Being time-poor is perhaps the biggest hurdle in being an effective manager in an early childhood education and care setting. So many people say “If I didn’t get so many interruptions, I might actually be able to get something done!”
In this post we explore and look at time-saving tools to significantly improve communication with Educators / Teachers and families. These tools can literally save you hours each day.
1. Reduce interruptions by talking to your staff more
Having regular catch-ups with your team 1:1 will mean less interruptions. Ideally, you should meet with each of your staff once a week for 5 to 7 minutes. In this time, you can give them your undivided attention, find out how their weeks been, follow up on any feedback and check in with them. As your weekly meetings become more and more regular, you’ll find your Educators / Teachers interrupt you less. They hold their ideas waiting for the weekly meeting. You can even get them an A4 exercise book where they can jot down their ideas during the week
Make sure the right person does the right job at the right time. You shouldn’t be the person ordering nappies and baby wipes. Having a manager ordering stock is a poor use of resources. Giving an up-and-coming staff member the responsibility of managing the stock levels is a more appropriate use of human resources. You can relieve that staff member whilst they order supplies and you can use that time to coach and mentor staff in the room.
3. Have morning briefings
How many times do you have to deliver the same message each morning? First into the babies room, then into the toddlers, then to the preschoolers and don’t forget the kitchen and the office. Take the time to have morning briefings., Do them over an intercom system. The room leaders listens on the intercom to the morning briefing, often no longer than three or four minutes. Then they’re responsible for passing on the message to their teams. Absent children, messages from parents, lunches or changes in shifts, they can all be delivered over the morning briefing. At Farran Street we call them the morning POW-WOW.
4. Schedule other people
At Farran Street, we invite potential families to make an appointment to tour the service. Tours are conducted every Monday between 9 and 11am. If potential families pop into the service outside these times, they are greeted and invited to make an appointment for the following Monday. Sales reps, booksellers, handy men, potential families, everyone needs to make an appointment. Reminder emails are sent two days before meetings to minimise no-shows.
5. Use technology to save time
Create a closed Facebook group to help your Educators / Teachers keep in touch. You can post rosters, notices, questions and reminders all to the Facebook group. Staff will receive notifications when the group has been updated, and you’ll be able to see who’s viewed the material. A closed Facebook group is just like the whiteboard in the staff room, only this way, it can be accessed from anywhere at any time and it becomes a discussion rather than just a way of delivering messages.
6. Schedule reactive time
If you have eight hours of office time and you know that normally you’re interrupted at least a quarter of the time, then you should only be scheduling six hours’ worth of work. In the morning, list down all the things you plan to complete that day and leave time for interruptions and reactive tasks. This way you won’t feel frustrated or demoralised when you have to deal with an issue immediately.
7. Use geo-reminders on your iPhone
The iPhone’s reminders App is pretty handy., Add in its location-based abilities and it becomes an absolute lifesaver. You can set up reminder alerts to go off at a certain place. For example, if you keep forgetting to collect those art and craft supplies, your iPhone can remind you the next time you’re within 100 meters of the supermarket. It can also remind you of things before you leave the house or set a reminder to take work home before you leave for the day.
For more time-saving tricks join us for the Early Childhood Management webinar series which starts on 23rd August. Click here to reserve your seat.
Strengths are the blueprint to finding success in life – both at work and at home. When we focus on strengths within ourselves and in the people around us, we can help build better workplace relationships and improve communication in all aspects of our lives.
But here’s the catch.
Our strengths can get us into strife too! Strengths do clash. Let’s face it, we have all encountered conflict with another person in some shape or form. No matter how many policies and procedures we develop or how well we craft a position description – we will always have to deal with people. We can’t run a successful Centre on our own (We could try, but this may lead to insanity. But that’s another story….).
Strengths clash and it is because of this that we can achieve genius such as breakthroughs in problem-solving or novel inventions or amazing musical lyrics and song. But in the ordinary world when strengths clash, it usually indicates two people approaching the same situation from different perspectives. It can be really frustrating and the impact can reach all areas of the Centre.
