Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! And thanks, as always, for being part of our community here at Daycare In Demand.
I have always fervently believed that the best meeting is no meeting at all. Sometimes – very occasionally – meetings are truly necessary, but most of the time they are huge time-wasters for everyone involved.
And, worse still, meetings are the very worst kind of time-waster in that they involve multiple people and give the participants the illusion of “doing work.”
But meetings almost never involve the type of work that truly matters at your child care center (namely, generating new leads, improving the experience for your current kids and parents, increasing revenue, or hammering out systems that save you real time and/or money).
The next time you’re tempted to schedule a meeting, keep the following 8 guidelines in mind:
1. Be mindful of the real time expenditure. If you schedule a one-hour meeting for eight people, you are devoting eight total hours of your center’s time to it – an entire business day. What you’re planning to cover may in fact be worth it – but it may not.
2. Watch out for “but it’s what we’ve always done!” thinking. Just because you’ve always had, say, a one-hour weekly staff meeting doesn’t mean you need to continue to do so.
Is there a solid reason, other than tradition, to continue having it? Would a group email serve just as well? Or could you have the meeting just once a month – or even once every other month – instead of once a week? Is it possible that maybe the meeting doesn’t need to happen at all?
3. Limit the number of participants. In general, there are just a few key people who truly need to be at any given meeting; the other attendees are there on an FYI basis. If someone can be adequately filled in after the fact, do that instead and let them off the meeting hook.
4. Beware of meeting creep. Meetings, like almost everything else in life, will expand to fill the time allotted. If you schedule a one-hour meeting, it will invariably take an hour and then some. Try cutting it down to half an hour – and get ruthless about both starting and ending on time. You’ll be surprised how much you can fit in when you’re watching the clock.
5. Have a clear, written agenda – and stick to it. It’s amazing how many meetings are scheduled “just because,” with no clear sense of what they’re meant to convey or accomplish. The person calling the meeting should also be in charge of providing a written agenda to all participants in advance, and making sure that people don’t get off topic.
6. Establish next steps. The last few minutes of any meeting should be devoted to clarifying next steps:
“So, Janie, we’ve agreed that you will talk to Billy’s parents about your concerns before the end of next week. Emma, you’re going to write up a job ad for our new custodian and have it on my desk for review by Tuesday morning at 9. And, Sam, you’ll start pricing out supplies for the holiday project and email Abby your recommendations by tomorrow. Anybody have any questions?”
7. Ditch the minutes. Unless you’re required to keep minutes of a given meeting for legal or other reasons, don’t bother. Hold individual participants accountable for writing down the parts of the meeting that directly affect them.
8. Remember that meetings are not bonding time. There’s always a temptation to hold meetings for the purpose of “touching base” or creating a sense of group cohesion. But meetings are simply not the best vehicle for this. Have an occasional staff dinner or fun weekend activity offsite if you want people to bond; just don’t frame it under the guise of a meeting. Your staff will thank you for it.
I passed this painting truck on my walk yesterday – check out the business name and tagline: Pit Bull Painting: We’re The Top Dogs.
But…where’s the pit bull? The business logo is a drawing of a nondescript can of paint with a brush and roller. A logo that could be on pretty much any painting truck anywhere in the world, really.
A name like “Pit Bull Painting” just cries out for a picture of a pit bull, doesn’t it? Maybe a cartoon of a pit bull with a paint brush in his mouth – his name would have to be something tough, of course, like “Butch” or “Brutus.”
I was so sure I was missing it that I actually walked all the way around the truck – maybe Butch’s drooling face was lurking on the back door or something. Nope. (And now all my neighbors are worried about my habit of casing paint trucks, thinking I’m planning a great dropcloth heist of some sort, but that’s a separate issue.)
My point is this: Your child care business name and logo are perhaps the best tools you’ve got to solidify your unique brand in the eyes of your customers.
If you’re “Little Scholars Academy,” for example, consider having a mortarboard or a book or something similarly academic in your logo. If you run “Jumpin’ Beans Fit Kids,” your logo should be something that visually conveys your active curriculum.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to track down a paintbrush-wielding pit bull.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I did the obligatory tour of local child care centers that many parents engage in. I didn’t have any personal recommendations to go on, so I just looked at several places close to our house.
One of them particularly stands out in my memory, nearly four years later. I actually don’t even remember the center’s name offhand – but I do remember that when I arrived for my tour, the first thing I encountered was a ratty-looking couch.
