Quality is a constant focus and benchmark for the early education sector, but how do you build a quality conscious team?
That was the question which early childhood education consultant and trainer Miriam Dressler addressed at a free Educa webinar on 23 February, 2018. Miriam is a director of learning and education at Bloom Early Education in Seattle, USA, and has also co-written the book, “Prove It! Achieving Quality Recognition for Your Early Childhood Program.”
“It’s not just one thing that leads to high quality in your program, but a happy combination of many elements,” she says. “When you pull out one or some of those pieces, you have gaps in quality.”
Quality at the heart of your mission
A key element of quality is your services’ mission statement, a ‘motherhood’ or ‘umbrella’ statement.
“You don’t have to tackle your entire mission statement all at once. Take pieces of it and write these purpose statements, creating a mini mission around getting your quality up to licensing standards. You might say something about your curriculum, your classroom environment, how you involve the community and train your teachers. Write a statement for each and make it bite-size. Don’t write something that’s not achievable or measurable.”
Carrying out the mission – how?
When you finish reading the statement it should give you a good sense of who your company is. The statement is the foundation of all your practices, policies and documentation, argues Miriam. You then spell out your philosophy statement and ‘how we do this’.
“That’s the practices, the daily slog of making sure that we’re doing these things. You’ll have a hard time creating quality if your mission statement doesn’t agree with your practices.
Miriam suggests directors ask themselves “What does my staff need to make the mission quality statement come through – what are the steps to success?”
“A quality certification or accreditation isn’t an assurance it’s happening,” she says.
Make quality your rallying cry
Quality in early childhood hinges upon the work that leadership does to build a team that engages with and buys into the mission in all its practices. Miriam’s done this with her centre by transforming the mission statement into a poster and placing it in the lobby.
“It’s like a rallying cry. Stopping and looking at the big picture isn’t always the priority. I do try to throw my eye over it as it’s a good idea to remind ourselves as we leave at the end of the day to ask ‘Did we do this?’ and when we come back, ‘We should do this’.
Getting your team on board
Miriam says training and professional development are the keys to getting the team on board. Your mission statement might say ‘We meet and exceed all licensing expectations’. This needs to be followed through with ensuring staff know about the regulatory requirements to run your program. They would include child protection, workplace health and safety, and mandated ratios for classrooms, for example.
“What services struggle with here is having consistent quality standards from program to program or even within programs. You need very clear operating procedures so that every team’s lesson plan must be a particular format and returned in for review every fortnight. They can’t be suggestions – you need to spell it out very clearly,” says Miriam.
Even for ‘opening and closing rooms’ there should be stated operating procedures such as 10 tasks that need to be done. So, any teacher can go in and measure their activity and performance based on those quality standards. Clear operating procedures create stability throughout the service.
“This means, when there is a change of manager or there’s a supervisory restructure, the whole program isn’t based on the whims of the original manager. You have a document, almost like a constitution that everyone goes back to. Management has to buy into this and it makes it easier for a new manager, owner or directors to get on board with what’s going on with the program,” says Miriam.
Reward, but not with treats
As well as consistency, there needs to be recognition of team members pulling their weight. She suggests asking teachers who are successfully handling difficult situations to talk about how they chose their strategies.
“Ask teachers, ‘How did you get to that point?’. Have a conversation about their professional skills, it’s about being in a collegiate relationship with them,” she says.
“Talk with them about the work they’re doing and it values what they’re bringing to the table.”
One example could be noticing a teacher doing a great job at diffusing challenging behaviour and supporting families with those issues at home. Miriam suggests setting the teacher up as the resident expert by asking them to present their strategies at a staff meeting. But don’t overwhelm them – check in to see if they need support to do so.
“Give out awards if you like doing that, but ensure it’s based on specific criteria, not just ‘teacher of the month’. What does that mean anyway? Ask your staff what they want to be recognised for – what do they find meaningful,” she says.
Treats such as sweets should be separate as you might be inadvertently sabotaging someone’s health kick.
Check in regularly for quality
So, to boost the health of your service, make quality a constant with weekly schedules detailing what you’re doing to meet the ‘actionables’ flowing from your mission statement. It’s what we do every day – go from the theoretical to the practical in the classrooms. Quality in early childhood should be no different.