Recently I spoke with a client who told me of some problems she faced within her team. Two of her educators were in conflict. She had tried talking to them, she tried asking them to work together on a project, to encourage them to get to know each other better. They were even sat together at the last Tasty Thai team dinner. Nothing worked. Upon exploring the issue further, I asked some questions relating to their individual strengths and what they were doing well. Both educators made valuable contributions in their own right, so what was going on here?
This was a classic tale of Strengths that Clash. One of the educators, let’s call her Miss Zest, full of life, adventure and energy liked the morning routine to commence with three activity tables set up by 8am. One for play doh, and two tables for baking – cookies or cake that could be eaten for morning tea. Miss Zest believed that when the children arrived, joining an organised activity straight away made the drop-off and goodbye easier. Easier for the parents, easier for the educators and for children. This meant the early morning was a mad scramble between wrapping up breakfast service and setting up the three activity tables. Miss Zest found this exciting.
Miss Self- Regulation, the co- educator in the room, did not like being made to madly race around so early in the morning believing this stressed out the children and that instead, they should be allowed free-play on arrival. Self-regulators monitor their feelings and behaviours closely, they are controlled and disciplined. Miss Self-Regulation preferred to ease into the morning and not be drawn into the ‘madness’ just so the kids could bake some silly cookies – they already ate too much sugar and shouldn’t be encouraged to over-indulge anyway.
Miss Zest complained that her colleague lacked energy and enthusiasm and always took the fun out of her ideas. Miss Self -regulation felt her colleague was adding unnecessary pressure to the morning, after all she would need a constant stream of energy to sustain the entire day’s schedule. Why over exert oneself so early? – we had a whole day to get through.
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How would you approach this situation?
Insist Miss Zest abandon her morning activity tables? Force Miss Self- Regulation to participate? Both of these options allow one educator to thrive whilst the other continues to be unhappy. Split them to different rooms? You’re only moving the problem around.
A better approach is to encourage a culture where strengths are celebrated. Everyone has a unique profile of strengths. When we get to express them, we feel valued and connected to our work. Not to mention happier at the end of the day. So try to remind yourself of the contributions your colleagues make, to the Centre, to the team, and to the children. It shifts your mind set from negative to positive.
We call this Strengths Spotting.
And when we spot the strengths in our adversary, we can curb our frustration and begin to work on a solution.
So, back to Miss Zest and Miss Self Regulation…..
After learning to spot strengths, Miss Zest recognises that her co-worker simply wants to exert her energy in equal amounts throughout the day so she can operate at her best – consistently. Miss Self-Regulation now sees that Miss Zest’s energy is contagious and can see the children and the parents love walking in to the buzzing room.
Our two educators now thrive at work. They enjoy being themselves and being valued for their contributions to an overall successful day at work. Their relationship has improved taking the tension away from the work day. (Miss Zest now prep’s the activity tables the night before and breakfast service has been moved to another room, removing the morning stress).
So, when strengths clash, try some strengths spotting instead. You may just be surprised at what your colleagues value in you.
It feels good. Try it!
To learn about how Strengths Spotting can build a Trusted Team, click here to take a look at our team workshop.
Too much or too little of your strengths? How to find the balance?
Character strengths are a little like chocolate. Eaten in a balanced way, it can be a well-deserved treat. But over eat and all the pleasure disappears. Under-eat and you’re left disappointed.
Similarly, your character strengths need to be demonstrated in a balanced way. Too much and you’ll destroy the relationship, too little will leave you feeling uninvolved.
Character strengths are the qualities and virtues that enable you to thrive. They are the way you think, act and feel and you exhibit these in different amounts. This is what makes you unique. Focusing on the things you are good at, is a positive approach that we can all benefit from. This builds our resilience in a time where life is crazy – busy with demands on our time like never experienced by previous generations.
