How To Respond When Something Goes Wrong at Your Center

ambulanceEven at the most diligent, high-quality ECE programs, things go wrong: A child gets hurt. Someone is left out on the playground after the rest of the class goes inside. A young Houdini slips away through a hole in the fence to the outside world.

How you respond to these sorts of incidents can make or break your program – especially in this age of hyper-connected parents, online review sites, and instant social media blasts.

While every crisis is unique, here are some general guidelines that can help you successfully navigate the treacherous waters:

1. Apologize. Profusely, if warranted. Do it right and do it sincerely. Keep in mind that a good apology neither minimizes the problem (“Colby was only outside on his own for a few minutes!”) nor blames the victim (“We all know Amelia is a wily little monkey who can scale any fence”).

2. Focus, in a non-defensive way, on what you did right. “As soon as we realized Colby was missing, we brought in an extra teacher for coverage in the Chipmunk room so that his teachers could run back out to the playground and track him down.”

3. Explain the steps you have taken to prevent the problem happening again in the future. “We’ve now instituted a double-count system for each class when they come back from the playground – once when they all line up outside and once more after they’ve come back in.”

4. Apologize again. See above.

5. Don’t throw your teachers under the bus. The buck stops with you, the program owner or administrator, when it comes to the safety and well-being of the children at your school. Parents assume, quite reasonably, that this includes proper selection and training of your teaching staff.

If the mistake is such that teacher discipline or termination is warranted, by all means do that, but know that the final responsibility for what happened still rests with you.

6. Notify the school community. If the problem is the sort that will likely start making the gossip rounds (and, let’s be honest – unless it involves a pre-verbal child, the involved kid will undoubtedly rat everyone out anyway!), be proactive and issue an announcement to the school community explaining the facts of the situation, and the corrective steps, as noted above.

Even if it’s a small school and everyone knows the involved players, be careful not to mention the involved child(ren) or teacher(s) by name.

7. Respond as needed on social media. If you become aware that the incident is being discussed on social media – maybe on your school’s own Facebook page, or a parent’s – you cannot simply stick your head in the sand and hope it blows over.

It’s vital that you respond as soon as possible in a responsible, non-defensive, fact-based way. Encourage people with additional questions or concerns to contact you directly; do not get into a lot of lengthy exchanges on the social media platform itself.

And, once again, remember to maintain confidentiality (even if someone else is naming names right there on Facebook, don’t do it yourself).

8. Make yourself available. Don’t just say you’ll be available if people have additional questions or concerns. Do it. Maybe establish some additional office hours or (for big stuff) even consider giving out your home or cell phone number. Most people are not going to actually track you down, but your willingness to put yourself out there will count for a lot.

9. Consider calling a lawyer. Yes, I know – ugh. Nobody ever likes to get to this point. It’s scary and it can be expensive. But if the problem is very serious, the result of negligence (or, even worse, deliberate misconduct) on the part of a staff member, and/or if you have the sense that someone might file a lawsuit, it’s better to bite the bullet sooner rather than later to minimize the damage and plan your next steps. It’s also a good idea to meticulously document everything, from start to finish, as it happens.

We all, alas, make mistakes. How you respond to them will make a world of difference to your future trustworthiness and business success.

The bottom line is that you want to appear calm, honest, sincerely apologetic, and non-defensive – all while giving the situation the level of attention and concern it deserves.

Click here for your copy of our exclusive free report, 17 Secrets to Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers.

Are You Making Time for Deep Work?

Deep WorkI just read a fantastic book I wanted to tell you about: Deep Work by Cal Newport. Newport is a very busy guy – an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, author of five books, and a parent of two small children – but he clearly manages to get a lot of valuable work done.

He has coined the term “deep work,” which he defines as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

This sort of work has always been valuable, Newport argues, but particularly so in our current world – precisely because it’s so darn rare. “The few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive,” he says.

I think Newport is spot-on about this. It can be easy to forget that the core of our life’s work should not consist of answering emails, or rearranging piles of paper, or posting amusing anecdotes on Facebook.

We’re drawn to these activities, of course, because they are easier than the difficult, limit-stretching work of building our businesses…creating innovative new programs and offerings…figuring out how to leverage our unique talents to the fullest…and giving the gift of our time and attention to only those few things and people that truly warrant it.

But those types of activities are the ones – arguably the only ones – that make a real difference to the quality of our lives and our work. And Newport provides some practical, real-life strategies for getting into the habit of going deep.

As a thank-you to you, my dear readers, I’m giving away a brand-new copy of Deep Work to one lucky person this week! Just leave a comment on this post sometime before Saturday, May 14, at 6:00 pm Eastern U.S. time, stating why you’d like to read the book. I will select a winner at random after that time.

(Note that I have not received any compensation for this post/giveaway and am in no way affiliated with the book’s author – just think it’s an excellent read. Good luck!)

Update: As each of my kids wanted to pick a winner’s name from the bowl, I decided to give away two copies of the book. Our winners are Harold and Lynita – congrats to them and thanks to everyone who entered!

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 64 Terrific Child Care Marketing Ideas.

Beware The Unpaid Internship

unpaid intern child careSummer break is coming up fast for high schoolers and college students, so I want to briefly (briefly!) put my lawyer hat back on for an important heads-up you should be aware of.

Having unpaid interns at your child care center can seem like a win-win – the interns get valuable training and experience, and you get free help.

Not so fast. While the first part is true, the second part (free help) can actually land you in a world of trouble with the federal Department of Labor (DOL) if you are a for-profit business.

