Don’t Get Derailed by Organic Kale

file000601640704The nice lady at the front desk of our local YMCA got Lorelei all whipped up about a special spa & wellness event they’re doing on Mother’s Day weekend – chair massages, a smoothie station, yoga, various beauty tips…and, most exciting of all, a fresh flower for every guest! (Lorelei is already hoping that roses will be included in the assortment.)

Now, none of this is really my cup of tea per se – change that fruit smoothie to a chocolate milkshake and I’m there with bells on – but Lorelei was so excited that I signed us up.

When I told her we’d be having some special girl time, she said, “That means you’ll be able to give me your full attention!”

Ouch. Score 1 for maternal guilt.

Lorelei and I talked a bit, and she feels – rightly so – that my attention is often divided between her and her 2-year-old human tornado of a brother. Even though I do my best to keep things as even as possible, my time and attention are, alas, finite.

So I try to focus on the big stuff: Keeping both kids safe, respectful of others, and feeling loved. Everything else is secondary.

If I can sneak some organic kale into their diets from time to time, so much the better, but it’s never going to be a priority for me (and, frankly, it’s probably never going to happen at all in my house).

Even setting aside the constant presence of loud, tiny people, there are some parallels between running a child care center and parenting small children.

You are constantly pulled in a million different directions, and there are (almost literally) a million different things you could be spending your time and money on at any given moment. In order to allocate your resources in the best possible way, you always need to be looking at the big picture.

For you, as a child care owner or director, your focus should always be on the following three things:

1. Attracting and enrolling new families

2. Attracting and hiring great teachers

3. Retaining your current families and staff

That’s it. If you can manage to do these three things consistently and well, you will have all the business you could ever want – and a very high-quality program to boot.

It’s not easy, of course, and each of these three goals involves many different components. But focusing on them above all others will help you steer clear of the things you shouldn’t get overly fussed about – the organic kale of your program, in other words.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with organic kale. In fact, it could very well tie in nicely with the big three above if, say, you decide to offer and promote a special healthy menu that sets you apart from all the other centers in your area.

But if not – if, as in my house, organic kale isn’t helping you advance your most important goals – then you should take a pass (and, once again, may I direct you to the miracle of the chocolate milkshake).

Don’t let yourself get distracted, in other words, by the nice-to-haves and why-nots. For whatever investment you’re considering (be it an investment of time, money, or effort), the test should always be whether it’s moving you closer to one of the big three goals above. If not, keep in mind that it could actually be moving you farther away by diverting your efforts and attention – even if it costs little or no money.

There are many different paths to success, but it’s your job to make sure that you stick to the specific path you’ve chosen for your center. And when you do that, everything just falls into place – organic kale or no organic kale.

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

It’s Time To Summer Up Your Program

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Here in the Northeast, people tend to bust out the shorts and T-shirts when the temperature breaks 50 degrees – even if there’s still snow on the ground, which will probably be the case through mid-July, given the winter we’ve had.

We’re ready for sun. We’re ready for warmth. We’re ready for those carefree days when you can send kids outside in fewer than 8 separate layers of insulated clothing.

(As you well know, there is an inverse relationship between how heavily bundled a small child is and how desperately he or she needs to use the potty on short notice.)

The families at your center – and those you’re looking to enroll – are gearing up for summer, too. Even if you have a year-round program, you can take advantage of this mindset by promoting summer-themed activities and specials:

  • Discounted summer sign-up rates for families who enroll by, say, May 31st or another date of your choosing
  • Summer “fun camp” activities – field trips to the zoo, walks in the local nature preserve, water-play activities out back, and so forth
  • Family cookouts for current and prospective families on weekends or weekday evenings
  • Special “hold your spot” offers for teachers and other families who don’t require care in the summer months but want to ensure a place in the fall
  • Contests (testimonials, Facebook likes, etc.) with summer-themed prizes like tickets to a local water park
  • Menus that incorporate local, in-season foods from nearby farms and farmers’ markets. (You may even be able to work out cross-promotions with some of these folks.)

These are just a few ideas to get you rolling, but there are many more ways to leverage that natural springboard of summer at your child care center.

One of the keys to successful marketing is meeting people where they already are – so when their thoughts turn to summer, that’s where your focus should be, too.

This has the added bonus of making your program much more fun for kids, parents, and teachers alike. And happy families and teachers are the ones who stick around and sing your praises to others.

