4 Steps for Child Care Center Leaders to Make Lemonade

“These are unprecedented times for all of us.”

We have all heard these eight words 25 times a day on TV and radio.  I personally didn’t need anyone to tell me this – I know it!

I’ve received many, many notes from our community asking, “Sue, what can I do with my center and my staff right now?  They are unhappy and not cooperating.  I’m afraid we may never be the same if I don’t do something now!”

Well, believe me, I hear you and feel you.  And, we probably won’t ever be the same after this.

As I’ve always told you, change happens every minute of our life and there is no stopping it. However, Incredible Leaders get into the game and direct change in a positive direction.  (Remember, doing nothing is going backwards.)

So, I want to share some ideas with you.

We’ve talked about and learned about leadership forever.  Time to put our training into action during these unprecedented times.

Step #1:  Grieve  

  • Everyone is feeling afraid, hopeless, helpless, desperate, (and 15 more terrible words) right now.

Accept this fact.  Honor this feeling that people have.  Acknowledge that we are all feeling this way and we’re all looking forward to things getting better.

  • Give yourself and your staff time and permission to grieve.

When we grieve, we need a mixture of alone time and assurance that someone is there for us.  Give your staff some space but stay in touch through text/email at least.

  • It’s impossible to ignore these feelings because we are bombarded with info from the media.

Each person has to work through their feelings and come to grips with their own situation before they can move forward.

  • Understand the “acting out” of your staff members.

Sometimes we take out our sorrow on the people we love the most.  If your staff is disappointing you, don’t take it personally and understand that this is their coping mechanism.

Step #2:  Ask for Help

You may say, “I don’t need help”.  This isn’t as much about your need as the need of your staff members.  They need you to need them!

  • This is a time when people want to help others!

Ask your staff members for ideas of how to navigate the next several weeks/months.  Encourage them to be helpful to you, and part of the solution to getting your center back to “normal”.  Listen to every suggestion.  Encourage every staff member to offer suggestions.

  • Acknowledge every suggestion in a positive manner.

Many times owners/directors are afraid to ask for suggestions because they think they have to accept and implement every suggestion.  You don’t!!!  Respond to suggestions by saying, “very interesting idea”, or “that’s something we can investigate”.  Just let everyone know that you expect to get more suggestions that you could ever implement, so “we will work to implement as many ideas as we can that fit into our mission”.

  • Encourage thorough suggestions.

Ask your staff to give you thorough suggestions that include:  (1) the suggestion, (2) what is the reason for the suggestion / what will this new “thing” improve in your center, (3) how would this be implemented and (4) what will be the snags in implementing it and how will these be handled?

Step #3:  Bring Staff Members Back Into the Community

Whether your staff is working in the center or from home, you want to keep them connected as a community.  At some point, after coming to terms with the national situation, we need to engage our professional brains again.  Staff will be wondering what it will be like when the center is “back to normal”.

  • Give your staff members a vision of when you return to regular operations

Talk about the return as an opportunity to plan to “reboot” your operations.  Day-to-day operations are very busy and it’s tough to have time to improve curriculum, training, behavior management, parent engagement, etc., etc.  Everyone has had ideas, but no time to discuss or implement them.  Now is that time.

  •  Create committees

We know that team work is ideal for working with a building full of children, but we often are not great at creating cohesive teams of staff members.  This is a good time to start team building because the adults don’t have the distractions of completing a project and caring for the children.

  • Tap into the Staff Members’ Skills and Talents

Let your staff members choose the topics they prefer – enjoy the most, are the best at doing.  They will be more engaged, and much more creative.  They will take ownership of the tasks.

  •  Create a Safe Environment

These are new activities for many staff members.  Be supportive. Be patient. Allow for mistakes.  Encourage “Try Again” (Just like we do with the children.)

  • Let the Staff Members Shine

Give them the opportunity to showcase their team work among the other staff members.

Step #4:  Plan the Future

Chin up, eyes forward, put on your best Incredible Leader face.  Be well prepared when the center opens fully again.  You may have children return a few at a time, but your atmosphere, you game plan, your cohesive staff members will be confident and determined to make up lost time.

  • Envision a New Day

As a group, talk about your Grand Opening when the centers are permitted to open again.  This should be as cheerful and special as if you have a brand new center.  It has to be all about happiness and children flourishing.

  • Get Your Staff Members to Get As Much Work Done As Possible

This is time you all have wished for – time to plan with no children to manage.  Look at the up side of this crazy time.  Don’t waste this opportunity regardless of why we were given his time.  Make lemonade out of lemons as they say.

  • Plan Your Welcome Back Messages

Get staff members to (right now) write the welcome back message.  Plan for routine correspondence during the first couple of months.

  • Prepare Your Staff Members

Let everyone discuss what to expect and what to do on those first days back.

  • Confirm Your Incredible Leadership

If you are nervous (1) plan, plan, plan until you are comfortable and (2) don’t let anyone see your fear and most of all (3) don’t be afraid.  You’ve got this. You’ve started from the beginning before, so this will be easier – as long as you believe that.

When implementing each of these four steps, take a deep breath, feel positive, and know that your leadership is what your staff and parents are looking for in your center!