There are 24 Character Strengths which can be drawn upon in different degrees. Your strengths might be kindness, love, perseverance, fairness or zest. In fact, you generally have five signature strengths that you utilise when being your natural self. It’s almost unconscious. Other strengths are curiosity, perspective, or creativity. What are your strengths?
When used in the right amounts, your strengths improve your enjoyment of work and overall levels of happiness.
Sometimes, however, we can draw too strongly on a strength, or even too little. Like anything in life (think chocolate!) balance is the key to sustained enjoyment or satisfaction and success.
Let’s take the strength of honesty, and imagine it on a continuum where too much honesty becomes overuse (like being outspoken) and too little is underuse (not saying how you really feel). The middle area is the “optimal zone” where the strength is expressed in just the right amount to be effective in a particular situation.
Let me give you an example of what overuse and underuse can look like at work. My top strength is Honesty which can be both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing because my colleagues value that with me, what they see is what they get and I will give them the feedback and praise that they genuinely deserve. This is when I am expressing honesty from the middle of the continuum or optimal zone. Everyone is happy.
Why can it also be a curse? Because sometimes, when under pressure, tired or cranky, I can overuse my honesty, forget my filter and come across as blunt. So, last week when my colleague forgot to bring her resources which she had promised for our group activity, I snapped. “Now the session is ruined. We can’t proceed without the resources. I texted you a reminder. You are always so unreliable.” I said. Now even though this was honestly what I was thinking, it does nothing to sustain a secure relationship from which we can both thrive.
I had damaged the relationship with my colleague by overusing my honesty in that situation.
What would an underuse of honesty look like in that situation? The interaction would probably have gone a little like this “That’s fine, the activity will still be effective without it. It doesn’t matter,” when I really know that not to be true.
Finding the Optimal Zone
So how do you know what the optimal zone looks like? In my experience, it helps to pay attention to two things:
- Your feelings post interaction.
“I wish I didn’t say that. I came on too strongly and I regret that” indicates Overuse
Whilst “I am so happy with how that went” indicates you were in the Optimal Zone.
- How the other person reacts.
“I can see I offended my colleague. They look really disheartened.” indicates overuse
Whilst, the next reflection is a signal you were in the optimal zone,
“My colleague appreciated that open discussion and they are motivated with an action plan to take away.”
Taking a moment to reflect on an interaction will provide you with the clues to assess what the right balance of your strengths look like. The balanced expression should leave all parties feeling satisfied, comfortable and valued.
It can be difficult to walk the fine line between over and under use of our strengths. After all, a strength is a behaviour that comes naturally to you. Most of the time you are unaware of it. But if you focus on the interaction between you and others, you’ll soon find the balance. This will create a more cohesive and engaged team.
And then, you’ll deserve more chocolate!
About the author: Nicole is an organisational psychologist who believes that when people understand their strengths, capabilities and motivators, they can unleash all their brilliance to perform at the highest level and create high performing teams. Nicole is an integral part of the Farran Street Education facilitation team, and currently facilitates team workshops including Understanding Yourself and Others and The Trusted Team.
Giving feedback is a key leadership skill, and creating an environment where feedback is expected and accepted should be the goal of every service.
Most people avoid giving feedback because they are worried about destroying the relationships. Why does feedback hurt so much?
At the heart of receiving feedback is a clash between two key human desires:
- The need to learn and grow
- The need to feel accepted and respected for who we are.
We’re wired to enjoy learning and growing, it’s a big part of what brings satisfaction and accomplishment to life. I can point to many times that I’ve learned and grown from feedback in my past.
But human beings also need to feel accepted, respected, and safe just the way we are now. And that’s why feedback is such a conundrum. It can be enormously threatening because the very fact that someone is giving us negative feedback suggests that the way we are now is not quite right.
But there is a better way!
You can create an environment where feedback is expected and accepted—and even in those instances where direct feedback is given, Educators can leave the interaction feeling reflective and inspired.
