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Thuy Rees
Pre-School Director

Helpful Advice When Dealing With Difficult Staff Situations

December 10, 2020

In my time as a child care director I faced many very difficult situations with my staffing team. There were a number of circumstances that went from 0 to 100 in a matter of moments. As I walked into these difficult situations I was often caught in the crossfire. Sometimes I was forced to react in the moment, while other times my thoughts, words and decisions were much more methodical, but I can tell you I wasn’t always as prepared as I would have liked. Of course the best way to avoid these situations is to hire and train a great team but no matter how great your team is, you are bound to have issues arise from time to time.

After much experience, through trial and error, I have learned a few things that are very important to know before these situations arise. When we are prepared ahead of time it allows us to go into any stressful situation with total confidence. I’m not saying that I can prepare you for all the situations you will face as a director, but what I can do is give you a few tips that you can keep as tools at your disposal when a difficult situation arises at your center.

As director, I have seen all sorts of things, from staff mistreating children in the classroom, to staff showing up to work with children high on medication, staff with anger issues, or even staff with messy home situations they brought into the center and lawsuits brought against our center by staff!

Not one of those situations is something that you wake up hoping to walk into that day but they all have the potential for serious fallout and you should be prepared to deal with at least one of them in your time as director or owner of a childcare center. As an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, today I’m gonna share with you my 6 tips on being prepared for difficult situations with staff: 

Clearly State Policies

It is very important that your policies are stated in writing and that you have staff signatures documenting that they understand and agree to the policy. This was always my number one thing to go back to when I completed staff write ups. I ALWAYS pointed back to the policy. A good policy with staff signature prevents you from being liable for someone else’s mistake or misbehaviour. 


Document Everything

This is super important even with small situations. You never know when the situation is going to turn from a small conversation to a termination. It is important for legal reasons to have everything in writing, documented with dates and details about the conversations or warnings that have already taken place. 

Maintain a Healthy Distance

What I am talking about here is your relationships with your staffing team. They say it’s lonely at the top and that’s because if you allow yourself to get too close to your staff personally it will bite you in the butt at some point in your career. I am not saying that as director, owner, or leader you should not be friendly with your staff and get to know them well inside and outside the classroom but what I am saying is that when you are in leadership there is a clear boundary that needs to be maintained between yourself and your staff. 

Always Review Major Decisions

When it comes to leadership in general it is important to always have a second set of eyes along your journey. This may be somebody in your center that works at your leadership level or higher or somebody outside the center that is your mentor and someone you trust. When dealing with big issues it’s always best to have a second set of eyes and ears to bounce ideas off, especially when someone's livelihood is in question.

Document all Meetings with Email

As I mentioned above, documenting all important conversations is a great way of protecting yourself, and the second part to this is following the conversation or reprimand up with an email explaining the issue. WARNING: be careful how you state things in writing because it is easy to sound condescending, insulting, or rude in an email and that can also come back to bite you

A few important things that should be included in a confirmation email:

  • that you met with the staff member(s) to discuss an issue 
  • The date (and time) your conversation took place
  •  what the issue is in plain terms
  •  what the working solution is

Email is a great way to document the fact that a verbal conversation occurred as the email itself is dated and if needed you can see that the staff member received the communication as well. It also provides opportunity to clarify the verbal conversation, acts as a second conversation, and is in writing for both parties so it avoids the ‘he said, she said’ arguments down the road. 

For full disclosure, sometimes I would not send a follow up email to a staff member if I was concerned about them having a copy of the follow up or escalating things online. Also you want to make sure to have a write-up of the conversation that is in more detail placed in their staff file. Use discretion on this please, as this can be controversial if not dealt with discreetly.

Never be afraid to put a Staff Member on Leave

In some situations, offering paid leave (even long-term) will cause you fewer headaches then having a staff member stick around working in the classroom with the rest of your teaching staff. It’s a good way to minimize further friction without running afoul of labour laws. Of course paid employee leave is not ideal for every circumstance but I recommend it for serious situations such as when drugs are involved, you do not trust the staff member around other staff, or you can’t trust them around children for any reason. Paid leave can give you and the staff member involved a chance to review the findings and see if continued employment makes the best sense for either of you and although it’s not the cheapest option it may save you time, money and even litigation down the road. 

Final Notes

Like I have said before being a director of a childcare company can be super complex and there is no single right way to handle every situation. It’s my hope that each of the tips above helps you put a plan in place to deal with difficult situations. The key is knowing what steps you’ll take and following them each time a difficult situation arises. It’s hard to know when a particular issue will become a huge problem so always follow the same documentation steps to protect yourself and your center from the fallout that all too often comes from navigating difficult situations with your staff.

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