What does it mean to demonstrate good leadership skills in education? What can child care directors and administrators do to effectively guide their teams through change and uncertainty?
Leadership is one of the most important skills for child care directors and administrators. Leadership is more than just being a boss. While a boss supervises workers and tells them what to do, a leader provides a vision, motivates their staff or employees, and inspires team members to perform at their highest level and succeed independently in their roles.
Early Childhood Australia (ECA), an advocacy organization that focuses on quality, social justice and equity in the care of young children, undertook national consultations and extensive research to learn more about the nature of leadership in early childhood settings. Their findings led to several new understandings about education leadership, especially the following:
- Leadership is about influence and responsibility and is therefore open to anyone. Everyone at your child care center can demonstrate leadership qualities and be a leader on the team.
- Leadership is about purpose. It’s about understanding why your work is important and communicating that vision and sense of meaning to others, encouraging them to satisfy that purpose through their daily work.
- Leadership capabilities can be professionally developed. You may not consider yourself a strong leader today, but by demonstrating the skills and qualities of leadership in your role, you can grow and refine your leadership skills and increase your impact on the team.
Coronavirus has ushered in a period of tremendous change and uncertainty for child care facilities and the directors, administrators and early childhood educators who work there.
To successfully navigate these challenges, directors and administrators must demonstrate strong leadership skills in education. They must present a clear and transformative vision for a child care center that meets the needs of parents during coronavirus, and they must communicate that vision to their staff members and motivate them to see it through.
To support our Procare community through this time of uncertainty, we’ve put together this article with seven of our best tips for leading a child care team through change. You’ll learn how to build stronger relationships within your team, get everyone working together toward a common goal, and improve communication on your way to successfully managing the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to Lead a Child Care Team Through Change
Build Genuine Relationships & an Inclusive Community
Building genuine relationships with your team is the cornerstone of demonstrating good leadership skills in education.
A genuine relationship starts with professional respect – understanding the individual backgrounds and experiences of your team members so you know where they’re coming from and what they have to offer. The next step is caring – taking the time to build trust with each member of your team, understand their background, perspectives and values, and cultivating a sense of community around the values you share. This empathy and caring often comes naturally to those who have chosen to work in a child care setting. .
The most successful leaders in education understand that without genuine relationships, employees simply won’t be motivated to make extra effort beyond the bare minimum.
An inclusive community is one that shares common perspectives and values, and that includes anyone who shares those values – regardless of their color, religion, ethnicity or other identifiers.
- Schedule one-on-one meetings with your employees on a regular basis to create opportunities for relationship-building.
- Take the time to ask your team how they’re doing, what challenges they’re facing, and how you can support them.
- Make the extra effort to include every staff member in team activities. Make sure everyone on your team feels welcome.
Get Input from Team Members
Collecting input and feedback from members of your team is vital for leading a child care team through change. Even if you’ve already made decisions about how you wish to move forward, simply taking the time to listen to the opinions and ideas of your team members is a powerful demonstration of trust and respect.
In the traditional leadership style, leaders were thought of as commanding and authoritative figures at the top of the hierarchy in the workplace. It was their job to give directions and the job of workers to execute on those directions – not provide any input of their own.
But the reality of the modern workplace has changed. Workplaces today, including child care centers, have become more complex, with workers from diverse educational backgrounds using their expertise in different ways to accomplish their goals. As a result, leaders who fail to incorporate the input, perspectives and specialized knowledge of their team members are wasting some of their best resources when it comes to improving practices and driving change.
- When your child care center is facing a challenge, such as reopening during coronavirus, take the time to ask staff members for their own perspectives and ideas for addressing any foreseeable problems.
- Don’t leave anyone out – give everyone the opportunity to have their voice heard.
- Organize a team meeting where you can present the issues your child care center is facing in concrete terms and ask for constructive feedback that can help you reach your goals.
Create a Vision for the Future
The idea of creating a vision for the future is at the very core of what it means to be a leader – in fact, it’s one of the qualities or practices that sets great leaders apart from anyone else.
When organizations go through periods of change, uncertainty or ambiguity, great leaders understand the value of finding that vision for the future – the light at the end of the tunnel – and communicating that vision in a way that gets their team members excited about moving toward the common goal.
Imagine you’re planning a cross-country road trip, from New York to California. How would you convince friends to go along for the ride? You don’t start by telling them how many hours you’re planning to drive each day, or how long the trip’s going to take. You show them a picture of a beautiful California beach and you say “Look at this amazing place. This is where we’re going.”
That’s your vision for the future, and that’s what will motivate your team to work together and bring that vision to life.
- When confronting a challenge like reopening your child care center during coronavirus, take the time to create a clear vision for the future: what would the perfect reopening look like?
- Think about your vision from different perspectives – how will staff, parents, administrators and kids benefit when you make your vision a reality? How does your leadership vision reflect the shared values of team members and the community?
- Articulate that vision to your team members and get their buy-in and commitment to bringing that vision to life in your child care center.
