too many details start to blur together.

2. Customize the tour based on the parent’s needs. A pregnant mom-to-be is not going to care so much (yet) about your preschool program, for example. And a very security-conscious parent is going to want to hear all about your sign-in system and keypad door locks. If you listen, really listen, to what a parent is saying, you will be able to present the tour in a way that’s very compelling.

3. Get your teachers involved. Too often, teachers barely look up from what they’re doing when the director comes in with a prospective parent. This is a huge mistake – parents want to feel comfortable with, and welcomed by, the people who are caring for their children.

While it’s not always possible for a teacher to step away for any length of time, particularly in a smaller center, teachers should, at a minimum, walk over, warmly introduce themselves to the parent (and the child, if he or she is there too), and shake hands. This seemingly small process will go miles toward establishing positive feelings toward your center.

Next week, we’ll get more into the nuts and bolts of the tour process itself.

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 6 Easy Ways To Boost Enrollments and Attract the Very Best Staff.

From the Mailbag: Parents and Staff Socializing Off-Duty (and Online)

IMG_2322I love getting questions from readers! Here’s one I thought many of you would be interested in:

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on childcare workers giving out their personal cell phone numbers to parents and/or being friends with them on social media.

Great question. Looking at it from a strictly legal perspective (as a former attorney, I can’t help it), some states have laws prohibiting employers from restricting employees’ legal off-duty conduct.

Oftentimes these laws are used to protect the rights of smokers, for example, but employees’ off-duty interactions with the parents at your center would generally be protected as well – assuming your teacher and the parent in question aren’t getting together to, say, knock over a liquor store.

All kidding aside, thorough training and open lines of communication are almost always a better plan than outright bans.

Many child care employees are young, and you may well be hiring some of them into their very first job. They have literally grown up with social media (and cellphones) in a way we older folks have not. On the other hand, lots of people who are plenty old enough to know better when it comes to appropriate behavior and boundaries just, well, don’t.

Accordingly, it’s a good idea to train all your employees on the importance of professionalism, discretion, and appropriate behavior, both in and out of work.

Hypotheticals such as, “Imagine what a parent at our center would think if they saw this on a teacher’s Facebook page…” and “Here’s why it can be a bad idea to get too chummy with the parent of a child in your class…” can be eye-opening for staff. This training also reinforces that you, the employer, are on their side – you want them to succeed in their work and create an amazing experience for the families at your center.

Outright bans on social media friending and outside friendships/contact with parents tend to backfire because they set up an “us vs. them” mentality. They also tend to drive problems underground because an employee who violates a policy like this and then gets in over his or her head will be afraid to come talk to you about it. This is, of course, the last thing you want.

When you put your trust in your employees, they tend to rise to – or even surpass – your expectations, and that’s a wonderful thing. But you need to let go in order for this to happen.

Finally, it’s my firm belief that employees with hopelessly poor judgment will always have hopelessly poor judgment. Your good employees can (and should) be trained, but the ones who just don’t get it are always going to have to go eventually – policy or no policy.

Click here for a sample child care social media policy you can adapt for use at your center.