On the couch was parked a young teacher, presumably on break, digging into a freshly microwaved cup of Beefaroni. The smell permeated the entire front room of the center. And the Beefaroni-eater completely ignored me (which was hard to do at that point in my pregnancy; I was only slightly smaller than the Lusitania).
Now, I have nothing against Beefaroni, but it must be said that this wasn’t the very best first impression the center could have made on me as a prospective parent. I don’t recall much of the tour itself, but I think I’d already pretty much decided in those first few moments that this wasn’t the center for me.
The center I visited next was actually the place we wound up enrolling our daughter at (and our son, too, a few years later).
It did not have a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility, but it was clean and inviting. The director was warm, welcoming, and professional. The teachers in the infant room took a few minutes to introduce themselves, ask about my imminently-arriving baby, and see if I had any questions for them. Children’s art projects were displayed throughout the center.
Best of all, it was instantly clear that the children at the center were happy and engaged and well-cared-for. By the end of the tour, I fervently hoped they’d have a spot for my daughter when she arrived (and, happily, they did).
Do you know the first impression your center is sending out? Are you sure? Sometimes you’re just too close to things, at a place you go to every day, to really get a sense of what an outsider sees:
- Is your signage clear and in good repair?
- Is your landscaping well-tended?
- Is the building crying out for a fresh coat of paint (inside or out)?
- Does your center smell like dirty diapers, mildew, old lunches, or something else unpleasant?
- Is there unnecessary clutter or garbage in any of your public areas?
- Have teachers been trained to stop, smile, and introduce themselves (even just quickly) to touring families?
- Do you have a private, inviting place for parents to sit down and talk with you?
- Are your bathrooms clean and well-maintained?
- Do teachers have a private, “off-stage” area to go for their breaks and snacks?
- Are you able to offer touring parents and kids something to eat or drink? (It doesn’t have to be exotic – think juice boxes, bottled water, and single-serving coffee makers)
It’s good to take a stab at answering these questions yourself, but it’s even better to get an outsider’s take – maybe a friend or family member who is rarely or ever at your center. Ask for their honest feedback, and listen to what they say.
Now, you don’t need to get carried away with this and think you need fresh-cut roses in every room or anything like that. It’s a child care center – people know it’s not going to look, or smell, or sound like a spa. But it shouldn’t smell like Beefaroni, either.
Click here to listen:
Unless the only person working at your child care center is you (unlikely, unless you’re a home child care provider), you’re going to have to figure out the ins and outs of managing employees.
This may not come naturally to you – especially if you’ve moved up the ranks at your center and have never had any formal management training – but it’s a crucially important skill to master.
Here are 10 common management mistakes that child care professionals tend to make – are you guilty of any of them?
1. Being a mom instead of a boss. Many people who go into child care as a profession do so because they are nurturing, caring people. This is a great thing. Falling into the trap of parenting employees rather than managing them, however, is not.
In order to be an effective manager, you need to be a professional role model and coach for your employees – not a shoulder to cry on, or a sympathetic ear to vent to, about personal problems.
2. Being casual about overtime pay. You need to keep careful track of when your teachers clock in and out, and pay them the applicable overtime rate for all overtime worked. If you don’t do this, you’re setting yourself up for an extremely costly lawsuit down the line. Note that if a teacher performs unauthorized work, you can discipline him or her for doing so, but you still need to pay the person for all time worked.
3. Allowing gossip to take root at your center. “You get a bunch of women working together, and the gossip just happens.” This simply isn’t true – centers don’t have gossip problems unless management allows them to happen. You need to make yourself unavailable when teachers come to you with gossip (see #1, above) and discipline – up to and including termination – hard-core repeat offenders.
4. Ignoring harassment complaints. Related to #3, you may think you don’t need to worry about sexual harassment complaints if your staff is largely or entirely female. Again, not true. If a teacher comes to you with a complaint of sexual harassment, you need to take it seriously and conduct a prompt, thorough investigation, regardless of the gender of the people involved.
5. Worrying too much about being liked. We all like to be liked, of course – but leaders who spend too much time worrying about being everyone’s friend tend to be ineffective. Being a leader means staying the course and doing what is best for your center and your big vision for it; this will invariably ruffle a few feathers from time to time.
6. Allowing teachers to hide behind their kid skills. Some teachers are phenomenal with the kids at your center but awkward with – or even downright rude to – their parents. Interacting successfully with parents as well as children is a key part of your teachers’ work. If they can’t master this skill, or are unwilling to, you need to let them go.
