Thursday, April 25, 2013

Grow Your Own Staff!

I ask a lot of my team.  I have high standards and expect people to rise to meet them.  It's a blessing and a curse.  We work hard and I love to let them play hard too.  We deserve that.  I want teachers who love to play.  If they can't play, they can't facilitate play experiences for our kids.

Vacation requests are taken quite seriously.  We have a fabulous system that I created last year when I took over the center and basically, vacation is first-come, first-serve and only 2 people can be out at once.  This helps to ensure we can stay happy while our colleagues are enjoying their much deserved R&R.  Sanity is important in this field so I'm not really looking to decrease the existing levels.

I'm down a teacher right now because one of our young ladies had her first baby (awww) and after 12 weeks together, she decided she just wasn't able to return to us.  This vacancy has caused me many long days and even longer nights at home getting my actual work done.  When I spoke of this issue at our recent meeting of directors, one director suggested that I ask teachers to have mercy on me and reschedule their vacation.  Sounds easy enough but vacations are few and far between for us and I know that many of my teachers have BIG plans for their time off; some are leaving town and others are spending time with children.  Another suggestion was to "hurry up and hire someone."

I refuse.

I will not hire another person just for a quick fix.  We need someone who will stick with us and be a great fit for our little family.  It's worth taking the time to find that great fit than to go through the interviewing, hiring, and orientations on repeat.  Ain't nobody got time for that!  It's worth taking my time and taking one for the team in the meantime.  I will cover to ensure my staff gets the rest they need to be their very best for their children.

I'm very much interested in growing my own staff.  To me, that means promoting from within whenever possible and bringing in new staff into assistant teacher roles where they will have some time in a sheltered place to learn the unspoken culture of our agency and site and all of the requirements that will be asked of them as lead teacher candidates.  It's a lot of pressure to come into an agency, especially agencies with multiple funders, and learn the ropes while learning the children and getting comfortable.

I'm so pleased that I was able to promote one of my teacher aides this afternoon to her next challenge with more responsibility and more reflection!  She's been at the agency for quite some time so this was a long time coming but I've had a pretty clear vision of how she would grow and change and take on these new challenges and she has met every expectation and often times exceeded them.  I love to check in with her and put my finger on the pulse of where she's going and how I can help her get there.  She's almost done with her associates degree and I have big plans for her future; she just doesn't know it yet.  But I love that today while we were chatting about her promotion, I asked if she could believe it was happening and her response was "I believe everything you tell me I can do -- you've been right every time."

I love being right.  ;)

But I also love that I can be the support, the scaffold, to encourage others to continue their journey in the early childhood field.

Sometimes, we all need somebody to lean on!  Ya singing?  You should be!  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Invest in your staff

The only thing worse than training staff and having them leave is not training and having them stay.
-Henry Ford

Oh my goodness, how true is this quote?!  I always open the Exchange Everyday emails in the morning to find a nugget of inspiration and today was no exception.  There it was, staring back at me, the truth of why I do what I do!  I love children, don't get me wrong, but I think my true passion is working with other teachers to help them see themselves as teachers rather than glorified babysitters.  

No one pours themselves into schooling to obtain a degree in early childhood to be called a babysitter.  How demeaning!  No one would ever think to undermine the qualifications or credibility of a doctor or lawyer, so why do they do it with teachers?!  

Many of our funding agencies require us to send teachers to x-number of professional development workshops during the program year to meet the requirements.  I like to call these little chunks "drive-by-trainings."  These are the stupid make & take workshops where there is no real application or synthesis of information; you show up, you make something that's developmentally inappropriate and you go back to your program.  Maybe you got a handout.  It's probably in your car, under the seat, or wadded up in the door.  The likelihood of you saving that handout are slim (to none) and if you do, it's in a folder... somewhere.   Have you looked at in since the workshop?  Do I even need to ask this question?

I value professional development for what it's meant to be.  Development.  I want teachers to go to workshops and come back feeling empowered and excited.  I see this occasionally, but I truly believe it only happens when teachers are responsible for their own development, meaning they reflect on what they're doing in the classroom and what they'd like to strengthen.  Together, we identify workshops and conferences that might support the goal and then -- this is the kicker -- they go.

Yesterday, I did some reflecting (!!) on reflective supervision and what that should look like and one of the roadblocks that gets some of us directors is coverage.  "Well, I don't have coverage, so you can't go to that workshop you were supposed to attend."  This. Kills. Me.  I work really hard to plan ahead and block off those times so that this professional development time is protected and actually occurs.  We've been fortunate this year (knock on wood) and we've found some great workshops and we're trying a new system.

When you return from your professional development, you share.  Mind-blowing, I know.  But when teachers are asked to share what they've learned at the workshops, I can see the light bulbs above their heads turn on. This is a step that we're continuing to develop but so far, it's been fun!  After all, the best way to learn something is to teach it!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Reflective Supervision Buzz

It's kind of a buzz-buzz word right now, the latest and greatest -- reflective supervision.  All the cool sites are doing it.  Funders are starting to require it in some programs.  But are we really doing it?

What is reflective supervision and what does it mean to implement it correctly?
Can anyone do it?  Does it take a certain skill set?

And if people are requiring it, why aren't they providing more training and support on the topic?

 I had the great privilege of working within the Student Mentor Teacher Fellowship with a dear colleague and one of the most important aspects of this program was that someone was responsible for mentoring the mentor.  How novel!  Why are we so quick to assign this very important responsibility of reflective supervision only to turn around and walk away?  This is important work!  We need to support the mentor who is supporting the teacher who then in turn supports our children.

I suspect it boils down to us not thinking about what's best for children -- sad but true.

We've got a million reasons for not giving teachers the reflective supervision they so desperately need:

"I have a meeting."
"So-and-so was on vacation."
"Things are just so crazy around here."

Sound familiar?

Yeah, we've all said them.  I know I'm guilty at times.

What's more is that reflective supervision cannot happen without a trusting and secure relationship between the mentor and the teacher.  What teacher wants to sit down and discuss weaknesses with someone who doesn't care or expects perfection or genuinely seems disinterested?!  No one, that's who.  It becomes a facade.  It's fake.  We go through motions because it's what funding agencies want...

I'm thankful that I've seen the light and refuse to be that director.  I am busy.  But so are the teachers.  We make time for each other to sit together and talk.  About everything, even non-school things.  We're building a relationship so that when we talk about those areas to develop, it's not so awkward or difficult.  Much like we encourage strong relationships with families, we need strong relationships with teachers.

So what is reflective supervision?  To us, it's a protected time to talk about learning and teaching in the context of the center and the individual and to reflect on where we've been, where we are, and where we're going.  It's more about the relationship than the content for some of our teachers.  They're all at different stages and some are more ready/open for reflective supervision than others.

I've never had training on the topic and have done a lot of research on it in my own search for understanding.  I would love to see more of our funding agencies step up and share not only the requirement, but to also highlight the importance and process as well.  It just grinds my gears to hear people say they're using reflective supervision when anyone can clearly see they're just supervising.

If we want to grow our own, we better start watering these seeds.