As a child care administrator, owner or operator (or even all three!), you have the power to lead change and transform the culture of your child care center to maximize outcomes for kids, parents and your dedicated team of child care providers.
Improving culture in your child care center isn’t something that happens overnight though – you’ll need to think carefully about the values you cherish, the environment you wish to create and the experiences you want to provide. Then, you’ll need to communicate that vision to your staff, hold them accountable to it, and commit each day to expressing that culture through your words and actions at work.
In this blog post, we encourage child care administrators to envision, enact and enforce a strong culture of care within their child care centers and organizations. We explain what a culture of care is, why it’s important, and how child care administrators, owners and operators can plan and execute an organizational culture shift that improves developmental outcomes for kids, increases staff retention and leads to greater levels of parent satisfaction.
What is a Culture of Care? Why Does it Matter?
Organizational culture refers to the set of underlying beliefs, assumptions, values, expectations, and attitudes that inform daily behaviors and decision-making for all team members.
In child care centers, organizational culture is connected to every aspect of daily operations and is reflected in how staff members interact with kids, parents, and each other.
A culture of caring is one where:
- Child care administrators, providers, kids and parents/guardians feel heard and respected by their community.
- One-on-one relationships and community are valued over academic achievement.
- Values like honesty, kindness, personal responsibility and mutual respect are taught and rewarded.
- Each child receives individualized attention and guidance that is sensitive to their cultural, religious and socioeconomic background.
- Staff members work to understand and connect with each child as an individual to guide their development.
- Child care administrators and providers project and exemplify an attitude of caring in all interactions with kids and their parents.
- Child care administrators and staff members do their utmost to make every child feel welcome and experience a sense of belonging.
Establishing a culture of care at your child care center can have profoundly positive impacts for kids, parents, your center and the community as a whole – and we’ve identified three key reasons why it’s more important now more than ever.
A Need for Less Academic Pressure
Over the past decade, new education initiatives like the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) have pushed standardized testing into Kindergarten classrooms.
As a result, we’ve seen some child care centers focusing heavily on academic achievement and Kindergarten preparedness, and kids beginning to internalize the pressure to succeed from an earlier age. This unnecessary stress may produce children with behavioral issues, poor emotional and ethical development and poor attitudes toward education – even before they reach the second grade.
A culture of caring eliminates academic pressure by emphasizing play-based learning and personal development through age-appropriate activities and relationships with staff members and peers.
A Focus on Developing Empathy
When our child care centers focus too heavily on academics and too little on caring, we send kids the wrong message about how we want them to act and who we want them to be.
Kids learn how to behave by watching how their parents and caregivers respond to their actions. When parents and child care providers celebrate a great test score, but offer lukewarm responses to a child’s generosity or helpfulness, they’re sending the message that academic achievement is valued and that generosity and helpfulness are not.
While most parents and teachers agree that raising kids to be kind and caring is a top priority, 80 percent of youth in a recent study reported that their parents and teachers were more concerned about what they achieved than whether they were a caring community member. As a result, we’re raising a generation of kids that values academic achievement and personal happiness over kindness and caring for others.
A culture of care focuses on the development of values like honesty, kindness, personal responsibility, helpfulness and respect that lead to healthy character growth and help kids develop a positive attitude about learning.
An Emphasis on Learning Through Play
We’re seeing unstructured play time and student-focused learning take a back seat in some child care centers as kids spend more time on seat work and direct instruction in math and reading to prepare for standardized tests. That means significantly less time on age-appropriate physical, emotional and social development activities.
A report titled “Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose” highlights the fact that play-based child care programs produce greater child development gains than programs focused on academics.
A culture of care uses age-appropriate play and activities to support child developmental outcomes across all domains – linguistic, social, emotional, physical and cognitive – instead of focusing on narrow academic objectives.
Forming a Culture of Care in Your Child Care Center
In addition to improving academic, health and behavioral outcomes for kids, forming a culture of care can also have positive impacts for parents and child care providers.
Child care providers in centers with a strong caring culture feel more supported by their leaders, more individually acknowledged and validated, and a stronger sense of community belonging and job satisfaction. They discover an elevated sense of meaning in their work as your organizational culture encourages them to interact with colleagues and kids in a way that aligns with their core values.
Parents also benefit from the establishment of a caring culture in your center. They will recognize the level of care you provide as their child develops a strong set of values and social skills that prepares them to succeed academically and in life. As a result, they’ll be more likely to recommend your center to families and friends.
Below, we outline five steps that child care administrators can take to foster a culture of care within their organizations.
Start with Strong Leadership
Strong leadership is the first and most important component to establishing a culture of care within your child care organization.
A strong leader is someone who can:
- Establish an idealistic vision for the future
- Communicate that vision to their employees, colleagues, customers and other stakeholders
- Hold others accountable for their actions
- Motivate others to work toward a common goal
As a child care administrator, you should be aware that the culture of your center is based on your individual actions – not the policies you write down on paper or the working instructions you give to others.
You need to be willing to act in accordance with your desired vision and culture at all times, serving as a role model for everyone at your center. You’ll also need to make tough decisions to preserve that culture, like hiring the right staff members and holding your team accountable when they don’t meet expectations.