7. Not trusting your staff. It can be tempting to try to micromanage your teachers and hold the reins tightly when it comes to delegating responsibility, allowing them to make their own decisions, and sharing details about your center’s financial status and goals. You can do this, but you will have an unhappy, disengaged, ultimately ineffective staff if you do (and probably a turnover problem, too).
8. Failing to show genuine enthusiasm and appreciation on a regular basis. Your staff probably works very, very hard at what they do. Don’t ever take this for granted. A sincere “thank you” goes a very long way towards making them feel valued and appreciated – even if you don’t have the budget for splashy raises right now.
9. Letting problems go on too long. If you make a bad hire, you may put off firing the person in the hopes that things will get better. You know in your gut, however, that things are not going to get better.
It’s best for everyone involved – the children at your center, the other staff at your center, and even the employee in question – to cut ties sooner rather than later.
10. Not imposing progressive discipline. This is related to #9 – you may know that someone isn’t working out, but rather than “rocking the boat” you decide to just keep your mouth shut until you have a new teacher waiting in the wings.
Bad call. Even if the teacher is downright horrible, he or she is going to feel blindsided if you’ve never given any type of formal guidance or warnings before firing.
Additionally, the personnel file is going to be suspiciously thin if the teacher decides to sue you, claiming that you actually terminated due to an illegal reason (such as race, religion, or disability) rather than poor performance.
Click here to listen:
My sweet little boy, Nicholas, turned 1 at the end of August. I have been eagerly looking forward to the day when he was old enough to read stories to, and it happened this past Tuesday.
He started rummaging through the little basket of board books we keep in the living room and dug out an old favorite of Lorelei’s, Good Night, New Hampshire. He pried open the pages and sat back in my lap, waiting for me to read to him. Every few minutes, he’d flip to another page and repeat the process.
Now, obviously, Nicholas is still too young to truly appreciate the narrative flow of a book – he’s just barely past the point of trying to eat the book! – but he’s seen the story-reading process happening both here and at school, and he wants to be part of it.
We as humans are hard-wired to respond to stories – they are an extremely powerful way for people to connect with one another. Oftentimes, we don’t consider a new friend a close friend until we’ve had a chance to sit down together and swap stories about our lives. And, as an early childhood educator, you’ve probably seen the appeal of stories first-hand at your center more times than you can count.
Your story is also a great way to connect, strongly and authentically, with current and prospective parents at your center (not to mention your teachers, too). What is the story behind how and when your center was founded? How did you first get into the field of early childhood education? What do you love most about your life’s work?
As with so many things in life, you’re probably too close to your story to have given it much thought, but to other people it is both new and magnetic – and it is 100% uniquely yours. There may be seven other child care centers in your city, but not one of them can tell the same story you can. It’s a huge part of what sets you apart and makes you unique.
My story, for example, is that I am a writer and recovering employment lawyer. I got married for the second time (finally got it right!) at the age of 35 and had two small children in quick succession.
As I started learning more about the world of child care, just by virtue of being a parent of two little ones, I realized that child care professionals are phenomenal with the children they serve – and possess incredible levels of patience! – but oftentimes haven’t received a lot of formal business or marketing training. I realized I could help, and I figured that you all would be a fun and rewarding group of people to work with (and I was right!).
What’s your story? Maybe you started caring for a neighbor’s children in your home 30 years ago, and now you have over a hundred kids enrolled in three area locations. Maybe you were passionate about creating a place where children could learn about the natural world. Maybe you were frustrated by the lack of quality child care in your area and thought – rightly – that you could do it better.
So if you’re not already telling your story – on your center’s “About Us” page, for example, or during your tours, or in a framed plaque near your entryway, think about starting to do so. You’ll be amazed at the interest and bonding it will generate.
Because everyone loves a good story.
Click here to listen:
Even if you’re not heavily plugged in to the latest viral e-trends, it’s been hard to avoid hearing about Marina Shifrin the past few days – better known as the girl who quit her job via a homemade dance video shot at 4:30 am in her otherwise deserted soon-to-be-former office.
(You can check it out here, if you like – it’s a pretty entertaining two minutes.)
My wildly creative and funny friend, Brenna Jennings, saw the video and was inspired to create a spoof “work-at-home-mom quit-eo” of her own.
I think it’s even better than the original – not just because I know Brenna personally, but also because I can relate to having children around the house who turn our bathroom into, as Brenna so aptly put it, “a petri dish.”
