Each day, ECE administrators, directors, and leaders juggle many responsibilities to ensure a high-quality learning environment for children and a positive work environment for staff. NAEYC describes the all-encompassing impact of leadership this way: “…virtually everything early childhood administrators do in their leadership roles directly or indirectly influences their programs’ trajectories toward excellence.”
In the wake of the COVID pandemic, ECE administrators and directors have had to become even more resourceful and flexible leaders. During the past few years, many educators have left the ECE field as a result of exhaustion, stress, and feeling overworked. High turnover rates are stressful for administrators, parents, staff, and especially for children. Responsive leadership can help maintain staff morale and reduce turnover.
Leadership that Inspires: Three Key Practices
People feel energized and inspired when they work with engaged team members. ECE administrators and directors can inspire enthusiasm by demonstrating sincere interest in the work of the teachers and other staff members who nurture children’s learning and development. The following three practices can help ECE leaders communicate to staff that they welcome opportunities to engage with them and to support the important work that they do.
1. Make Yourself Available
The world of ECE is always busy, and priorities are constantly changing as different tasks and responsibilities come up throughout the day. Even so, making time for your staff to chat and connect with you is incredibly important. This might be as simple as a quick chat during nap time to ask how things are going and find out whether they need any support in their classroom. Scheduling regular meetings for quick check-ins can also be an effective way to give your staff time to share updates, questions, and concerns.
Making yourself available doesn’t just refer to communication. It also means supporting teachers in the classroom when they are working with children. Regularly rotate around classrooms and offer an extra set of hands, especially during times of transitions that tend to be especially busy. Teachers will appreciate the help, and it will also give you an opportunity to view the classroom first-hand to see how things are going.
2. Listen with Respect and Openness
When teachers share concerns, ensure that you are truly listening by maintaining a sense of openness and curiosity. Messages: The Communication Skills Book is a great book for learning more about how to connect and communicate effectively. The authors describe listening as “a commitment and a compliment. It’s a commitment to understanding how other people feel and how they see their world…Real listening is more than being quiet when someone else talks. It is based on your intention to understand someone, to enjoy someone, to learn something from them, or to give them help.”
To listen effectively, maintain a sense of empathy and openness. This does not mean that you have to agree with what the person is saying, but maintaining a sense of compassion for their perspective will help them to feel heard and valued. Try to maintain a sense of curiosity about their perspective. Be interested in where this person is coming from and what their struggles have been, and commit yourself to understanding what is being said. Verbally confirm that you understand the speaker’s message so they know they have been heard.
3. Be “Always Learning”
Nothing sparks inspiration like learning a skill or idea to try out in your classroom. When we get to try something new in our classrooms, it creates a sense of newness, excitement, and joy. We want our staff to always be learning, trying new things, and experimenting.
As leaders, we can model this mentality by regularly attending professional development, reading new books, and learning new skills. Share some of the new things you are learning with your staff. You can also create opportunities for you and your staff to learn together by inviting guest speakers to come visit your center or by scheduling a staff “movie night” with popcorn to watch a pre-recorded webinar together. Learning together is fun, exciting, and best of all – it benefits the children who get to experience new things in your care!
If you are looking for more tips, you might enjoy the following resources: