It’s Time To Get Specific

Ken and Barbie marry.JPGWhen you were a little girl (guys, bear with me for a moment), did you ever play the game with your girlfriends where you envisioned your ideal grown-up life?

…and I would marry a tall man named Bradley with light brown hair and dark blue eyes, and we’d have three kids – twin boys, Max and Michael, and a girl named Emma – and we’d all live in a big white house on the ocean and go play outside on the beach every day with our golden retriever, Sandy.

I certainly remember playing it from time to time, though I confess my dreamy fantasies (both past and current) tend to run more along the lines of discovering the perfect fudgy-yet-cakey brownie and eating happily ever after.

Life has a way of turning out differently than we expect, to say the least – did anyone out there actually marry Bradley and move to the big white house on the beach? If so, do tell! – but you should never underestimate the importance of getting specific when there’s something you want.

Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:

Example A: Enrollments

  • Okay: I’d like some more nice families in my program…
  • Better: I’d like to enroll three new families by the end of the year – each of which has an annual household income of over $80,000, is pleasant to deal with, stays very involved with our program, pays on time, and is well-connected in our community to help bring in even more similar families.

Example B: Hiring

  • Okay: We need a new teacher in the preschool room…
  • Better: I’m looking to hire a preschool teacher who has a real passion for working with 4- and 5-year-olds, has at least three years of classroom experience, and is looking for a long-term professional home.

Example C: Staff Performance Issues

  • Okay: I wish Donna were more on top of things… 
  • Better: Donna, I need you to get here at least 15 minutes before you’re expected to be in the classroom, have your room and materials all set up when the first kids arrive, and give every family a cheerful, personal greeting when they enter.

Do you see the difference? In all three examples, the first statement is nothing more than a vague wish, while the second is a crystal-clear vision of your ideal outcome.

You may not always get your ideal outcome – but you’re much, much likelier to get it if you know exactly what you want.

When you do this exercise, don’t get all hung up on all the reasons it simply couldn’t work (“But a teacher like that would never want to work here!” “But all of the really good families in our area have been snapped up by the center across town!”). Just get clear on your own ideal scenario – what you’d truly want, in your perfect world – and go from there.

You will be shocked at how much this helps you both clarify, and achieve, your biggest goals. You can’t hit a target you can’t see, whether that target is a spouse who’s perfect for you or your dream of a fully enrolled, wildly successful program.

(Case in point: In addition to a great husband, I’m happy to report that I did find what I think is the nearly perfect brownie recipe – just add half a teaspoon of kosher salt. Brilliant.)

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

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.

Check out Time Mastery for Child Care Professionals, an online, self-paced course I created specifically for folks like you – gain an hour a day or your money back!

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.

Are You Too Nice?

too niceWhen I ask child care professionals what’s holding them back in their work, I always get interesting replies. Here’s a recent one:

I’m too nice as a boss and to parents…or I do too much.

I bet this sounds familiar to a lot of you. In general, people who go into the field of early ed are extremely generous, giving, caring folks. You give and give and give. And sometimes, that’s a problem.

Do any of the following situations ring a bell?

– You feel bad for your teacher with the temperamental car, so you let her repeated absences and tardiness slide…leaving you short-staffed when she’s out.

– You want to be understanding with that family who’s having trouble paying their tuition…leaving you short on payroll three weeks running.

– You put off disciplining that nice but flighty assistant…leaving you to explain to a pair of irate parents how she managed to leave the gate open and let their toddler escape.

– You are the first one in and the last one out every single workday (plus weekends)…leaving you burned-out, exhausted, and fighting a perma-cold you just can’t shake.

Kindness and generosity are great things – in moderation. When you bend over backwards to help everyone else, you are the one who gets left behind. And that’s not good for your health, your mental well-being, or your business. When you have nothing left in your tank, you have nothing left to give.

So be very wary of “giving until it hurts.” Give as much as you can only without putting your own well-being and priorities in jeopardy.

Drawing this line in the sand doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you sane (and successful).

Check out Time Mastery for Child Care Professionals, an online, self-paced course I created specifically for folks like you – gain an hour a day or your money back!

Why You Should Care About Teacher Retention

Revolving doorsIf you have a steady stream of unsolicited resumes arriving at your center, and/or a connection to a good source of new teachers (such as a local college), you may not be all that concerned about the teachers who decide to leave your center. Who needs ’em, right?

Actually, you do. Here are 4 reasons why:

1. Time, money, and hassle. It is far cheaper – and easier – to retain a teacher than to hire and train a new one. It has been estimated that the total costs associated with employee turnover can reach 200% of that person’s annual salary. In a word…yikes.

2. Kids get upset when teachers leave. As you know very well, small children like routine and predictability. They don’t like it when Miss Sarah leaves “to go to a new school.” And they like it even less if they’ve already lost Miss Julie, Miss Eleanor, and Miss Marcie.

3. Parents get upset when teachers leave. Parents don’t like to see their kids upset, of course, but they themselves also develop relationships with their child’s teachers – particularly the good ones (it’s been said that parents love the people who love their kids).

And a steady revolving-door stream of teachers moving in and out of a center gets parents to wondering if something else may be wrong. Even if everything seems otherwise OK from the parents’ perspective, frequent staff turnover starts to undermine their confidence in your center.

4. High turnover is a symptom of a bigger problem at your center. Here’s the biggest reason you need to care about teacher turnover: Teachers don’t leave in high numbers if your center is running smoothly. Owners and directors with high turnover rates like to rationalize that ECE is a low-paying field, but guess what? The teachers know that going in – nobody goes into ECE with the goal of striking it rich.

If teachers are leaving your center in droves, there’s probably a problem at your center rather than with the child care industry generally. Take some time to figure out what’s really going on.

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