Using your childcare practitioner strategies in your leadership role.
I have recently been considering how we can use the strategies we developed as childcare practitioners within our role as leaders. What are the transferable skills that could work when used with staff as well as they did with the children we cared for?
In our role as practitioners our outcomes were to support children’s learning and development, teach them about boundaries and appropriate behaviour, help social skills develop appropriately. I have considered how the strategies we developed to achieve these outcomes could be transferable.
There are certain expectations we have about how children behave within our setting and we communicate them in an age appropriate way. We may talk to them about rules; we may encourage older children to be involved in setting the rules, maybe writing them down on a poster. What are the rules within your setting that staff must follow, are there areas you could agree on together and how these are communicated?
In order to train the children to behave in a socially acceptable and safe way you need to reinforce the rules consistently, “Benjamin, remember we don’t run indoors”. If we don’t reinforce the rule consistently we know as qualified practitioners that children become confused and anxious. Children need boundaries to feel secure, to know you, as the adult, are in charge and that you will protect them from harm. Our staff need exactly the same, if they do not feel there is a consistent message they will wonder who is in charge and what is expected from them. If the rules are not consistently followed staff may well make up their own rules and depending on qualification level and experience, these may not always be the right ones.
If a child follows the rules we reward them. We want to reinforce this positive behaviour and we do this through praise and recognition, we might have a chart, a sticker system or other ways of recognising this good behaviour. We all need to know we are doing a good job, what processes would work in your setting to enable you to reward the good behaviour from your staff without being patronising? What are the drivers, what motivates your team to strive to do better? I am personally not a great fan of employee of the month; I think it has too many flaws and could cause the opposite effect. I like to walk around the setting and give specific and immediate praise about what I see that looks good.
Actions and consequences
If a child displays unwanted behaviour there will be a policy within your setting for how this dealt with and all staff respond consistently, maybe a removing a privilege or giving time to reflect. The consequence is appropriate to the age group to help those children understand that within society there are consequences to our actions. I am sometimes amazed when people do not follow the choices, action, and consequences rule. I hear “I had no choice”. Yes you did, there is always a choice because if you had no choice you would be a victim and you are not a victim. You made the choice to follow that course of action and now you are accountable for the actions you took.
“Someone told me that was right” Did you check it out with the right person, “no”, then you made the choice and therefore you are accountable. “Why me?” Because you made the choice.
One of the issues I have needed to tackle is staff wearing nail varnish, it is against our policy because staff handle food. I showed them the policy, I reminded them, I gave one last chance and then I said if you come to work with nail varnish you will be sent home unpaid. I was very clear what the consequences of their actions would be, whatever the excuse. I now have nail varnish remover in my office and if needed staff will come to use it. I needed to set the boundary, communicate it and stick to my guns.
All children have them; it is the formal record of the child’s journey whist in our setting. It includes their accomplishments, photographs, completed assessments and next steps. I consider staff personnel files to be an equivalent concept. The information from their recruitment and induction is the journey into the setting and initial assessment. It helps you to decide where you consider where that staff member is weak following their interview and induction. The three month probationary period is your first formative assessment; you will have needed to observe their practice, reviewed the actions set at induction and consider their next steps. Further assessments take place at six months at the end of their probationary period and then throughout the cycle you have for staff supervision. Any training and development needs are recorded as next steps and the certificate will be copied into the file. The annual appraisal is the time to complete a summative assessment, reviewing the year just passed and agreeing on objectives for the following year. Obviously these will not be shared with their parents!
Offering new opportunities
If a child has been full time with you from an early age it is likely they will become bored and disruptive; giving them some additional responsibility may prevent this unwanted behaviour. It could be the same with a member of staff who has been with you for a while or in the same room. You could develop a working group to look at ideas which they may be interested in and ask them to lead on it. Providing you set clear parameters for the group it could be just the challenge someone needs to re-motivate them.
“Ok children, it is tidy up time” and all the children begin busily putting things away, well, most of the time. The routine gives them comfort, they know what is going to happen next and they do not get anxious about what is coming next. (Yes I agree, routines should not impact on teaching and learning, but only when the practitioner feels it is time to stop and do the next thing.) Staff will feel the same comfort with an element of routine. If you walk around the setting once a week they can feel assured you will visit them at least once during the week and they will have your attention. Whatever process you have for supervision needs to happen on a regular basis, team meetings, and a consistent (wherever possible) shift arrangement. If staff are not certain they will have an opportunity to talk to you, you will create a culture of “can I just”, where they constantly interrupt you with minor matters.
My conclusion is that an awful lot of the strategies and processes we have in place when working with children can be transferred into the leadership role. I imagine many of us sometimes think “it was so much easier when I was a practitioner”, however in actual fact it is just different sized humans you were leading. Yes it is likely that your staff will have a more reasoned argument, stronger views and will be slightly taller, but their needs are the same as your children and your strategies will work just the same.