Have a Plan
Once you have effectively articulated your vision for change and secured the commitment of each one of your staff members, it’s time to prepare for success with a concrete action plan.
A vision without a plan is like a map that only shows your destination – you know where you’re going, but you don’t know how you’ll get there and you’re more likely to get lost or sidetracked along the way.
Sharing your plans for implementing change with staff members is also an extremely valuable process – don’t leave them in the dark! Give your committed team members the opportunity to contribute their own knowledge and insights to the planning process.
- Think about all the things that need to change as you work toward realizing your leadership vision. Be as specific as possible.
- Once you have identified the specific changes needed, break each one down into specific action steps to support that change.
- Be prepared to delegate tasks and assign new roles and responsibilities to your staff members. Remind staff members that they each have an important part to play in transforming your organization to meet new challenges.
Understand & Communicate the “Why”
When you implement new policies, processes or procedures, always take the time to explain why the change is happening and how it fits into your planning and vision for overcoming challenges and managing change.
Maturing leaders can sometimes fall into the trap of focusing too much on “What?” and “How?” when it comes to explaining the need to change, but it’s the “Why?” that gets your team members motivated to implement a new policy in a way that creates the benefits you’re hoping for.
Articulating the “Why?” is especially important when you’re implementing new policies and procedures to limit the spread of COVID-19 at your facility. Child care providers are being asked to change a lot – from having to wear face coverings and PPE, to changing the ways they interact with kids on the daily basis.
Changing daily behaviors is a challenge for anyone, but it’s so much easier for staff members when they can connect those changes to a clear purpose and meaning, like reducing the spread of infections within the community, or keeping the center open so kids can maintain continuity in their early education.
- When implementing a change, take the time to explain why that change is happening and what the expected benefits are.
- Talk to staff members about why those benefits are important for your business, or how they align with your shared values and those of the community.
- Don’t assume that the reasoning behind a change is obvious or self-evident. Go ahead and explain it anyway – you’ll see the difference in how your team members respond.
Use Emotional Intelligence & Empathy
Leaders with strong emotional intelligence and empathy skills tend to do a better job of connecting with and motivating their team members. This is especially true in the people-focused business of child care, where an empathetic leader can set the tone for a happy, caring and productive workplace.
A survey conducted by Talent Smart looked at 34 different workplace skills and found that emotional intelligence was the strongest predictor of effective job performance.
Emotional intelligence encompasses a range of different competencies, including self-awareness, self-motivation, self-regulation, social awareness (empathy) and social skills. Demonstrating good leadership skills in education means developing and using these competencies to support your team members through change.
Once you’ve established a vision, you’ll need to consistently act in service of that vision in the workplace – that’s referred to as self-motivation.
You’ll need to keep conversations with staff members in confidence and manage your own emotions when dealing with challenges or conflict that result from change – which is thought of as self-regulation.
You’ll also need to respond to the concerns of staff members who are struggling with changes, practice patience and effective listening, and demonstrate caring to help keep them aligned with your vision – showing clear empathy.
- Commit to your vision for change and arrive at work each day with the intention of pushing that vision forward.
- Work on your social awareness by actively anticipating the needs and concerns of your staff members during periods of change.
- Show empathy, understanding and patience when addressing staff concerns – sometimes, that’s all it takes to get your team on-board with new ideas or changes.
Keep in Touch & Be Approachable
The best leaders understand the value of frequent communication with their team members – but it needs to be the right kind of communication.
If you’ve hired qualified staff, unified them in working toward a strong vision, conveyed a clear action plan with a well-articulated “Why?” behind it and delegated tasks, there should be little need for micromanaging on your team.
Instead, your regular communications should be framed around a desire to connect staff members with the support, resources or information they need to perform effectively in their roles. It’s better to ask “How are things going? Do you need anything from me?” than to say, “Hey, I see what you’re doing and here’s how you may want to do it differently.”
Micromanagement takes away your team’s agency and can lead to low morale, but offering resources shows you believe in them and you’re supporting them in their efforts to push your child care center toward that all-important vision.
Effective team leaders in education make themselves available and approachable, open lines of communication with staff members, maintain an open-door policy, and encourage honest and open conversations.
- Use a child care management software tool with staff messaging capabilities to establish open lines of communication.
- Start a group conversation with staff members using technology and encourage everyone to participate.
- Build individual rapport with each of your team members and make sure they can easily get in touch with you with any concerns or feedback.
Power Through Uncertainty with Procare Solutions
Procare Solutions empower leaders in child care to guide their teams more effectively through change and uncertainty, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to attendance tracking, billing and payment automation, and a host of other high-impact features, our child care management app offers staff messaging capabilities that make it easy for child care leaders to motivate staff, collect input and feedback, address concerns, and be available while leading their child care teams through change.
Want to learn more about how Procare Solutions can help you strengthen your leadership, navigate uncertainty, and realize your vision for change?