You see, the DOL has recently been cracking down on unpaid internships. The agency has put out a very stringent list of criteria that must be met in order for someone to qualify as an unpaid intern rather than an employee who must be paid at least minimum wage:

1. The internship provides training similar to that which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees and is closely supervised by existing staff;

4. The employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages.

Obviously, #4 is the most problematic – you cannot derive any “immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities, which makes the whole idea of unpaid-intern-as-extra-set-of-hands a nonstarter.

The DOL rules go even further, in fact, and state that the intern may actually impede your operations on occasion!

So here’s the deal: If you’re committed to providing unpaid internships for the benefit of the interns, and the ECE profession generally, that’s a wonderful thing. An unpaid internship may also be a good way to groom talent and build connections for the future, when you’re looking to hire someone.

But if you’re looking for extra help that you don’t have to pay for, you need to reconsider. You could find yourself on the wrong end of an ugly wage/hour lawsuit otherwise.

Note that unpaid internships are generally permissible if you’re a non-profit, but you still need to be careful about things like providing a safe work environment, avoiding harassment and discrimination, and so forth.

Click here to get your copy of our exclusive free report, 6 Easy Ways To Boost Enrollments and Attract the Very Best Staff.

Don’t Try To Be Something You’re Not

xraysThe other day, I had a follow-up for a routine medical procedure that involved an ultrasound – which meant a visit from the attending radiologist when I was still on the examining table, all gooped up.

I was pleased when he told me that everything was normal – but less pleased when he started touching my arm in an odd, clumsy way. It kind of felt like we were on a first date that wasn’t going all that well.

I could be wrong, but my guess is that he received feedback at some point to the effect that “patients feel comforted when their doctor touches them.” And if this feels natural for the doctor, then it’s probably a great thing.

The problem was that this sort of touch was so clearly not an authentic move for this particular doctor – he struck me as a very matter-of-fact, by-the-numbers sort of person rather than a touchy-feely type. Because he wasn’t comfortable administering that touch, I wasn’t comfortable receiving it.

(I think we’ve all experienced a similar phenomenon with folks I like to think of as “bad huggers.” They’re probably not bad huggers with everyone, but you know when you’re on the receiving end of a hug that should never have been initiated in the first place. It’s just an icky feeling.)

I bring all this up to emphasize the importance of authenticity in both your marketing and your center’s administration generally.

Child care centers have almost as many varied personalities as the children they serve. When you close your eyes and think of your center, the first word that comes to mind may be nurturing. Or fun. Or cozy. Or any number of other things. (Note that if your word is chaos, you’ve probably got some things to work on!)

In any event, all of your communications – both internal and external – should be consistent with this overall tone of your center. Obviously, even in an artsy place your employment contracts should not be drawn up in crayon, but you get the idea.

You should be proud about what you are, and clear about what you offer, rather than trying to be something you’re not.

When you stray too far from what your center is truly all about – either in an effort to be impressive, or just because you’re not paying close enough attention – you start to confuse, and even alienate, the parents and staff at your center. Over time, they may start to drift away due to this type of identity crisis.

Even if you’re not touching their arms in a weird way.

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 64 Terrific Child Care Marketing Ideas.

Why You Must Educate the Parents, Too

appleThe high school I attended was completed in 1974. Back then, it was at the leading edge of “open concept” education – meaning no interior walls.

The entire upstairs floor of the two-story building was one huge space that was subdivided into multiple fluid classroom spaces by thin partitions on wheels. Student lockers and teacher desks were distributed along the outside walls.

The idea, I’m told, was that students would be forced to develop excellent concentration skills, given all the ambient noise and distractions.

There was even a sense (perhaps the stuff of urban legend) that we would somehow learn extra by osmosis – yes, you may be in geometry class right now, but you’ll learn how to conjugate that French verb by overhearing Madame Sinclair’s class to your left! And the poetry of Walt Whitman from that AP English class to your right!

In actual practice, of course, the open concept utopia was anything but. Kids were forever standing on chairs and popping up, groundhog-like, to survey the landscape and make disruptive comments.

Natural light was in very short supply (one coveted classroom space that had outside windows was officially christened “the beach” – though, alas, it also exited into a stairwell, so mid-class passers-through were very common).

And, unsurprisingly, it was loud, all the time. It may be that I’m able to concentrate well these days because of my open concept experience, but my guess is that it’s just a coincidence; the setup must have been a nightmare for anyone with attention deficit problems. Not long after my time there, the school made the wise decision to change things up and install bona fide walls.

As you well know, educational theory is a constantly moving target – right now, in fact, our school district is considering moving back the morning start time for the older kids (which sounds like a good call to anyone who’s ever tried to get a teenager moving, or even semi-vertical, before noon).

In the early learning space, we’re currently moving away from what I think of as the regressive Baby Einstein era to one in which children are encouraged to learn and develop at their own pace, through creative play. This is a wonderful thing.

Many parents, however, fresh off the highly publicized No Child Left Behind push, still mistakenly believe that their early learners need assessments, drills, and flashcards rather than fresh air, mud, and blocks. It’s your job to teach them otherwise.

Why? Well, for starters, they may wonder why you’re spending so much time “just messing around” at your school. They may not think you’re getting the kids sufficiently ready for kindergarten. They may even start to question the value of your school generally, e.g., “Heck, they can roll around in Nana’s backyard for free – what are we doing here?”

On the flip side, if you (gently) explain your educational philosophy, you demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. You start to look more and more like the expert in early childhood education that you are. And parents, quite rightly, start to see the real value of what you do – which translates to increased enrollments and an ability to command higher tuition rates.

Sounds like a pretty smart plan to me.

Click here to get your copy of our exclusive free report, 6 Easy Ways To Boost Enrollments and Attract the Very Best Staff.