Feedback can be categorised into three main types:
Appreciation feedback is fundamentally about relationships, connections and character strengths. Appreciation motivates and inspires us, it gives us a bounce in our step.
Coaching feedback is aimed at trying to help Educators learn, grow or change.
Evaluation feedback is designed to compare or measure performance against expectations or instructions.
One trait underpins all three types of feedback and that is a culture of constant inquiry. A culture of constant inquiry starts with the ability to ask great questions. Questions are also a powerful tool for promoting thinking and learning. Asking great questions is at the heart of effective communication and the secret to great leadership.
By asking the right questions you can gather better information and learn more; you can build stronger relationships, manage people more effectively and ultimately deliver better feedback. Questions unlock and open doors that otherwise remain closed, and allow us to see things from different perspectives.
It’s important to remove the negative stigma attached to the process of asking questions. The Nominated Supervisor says to the Educator, “Why didn’t you put the bikes out today?” The Educator becomes defensive, “Have I done something wrong?” The Educator fires back.
All too often questions signal a reprimand. The first step in giving great feedback is to establish that questions are simply an attempt to gain more information, to get better insight, to understand perspectives. Great leaders can ask questions which denote a positive sense of genuine inquiry.
Feedback based on assumption is offensive. Begin your feedback journey by asking great questions:
What was your vision for setting up the yard today?
If you could have any resources you wanted, what experience would you design for the children?
What was your inspiration for that experience?
If you could have your time again how would you handle that situation?
If you were a child, what would it look like?
If you were in my shoes, what would you do?
One final thought—we only accept feedback from people we trust. Start by asking great questions and building trust.
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About the author:
Adrian Pattra is the Education Director of Farran Street Education. In this role, he manages the day-to-day operational and educational outcomes. Adrian has been involved in adult education for the past 15 years, he holds a Bachelor of Education and a Master in Educational Psychology. Adrian has worked with a range of Children Service’s organisations, providing them with the tools to improve their competency and learning frameworks, while creating a culture of continuous learning. For the past 20 years, Adrian together with his family has a small long day care service on Sydney’s lower north shore.
What are the strengths that make you an amazing Educator?
Each one of us has amazing strengths that we use each day in our interactions with children, families and other staff.
Could you imagine a service which focused on celebrating the character strengths of Educators?
Just over 15 years ago a small group of psychologists decided to shift their focus from helping move people past their problems, to focusing on what was right and strong with people.
This simple shift gave birth to the positive psychology movement and the science of Character Strengths.
Today, VIA identifies that there are 24 Character Strengths. They are the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave and are the keys to you being your best self.
You can be particularly gifted in one area and weak in another, but if you are like most people, you are often somewhere in between. Your strengths are what make you unique.
You probably use your strengths every day at work, and do so naturally. When you play from your strengths you are likely to feel more energetic and perform better than when you are trying to use a Character Strength that comes less naturally.
Using your Character Strengths at work is the easiest and most effective way to become engaged at work. Your strength becomes the smallest thing that you can do to make the biggest difference.
What are your Top 5 Character Strengths as an Educator?
Knowing your character strengths isn’t just interesting information. When skilfully applied character strengths can actually have a significant positive impact on your life. Research shows that using your character strengths can help you:
- Increase your happiness at work
- Improve your relationships
- Discover a work life balance
- Increase your performance at work
- Achieve your life goals.
Imagine a world where we all saw strengths. Image looking at your fellow educators and seeing what is right with them as opposed to what is wrong with them. What if we could create a culture where we could spot strengths in others and use them to build relationships?
We need to help each other switch from a lens of weakness to a lens of strengths.
When I look at my Educators, I don’t see Jenny, Room Leader, Diploma. My lens has shifted. I see Jenny, Curious, Humour, Honesty and Zest.
When you start to spot strengths your entire outlook on life changes. You become more positive, more engaged, more fulfilled. When you spot strengths in others, you’re encouraging them to grow.
To find out more, check out our Trusted Team workshop