Surf’s up!

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

The Power of “No”

stopwatchYesterday, I overheard a conversation – more of a monologue, really – at the gym that would have been incredibly comical were it not so obviously distressing to the speaker.

This woman had had a very hectic Easter weekend, including a houseful of guests and an exploding side dish that resulted when she absentmindedly set a glass pan to cool on an unused stove burner – and then accidentally turned on that burner (nobody was injured, fortunately).

This same woman is already exhausted from the burden of accompanying her husband to visit her out-of-town mother-in-law almost every weekend, “whenever I don’t have a valid excuse as to why I can’t.”

I heard a sympathetic listener ask the same question that was on my mind: “Well, what’s going on for you this coming weekend – not too much, I hope?”

“Oh, I wish! I have an author coming to stay with us. She’s on a national book tour, and I’m hosting a brunch for her at my house on Sunday morning. And then I have to drive her to Maine, for her next stop.”

“Hm. What about Saturday?”

“Oh, Saturday I’m going to Vermont to teach a six-hour class.”

I didn’t stick around to find out what was on tap for her the following weekend – I’m guessing something along the lines of a state dinner for several hundred dignitaries. Atop a remote mountain accessible only by yak.

Now, this is a highly educated professional woman with numerous advanced degrees (I’ve never spoken to her personally, but she tends to have an awful lot of news to share in the locker room). She should know better. We all should.

The source of this woman’s overstretched, overscheduled, pulled-in-all directions misery is not her husband, or her husband’s mom, or the out-of-town author, or anything or anyone else. It’s her.

I mention this story because child care professionals tend to feel overextended – especially now, as the end of the school year bears down – due to a well-intentioned inability to say “no” to various requests.

The problem is that our time and energy are both finite resources, and all those “yesses” eventually add up to huge “NOs” for our own peace of mind and stress levels (and, in some cases, the demise of our glass cookware).

Everyone has a different level of tolerance for stress, and for what feels like too much. When we consistently stray beyond our personal boundaries in this area, life begins to feel overwhelming – and we start to resent the very people we initially set out to help.

It’s important to remember that “I have enough on my plate already” is, in fact, a perfectly valid reason for turning someone down – even if that someone is a husband who wants you to come along to visit his mom every weekend.

As the end of the school year approaches, take some time to step back and evaluate your workload and stress levels. A certain amount of stress is unavoidable, of course – but only you can stop the piling on that occurs beyond that.

Protect your “no”s and wield them with confidence.

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, How To Create A Must-Read Blog for Your Child Care Center: 11 Steps To Success.

Why Grown-Ups Need Predictability, Too

baker baker cookie makerBaker, Baker, Cookie Maker has become something of a modern classic in our homeBy a conservative estimate, I have read it to my 2-year-old son, Nicholas, approximately 8,497 times over the past six months (give or take).

As we all know, young children crave the familiar and the routine.

It’s why we do circle time at the same time every day. It’s why dinner routinely precedes tubbies. It’s why my preschool-age daughter always asks to take a peek at “the muscle room” on our way out of the local YMCA.

What you may not realize is that grown-ups need predictability, too. Author Michael Gerber provides a great example of this in his book, The E-Myth Revisited (which, incidentally, is a worthwhile read, especially if you’re a center owner; the “E” stands for “entrepreneur”).

Gerber discusses his experience with a new barber. On the first visit, the barber washed Gerber’s hair before cutting it (explaining that this made the cutting easier), used scissors rather than electric shears, and had an assistant continually refreshing Gerber’s coffee.

On the second visit, it was the same barber, but a completely different experience: Shears and scissors were both used, there was a single cup of coffee that was never refreshed, and Gerber’s hair was not washed at all.

On the third visit with the same barber, the rules of the game had changed yet again (hair washed after cutting; scissors only; no coffee, but an offer of wine).

Although the finished haircuts were excellent every single time, Gerber never went back to the barber again: “There was absolutely no consistency to the experience…What the barber did was to give me a delightful experience and then take it away. What you do in your [business] model is not nearly as important as doing what you do the same way, each and every time.”

There is a lot of truth in this.

If your tuition statements sometimes get delivered on Tuesday, and sometimes Monday, and sometimes not at all…if the center’s office is sometimes open at 6:30 am, and sometimes 6:45 am, but always (usually) by 7:00 am…if teachers are sometimes praised and sometimes disciplined for seemingly identical behavior…all of these sorts of things make people feel unsettled and uneasy.