Yesterday, she was featured not just on Good Morning America, but also on NPR and Yahoo! (Go Brenna!)
It’s interesting to note that Brenna got all of this national press coverage not for making the original video, but for making a parody of the original video – which quickly took on a life of its own.
Now, none of this would have happened without her version being exceedingly fun and clever in its own right, but it raises an important point about successful marketing: You want to enter the conversation that’s already happening in people’s heads.
In Brenna’s case, people were already talking far and wide about “that girl’s quitting video on YouTube,” so she had a natural point of entry for her own contribution to the dialogue.
Similarly, take some time to think about what’s already on the minds of your current and prospective parents right now. What are their top concerns about their young children? What problems do they have that your program can solve for them?
They’re probably thinking more along the lines of “Will my daughter be ready for kindergarten when she leaves here?” than “Do you offer a Reggio Emilia curriculum?”
That mom who’s touring your center today has probably never heard of manipulatives – but she is probably feeling at least a little guilty about leaving her baby in someone else’s care, and wanting your reassurance that it’s okay (and that her baby will be safe and cuddled and well-cared-for).
Think like a parent, in other words, and not like the ECE professional you are. If you can meet parents where they already are, and effectively address their existing questions and fears, your task of establishing yourself as their top choice for child care is already largely done.
And a cute YouTube video never hurts, either.
You may not think of yourself as a writer, but you undoubtedly communicate in writing every single day at your child care center – to parents, prospective parents, and staff, in both your everyday emails and correspondence, and in your marketing materials.
Since you’re in the business of education, it’s important to come across professionally in your writing. I’ve never yet come across a child care center with a full-time proofreader on staff – if you’re the exception, I’d love to hear about it! (Do you also have someone who makes omelettes to order?)
For everyone else, here are 12 extremely common grammar, usage, and spelling errors that even experienced writers make – and how to avoid them:
1. Effect vs. Affect: To bring about change is to “effect change,” not “affect change.” “Affect” refers to how something acts upon something else: “Sam was negatively affected when Billy smacked her in the head with the Mega Blok.”
2. Unfazed, not Unphased: Yes, the second way just looks more right – but it’s not.
3. Comprise: People often say that things are “comprised of” something else. This is wrong; things “comprise” other things (think of “comprise” as a synonym for “encompass”):
- Wrong: The afternoon curriculum is comprised of dramatic play and circle time.
- Right: The afternoon curriculum comprises dramatic play and circle time.
4. Flounder vs. Founder: Fish “flounder” – flop and thrash around – in mud or shallow water, and a “flounder” is also a type of fish. If something is going down like the Titanic, however (literally or figuratively), it’s foundering – hopefully this does not apply to your child care business.
5. Enormity: Refers to boundless evil, not size:
- Right: The enormity of Hitler’s crimes cannot be overstated.
- Wrong: The enormity of the pizza I devoured last night cannot be overstated.
6. Impact: This is gaining favor as a verb, which I personally dislike, but the tide is turning that way (e.g., “A poor economy negatively impacts enrollment numbers”). “Impactful,” however, is still an official no-go.
7. Adverse vs. Averse: “Adverse” means harmful or unfavorable; “averse” means “opposed to”:
- Right: The adverse weather conditions made our zoo field trip impossible.
- Right: I was averse to taking the preschoolers to the zoo in a hailstorm.
8. Fewer vs. Less: When you’re talking about multiple items, “fewer” is correct. (Those “12 items or less” lines in the supermarket have led us all astray over the years.)
9. Then vs. Than: “Than” is used for comparisons; “then” is used in all other situations:
- Right: Jax are better than Cheez Doodles.
- Right: If you try to take my Jax, then I will not be averse to telling you off.
10. Waiting With “Bated” Breath, Not “Baited” Breath: Your breath is held (bated), not adorned with a worm like a fish hook.
11. Hoards vs. Hordes: “Hoards” is a verb that refers to accumulating a lot of something; “hordes” is a noun that refers to large masses of people:
- Right: She hoards staplers because someone is always swiping them off her desk.
- Right: We have hordes of families looking to enroll this fall!
12. Compliment vs. Complement: A “compliment” is a nice comment, and something free is “complimentary.” To “complement” means to enhance or accompany well:
- Right: That sweater complements your eyes beautifully.
- Right: If you think a simple compliment is going to make me go home with you, then you’re sadly mistaken.
- Right: Would a complimentary beverage persuade you to change your mind?