While the new year is an exciting time, it can sometimes be difficult to return to work after a holiday break. Directors and those in leadership positions in ECE programs can help by welcoming back educators and care providers with fresh ideas and practices to help everyone feel energized, motivated, and ready to take on the new year. In this article, we share five ideas for connecting with and supporting your teaching staff.
1. Schedule a New Year Check-In
Taking time to meet with your teaching team is always important, but it is especially helpful at the start of a new year. A team-wide meeting is a great opportunity to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to give everyone a chance to share their goals and ideas for the year ahead. If your program’s busy schedule makes staff meetings too difficult to coordinate, one-on-one conversations with each teacher can be a helpful alternative.
By reaffirming your program’s shared vision and creating a space for open communication, you’ll be helping educators feel motivated to take on the new year. During these meetings, it can also be helpful to ask about challenges and stressors and then invite conversations about the types of support that each educator would find most helpful.
Let educators in your program know that you look forward to hearing their ideas throughout the year. A recent report from the United States Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, called for workplaces to protect employee mental health. The report stated that an “essential” component of well-being at work is “mattering”, the belief that you are valued and important to others. Dr. Gordon Flett, the author of the book “The Psychology of Mattering” suggests that organizations build a culture of mattering by involving employees in key decisions that affect their work so that they know their input is valued.
2. Express Gratitude
Letting employees and co-teachers know how much they are appreciated is one of the simplest ways to boost motivation in the workplace. An article from Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center explains that “building cultures of gratitude and appreciation can transform our work lives, leading to deeper connections to each other and to the work we’re doing…[and] contribute to the kind of workplace environments where employees actually want to come to work.”
Let your colleagues know how much you appreciate them by calling attention to their accomplishments. These might be big things, like finishing a project with the children, or smaller things like finding a new children’s book that the little ones particularly enjoy. Try to do this regularly and in front of other peers, so that everyone can take part in congratulating them on their accomplishments.
3. Encourage Professional Development
When educators have specific events and learning opportunities to look forward to, it can help the new year feel even more exciting. Start the new year by sharing information about upcoming professional development events that you think your teaching team might be especially interested in.
You might also plan an event in which you and your team all watch a pre-recorded professional development webinar together. Make it a fun event by popping popcorn and having a movie night! At the end of the webinar, take some time to discuss what you learned and how you might incorporate it into your work with young children. Fresh ideas and inspiration are great ways to help educators feel re-energized about their work!
4. Create a Calming Space for Breaks
To feel our energetic best, we need adequate rest and breaks from work throughout the day. It’s important to have a quiet, relaxing space available for educator breaks. You can ensure that the space is calming and cozy by including a comfortable chair and pillows, as well as dim, peaceful lighting. Have water available to ensure that teachers are properly hydrated.
When we take a few minutes during the day to rest and take care of ourselves, it can help us sustain the energy and engagement we need to be effective with young children!
5. Create Collaboration Opportunities
Positive, collaborative relationships with our team members can boost our energy and motivation at work. In an article for WestEd, Kevin Perks, Director of School and District Services with WestEd’s Quality Schools and Districts team explains, “Think about the most motivating activities you have previously participated in as an educator. Probably many of these were collaborative endeavors. While people can easily be motivated to engage in independent tasks, motivation often increases when there are added opportunities to work with others, particularly with people you care about.”
Think about different ways that you might facilitate more collaborative relationships among team members in your program. You could, for example, encourage educators to collaborate on curriculum-building. Or, you might create committees (such as a garden committee, a music committee, etc.) around special interests.