Most importantly, the way you treat other people will set the tone for how everyone behaves at your center. Be caring toward those on your team and the children in your care, and they’ll do the same.
Action Item: Mirror Check
Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself:
- Am I committed to ensuring the success of every child and staff member at my center?
- Am I committed and willing to embody my vision for this organization every single day?
- How can I improve my leadership skills to support a culture of care at my center?
Define Your Caring Culture
Defining your caring culture means developing a clear understanding of your vision and the values that are important to your organization.
We’ve already highlighted some important elements of caring culture like giving kids individualized attention and valuing relationships over academic success. As a child care leader, you have the power to choose which values are most important to your organization and define a caring culture that works for you.
Action Item: Creating Your Culture
Grab a piece of paper and a pencil (or your favorite word processing program) and start brainstorming:
- What is my vision for our child care center? What kind of environment do I want to create?
- What core values do I want to see reflected in our culture of caring? How do I want my staff members to treat each other? To treat parents? To treat kids?
- What makes our child care center special or different from the competition? How can we communicate our vision, values and culture to show parents why their kids belong here?
Define Caring Behaviors
The most exciting part of improving culture in your child care center is defining new behaviors, strategies, expectations, initiatives and working methods that will bring your culture of care to life in the child care environment.
These are the behaviors that will differentiate your center from others and lead to improved outcomes for kids, parents and staff members. A few examples could be:
- Sharing Circles – Each morning, child care providers greet their students by sitting in a circle, welcoming each person by name, and giving each child the opportunity to share what they did that morning or the night before.
- Rewarding Kindness – Child care providers are encouraged to recognize, acknowledge and reward kids when they demonstrate helpful, kind or caring behaviors. Special recognition is used to promote desired behaviors and demonstration of core values.
- Restorative Justice – Conflicts should be resolved by addressing any harm caused and repairing relationships – not by exclusion or punishment.
Action Item: Define Caring Behaviors
- For each of your organization’s core values, come up with one to three behaviors that child care providers can undertake to manifest your culture of caring into their lives and the lives of students.
- Care for your staff members by defining behaviors that improve the quality and meaningfulness of their interactions with kids, parents and colleagues.
Translate Your Vision into Action
Establishing a vision, a set of core values and defining behaviors is the easy part of improving culture in your child care center – the hard part is bringing your vision to life and ensuring that those behaviors and values are being carried out on a daily basis by your team members. Here’s how to make it happen:
Embody Your Culture
Embodying your culture means representing your vision, core values and caring behaviors in all your workplace interactions.
Communicate Your Culture
As a child care leader, you will need to communicate with child care providers and other staff members about the vision, values and key behaviors you have defined for your organization. Staff members should be held accountable for how they embody organizational culture – it should even be included as part of their performance reviews.
Hire for Your Culture
Once you establish a strong culture of caring, you may find that preserving and strengthening this culture requires you to change your hiring practices. Instead of hiring the person with the most experience or the best resume, you may want to look more closely at personal values and hire employees who fit in with your culture of caring.
Onboard for Your Culture
The onboarding process is designed to ensure that new hires are adequately trained on policies and procedures and inducted into your organizational culture. You will need to design an onboarding process that accurately and effectively conveys your center’s purpose, vision, core values and the behavioral expectations that come with them.
Coach Your Culture
Coaching has two important components here: encouragement and correction. As you work toward improving culture in your child care center, you’ll need to praise and reward your team members when they exemplify core values and provide constructive feedback when they fall short.
Action Item: Culture Implementation Plan
Create a strategy for successfully implementing and promoting a culture of caring within your organization. Be sure to answer the following:
- How will you embody your organization’s core values in your daily actions?
- How will you communicate those values to your team members?
- How will you identify potential hires who share those values?
- How will you teach those values and their associated behaviors to new hires in the onboarding process?
- How will you reward staff members and hold them accountable for embodying your organizational culture?
Continuously Improve Your Culture of Care
Improving culture in your child care center is an ongoing process. As you continue your professional development, you may want to rewrite your vision or core values to reflect new insights. You may wish to define new caring behaviors and set new expectations with your staff members that reflect current best practices.
You may also find ways to improve your coaching strategies, hiring practices, onboarding process, communications and personal behaviors to better reflect your core values and improve outcomes at your child care center.
Action Item: Child Care Culture Review
Set a date in your calendar three to six months from today to review and update your vision, core values and behaviors.
Shift the Culture in Your Child Care Center with Procare
With more than 30 years in the business of child care, Procare understands the challenges associated with improving culture in your child care center.
One of the primary obstacles we’ve identified is administrative – child care providers are overburdened with paperwork and recordkeeping tasks that eat up their time and draw their attention away from where it’s most needed – with the children.
With Procare’s child care management software, centers can streamline or automate tasks like invoicing, billing and payments, attendance tracking, recording daily observations and a whole lot more. This leaves child care providers with hours of extra time each week – time that they can spend delivering on your vision, embracing your core values, and executing on the caring behaviors that propel kids (and your center) into a successful future.
Want to see how Procare helps make child care management easy so you can focus your energy on building an amazing culture?