And the more of them there are, the more even small discrepancies start to feel like big, unnerving ones. Note that this is true even if you’re trying to do something positive – a teacher appreciation program that is suddenly dropped with no explanation, for example, or a suggestion box that appears and disappears seemingly at random.

People start to wonder if the center’s leadership has a firm grip on things, since everything feels so willy-nilly. And uneasy people, both parents and staff, often choose to remove themselves from the situation and find another place that feels more comfortable.

This, of course, is not at all what you want. While there is plenty of room for flexibility and innovation in your child care business, you need fixed routines and processes so that you provide a consistent experience – which is both professional and reassuring – all the time. The more you can internalize this at your center, the better.

An added bonus to this is that your center, over the course of establishing and documenting set ways of doing things, develops some institutional memory. People will always come and go (even key people like center owners and directors), but a strong center maintains its identity regardless.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try to convince Nicholas that maybe we should read a different book today – not instead of Baker, Baker, Cookie Maker, mind you, but something to supplement it. (I’ve heard great things about My, My, LOTS of Pies!)

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

Managing The Toxic Teacher

fallout shelterI have received a lot of questions from readers lately regarding the best way to handle a toxic presence in the child care center. And we’re not talking about that diaper pail in the corner.

The toxic person may be a teacher, a director, or even the center’s owner, and there are some common themes:

  • The person has a divisive, difficult personality
  • The person has at least a few (perceived, anyway) fans among the center community – staff, parents, or both
  • There is concern about a “Pied Piper effect” – i.e., “If I get rid of this person, parents and staff will run off and follow her.”

Unfortunately, given the number of queries I’ve gotten, the toxic teacher phenomenon is not unusual – but there are effective ways to manage it you may not have tried. Here are some things to think about:

1. Have you actually spoken to the person about the problem? Oftentimes, the toxic teacher is viewed as an unstoppable force of nature – yet no one has actually tried to do anything to change the unwanted behavior.

Now, I will be the first to tell you that oftentimes this will not work – but it’s where you should begin. It also helps to start establishing a paper trail for the personnel file should termination eventually become necessary.

2. Have you considered that the problem may actually be you? I have noticed that my husband is never more irritating, or I more defensive, than when he’s 100% right about something. Fortunately (or not) for me, he’s right annoyingly often, which means I have grown accustomed to turning that mirror back on myself on a regular basis.

Unless someone is truly a psychopath, there is often at least some tiny kernel of truth at the core of even the most dysfunctional-seeming workplace behaviors. And if the problem keeps coming up again and again with different people, it’s time to consider the hard-to-accept possibility that you may be the problem – or at least part of it.

3. Have you let the problem go on too long? At a certain point, you can be reasonably assured that a) the person’s behavior is not going to change and b) this is simply not someone you can continue working with in a positive, productive manner. At that point, you need to cut the cord and let the person go – period.

Even if your center’s policy is two weeks’ notice, I advise immediate termination and sending the person off with two weeks’ pay. This is much better than having the person hanging around badmouthing you for two more weeks, or simply not showing up to work at all (which, let’s face it, is quite likely if things have already gone that far south).

As long as you are not terminating someone for an illegal reason – on the basis of race or religion, etc. – you generally have nothing to worry about from a legal standpoint.

4. Is the Pied Piper phenomenon something you should legitimately be worried about? No matter how persuasive the toxic person in your midst may seem, it’s unlikely that she will actually be able to lead people away from your center in droves all by herself.

Finding a new job is hard. Finding new child care is hard. People aren’t going to make knee-jerk decisions about this sort of major life decision based on one person’s presence, or absence, at your child care center.

(The same is true of raising your rates – centers always worry that families are going to flee in large numbers, but the bottom line is that you will almost always get some grumbling but very few departures – too few to negate the considerable financial benefit of raising your rates.)

And look at it this way: If you do determine that this toxic person needs to go, and she takes a bunch of folks with her when that happens, aren’t you better off finding new teachers and families to replace the defectors? These people will almost certainly be a better fit for you and your center anyway.

Note that all of the advice above applies only if the toxic person is subordinate to you. Unfortunately, if you’re a teacher trying to reform a toxic owner or director, you’re fighting an uphill battle – my best advice to you, sadly, is to either hope to outlast them or start looking for another position elsewhere.

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