Educa spoke to service directors for the best tips on managing your ECE staff.
Having effective interactions with your ECE staff is a crucial part of leadership.
Strangely enough, most teachers don’t see themselves as leaders yet “were expected to lead in challenging contexts”, according to a 2013 study by O’Gorman & Hard published in the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood.
You may be a ‘leader’ as such but not know it!
In fact, all these roles include leadership functions: early childhood teachers, centre directors, long day care directors, family day care managers, cluster managers, school leaders, and birth to eight integrated service director, say Krieg, Davis & Smith in their study, Exploring The Dance Of Early Childhood Educational Leadership.
They’re quick to point out you can’t just transfer leadership skills and training from other sectors into the early childhood sector. There’s a growing swag of leadership theories just for our sector. It highlights qualities such as empowerment, collaboration and reciprocity. And of course, reflective practice is a major one. Leadership is seen as more “fluid and interactional” in early childhood education services than other sectors, say Krieg and her fellow researchers.
As you’d know, getting the best out of your teaching staff is just one aspect of leadership, but an important one.
One in five educators want to and plan to leave the profession in the next 12 months, according to a study by Queensland University of Technology and Charles Sturt University researchers.
It found that low pay, excessive paperwork and a “lack of professional recognition [for their work] within the community” were the issues. Good to hear poor leadership isn’t cited there. But what can you as a leader do to bring out the gold in your teachers?
Let them be
Giving your teaching staff autonomy is the key to getting the very best from them, says Samantha Damoulakis, director of the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW Child Care Centre in Sydney’s Petersham.
“You have to give your staff autonomy to make decisions so not everything has to be run through you as the director. If they believe it, then it will be real. It also gives them a sense of confidence that they know where to find the information, but you’re there as support if you need.
She says she’s come a long way in leadership skills, with a course she attended being her turning point.
“They hold leadership seminars specific to the early childhood sector and I found out what an amateurish leader I was. It made me think, how could I be a better leader.
“I felt that the staff were very competent in what they were doing, but they were questioning themselves and would come and ask me a lot,” said Damoulakis. “I suppose the regulations in our industry as so strict and they were scared about what might happen. The fear factor of something happening to a child in their care and them approaching it the right way was massive.”
Damoulakis also delved into communication styles – there are four: amenable, analytic, expressive and the drivers.
“It was really important for the expressive types to understand the amenable and not respond to what they think and feel instantly. Meanwhile, amenable types need to take things away and come back in a group situation to be comfortable to express their views,” she says.
It made her change the way she holds meetings. Now she encourages staff to have one-on-one sessions to discuss their views with her and she’ll flag them at a group meeting.
“I’ll ask if they want to bring it up themselves or for me to raise it and allow them to choose what they are most comfortable doing. It gives them a stronger voice now.
“I joked to them, I liked it better when you didn’t talk. They just laughed,” says Damoulakis. She says her team of 16 gel better and she’s proud of having a staff member who drives 1.5 hours a day to get to the centre even though she has many other centres closer to home.
Fostering a sense of belonging and respect
Damoulakis also encourages leaders in early childhood education services to encourage and build a sense of belonging among staff, saying “they have to own this place as much as we do”.
It also makes sense to have shared expectations, says Kerri Smith, Director of Prospect Community Early Education and Care in Adelaide, South Australia. Staff retention is a strength of her service. The average educator has worked there for six years and half of the staff has been there 10-years-plus. There are 25 staff members at this 85-place not-for-profit long day-care centre.
“Our staff know what else is out there, so they’re happy to be here. Our expectations are higher here. We have these discussions about what my expectations are and that we all want to be seen as high quality.
“If an educator doesn’t want to have that same level of input, may be it isn’t the right place for them, but they’ve all said they want to be here. What also helps is that management and our families treat them with respect.”
Smith also respects that her staff brings their strengths and weaknesses to the workplace.
“Our educators are not without fault. We spend a lot of time looking at their strengths and personalities. And we try to make teams that work best within that. This way, everyone’s strengths are highlighted and everyone’s weaknesses are understood.”
Last year the Prospect service received external recognition for its approach. It has notched ‘exceeding’ on the Assessment and Rating process for staffing arrangement and governance in leadership. They have also scooped Australian Family Early Education and Care Awards (SA/NT) awards for the early childhood service of the year (2015), educator of the year (2016) and director of the year (2017).
With the current campaign to raise educators’ wages, it’s timely to hear services such as Prospect pay above the award.
“Our management committee is very supportive of paying higher rates because they don’t want to see a high turnover. We also pay for the police clearances that educators need to be employed by us, their professional development including first aid, and we pay them for working that day.
“It’s really important that staff maintain and improve their skills. In just the 11 years I’ve worked here, there have been three different diplomas in our industry. People have to move with it.”
The early childhood sector is a dynamic sector. Getting the best out of your ECE staff is definitely not ‘set and forget’.
Kreig, S, Davis, K, & Smith, K A (2014). Exploring the dance of early childhood educational leadership, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 39(1), 77-80
O’Gorman, L., & Hard, L. (2013). Looking back and looking forward: Exploring distributed leadership with Queensland Prep Teachers. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(3), 77–84.
What does leadership look like in early childhood settings?