How to Develop Your Child Care Dream Team
In 10+ years of working in early childhood education, I have worked on a number of different daycare teams. Some of these teams were very functional, and others not so much. No matter what field you work in, you know that working on a well-run team with an effective leader makes everyone’s life more enjoyable. Recently we discussed four tips for building a collaborative team to set your center up for success.
Today, we are going to look in more detail at how to develop your team. We will consider how vision, mission, staff values, training/onboarding, and long-term investment contribute toward building the ideal child care team. Each area has its own role in creating your team, but remember, it all starts at the top. You need to lead by example, and taking responsibility by owning your team’s current status is the first step. Once you’ve owned up to your own weaknesses, it’s time to put pen to paper to envision how things can be improved.
When thinking about creating the team that you want to lead or be a part of, what comes to mind? For me, it’s a group of people who are driven, competent, and grace-filled. So what does that look like? What traits should you look for and develop, and what are some traits you would like to discourage? Spend some time dreaming here; this is the most crucial step. Once you have a picture in your mind, you can begin vision casting and putting that vision into action.
It can seem unnecessary, but I always suggest that leaders put their vision on paper. Although I am a visual learner I have no artistic abilities but that’s okay. Some of my visioning would look like scribbles or a preschool drawing. I might jot some notes or draw a mind map of what my dream team would look like and what characteristics and skills they would possess. To some, this process might seem silly, but it’s essential to visualize and put your thoughts into words or pictures. If you’re not a pen and paper person, use free mind mapping software if that’s easier for you. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter what it looks like as long as it helps you understand your vision and communicate it to others.
Once you have your child care team designed and put to paper, the next step is creating your mission. If you already have a mission, that’s fine, but don’t be afraid to revisit it. Maybe it’s just what you want, but often you need to make some edits to fit your changing priorities or new contexts (think COVID-19). Make sure that your mission clearly and concisely defines what you want to accomplish as an organization.
The key to a good mission statement is to keep it short and sweet. A mission is no good if no one on your team can recall it. Feel free to look at some exemplars to help get started. One mission statement I worked with was, “to create a safe and fun environment in which kids can grow both academically and socially.” It was simple, yet comprehensive enough to cover everything that we had set out to do as a team. It was also a great reference point to help us analyze how our centre was run and what our priorities were, compared to what they should have been. Once you have finished the visioning and come up with a mission statement, the next step is developing core values that will help you accomplish your mission.
If you already have a team, my suggestion is to co-create these values with your team. A group of 4-7 is best for this task. If you have a leadership team in your center they can kick start the initial phase of the process.
To create your staff values, share your vision and mission with your team, and decide what behaviors and traits team members will need to accomplish that mission. Brainstorm together and put those traits down on chart paper. The key here is defining what successful members on your team would look like with your staff, so that they feel involved and buy into the plan. Some of our desired staff values included: willingness to help other team members, clear communication, owning outcomes, and passion for your work. The best part is I did not personally create these values, they were co-created by my staff, but I found them so compelling that I still use them to this day when coaching and mentoring childcare and daycare directors and staff.
Training and Onboarding
The next phase of building your team is considering your training and onboarding processes. I will be honest, I am only going to skim the surface here. The key is to make sure that when you onboard and train your team that you not only hire people who believe in your mission, but that you communicate your staff values and expectations to your new hires. We want to set up our team members for success, but to do this, we need to give them clear expectations. Then they will either be happy to jump on board or will find another team. This gives the added bonus of creating accountability. If there are issues down the road, you can point back to the mission and values you both agreed to, and find a way to get back on track.
Although many child care, daycare, and preschool directors do well in the mission and vision stages, the biggest failure that i’ve seen in centers is giving in to the temptation to skip the training and onboarding phase. My advice is, don’t miss this step; take the time to lay the important groundwork for a new member of your team. If you invest in your new team member now, I guarantee it will pay off down the road, both in greater opportunity for collaboration and communication, as well as in retaining staff who love what they do because they know what’s expected of them and share your mission and values.
The last part of the puzzle is personal investment. If you hire all the right people and place them in the right places, but do not invest in them, you will have failed. As a leader, we must not just choose the right people, we need to lead them! To lead well, we must invest in those we lead. This may sound like a lot of work, but I have discussed in another blog how to decide who to invest in. Let’s be honest, you can’t invest all your time in everyone, all the time. So choose who will benefit most from your investment, then set up systems and other leaders on your team to help the others. If each person on your team has at least one person investing in them, then they each have an opportunity to learn and grow. By teaching your team to invest in each other, you encourage mutual care and responsibility, and before you know it, they will begin to operate more like a community or family then a bunch of individual employees. When that happens, you’re well on your way to building a child care dream team!
You may have questions and doubts but I want to tell you that yes, it is possible to build the team you are envisioning. Yes, it will take time, and yes, it will take energy, but it can be done! Take the time to get your vision on paper and create or revisit your mission. Then share your vision and mission statement with your team and get your current players on board by co-creating core values. Finally, hire people who fit with your vision, share you mission, and exhibit core values, and don’t leave them to drown. Invest in your team and create new leaders to do what you can’t, because that is what great leaders do!
Remember, leading is rewarding but can also be humbling. Since a good team starts with good leadership, the current status of your team is a reflection of your leadership. So avoid blaming your staff and prevent division by owning the current situation and committing to change, even if it’s hard, embarrassing or time consuming up front. If you feel that you don’t have time to make the necessary investments in your staff, consider investing in Sandbox child care software to make your life easier and give you time to grow and manage your center. Ultimately though, remember that you can and will do it! With a little bit of time and training today, you can build the team of your dreams for an easier, more fulfilling tomorrow!