Empowering Your Staff

My niece was raised in an empowering environment. Her mother encouraged her to make effective decisions — so as she grew older she would be well equipped to succeed in life.

To create an empowering learning environment takes time — more time than it would to just do everything for the children — at least in the short run. It takes time to tell a child over and over how to tie his shoes. It takes time to ask a child a question and wait patiently for a response. But once the children start acquiring new skills and they’re able to handle a task on their own — time is freed up.

The same philosophy applies to creating an empowering working environment. Unfortunately most child care leaders I consult with and survey say they feel like they fix everything for their staff. Personal problems and professional conflicts. This creates anything but an empowering environment. Like an atmosphere filled with stress and frustration. And it often leaves child care leaders feeling as though their staff are not capable of making decisions.

Well, if you would like to learn the dynamics of empowering your team — keep reading. The benefits to be gained are tremendous.

Let’s first start with the definition of empowering. Webster’s Dictionary defines empowering as giving authority. Please note empowering is so much more. Empowering is a continuous journey where an organization provides its team with the skills to make effective decisions and to communicate constructively. An empowering environment is one where team members are motivated and inspired to reach new heights without being nagged or begged. Team members think, they resolve problems, they are confident in themselves and in their own abilities.

What characteristics does an organization that is not empowering possess? Destructive communication such as unresolved conflicts, gossip, and a lot of complaining. Employees appear to be unable of making effective decisions and they perform at a minimal level. In a child care environment this means that no one will look beyond their classroom and their own immediate needs. They expect their leaders to fix problems for them. Team members are unmotivated and may not have a lot of confidence.

How do leaders in the child care profession prevent their employees from being empowered? One of the most common things I experience in child care, are leaders who try to fix problems for their employees. It could be a personal issue or a professional one — but leaders want their staff to be happy and they often correlate their team’s happiness with fixing their problems. A problem may arise with a parent and staff may not be equipped with the skills to handle the situation. A leader will take care of the problem without involving the staff member.

Leaders can also prevent their teams from being empowered through making decisions for their staff. Decisions that staff can make on their own. For example, a leader may feel that a teacher’s room set up would be much more effective by a shelf being moved. So on a day when the teacher is off , the leader will go in and change the shelf without consulting the teacher. When we fix problems or make decisions for our staff they miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow — to acquire new skills.

So in an empowering environment what do leaders do when problems arise? Leaders in an empowering environment expect their team members to think, to challenge themselves to reach new heights. For example, let’s say there’s a problem with a parent. The teacher comes to the director and tells her about the problem. In an empowering environment the director will say: so how do you think we should handle this problem or let’s set up a time where we can discuss this further and brainstorm for solutions. Or if it’s a crisis situation and there’s no time for such discussion the director will involve the teacher as much as possible — perhaps he can sit in on the meeting or be briefed after the situation is resolved. It’s all about helping your employees to build skills and to think!

In a lot of organizations I survey I find staff are really left in the dark and are not required to think outside of their basic responsibilities. Staff may have a conflict with their team members and instead of finding ways to resolve it — they run to the director with hope that he will resolve the problem for them. And the director, frustrated with the situation and bogged down with a million other things to do, jumps right in.

How can an organization begin the process of empowering their team?

1. Define problems/issues that your staff must discuss with you. These problems/issues usually encompass the health and safety of the children. Including verbal and physical abuse. It may also include crisis situations with parents.

2. Define problems/issues that you expect your team to resolve. These problems/issues usually encompass conflicts with co-workers or non-crisis situations with parents.

3. Coach your team to resolve problems. If your staff does not possess the skills to resolve problems — coach them and help them build their skills. Ask them questions, brainstorm with them. Yes — this takes more time initially — but down the road it save you a lot of time. It will mean that you can take a day off and your staff will make effective decisions in your absence. If a staff member runs to you with a problem — expect them to also provide solutions for discussion.

A teacher asked: Why Do I need to change?

During our last Team Building Tuesday a question came up that I wanted to share with you just in case you missed our live conference call.

The question came from a child care leader who was met with resistance from a teacher who saw no reason to change or get more training.

Here is my response. Simply click > to begin playing.

Please leave your reply below and remember to join us next Tuesday for Team Building Tuesdays at http://www.LCforCC.com.


Inspire Parents To Follow Through

Leaders have shared their frustrations when dealing with parents who don’t follow through. Paper work is not completed, dry clothes are not brought in, or payments are late.

So what can you do?

1. Have the positive expectancy that people will follow through — be optimistic.

This is where it all begins. Just having the positive expectancy that people will follow through will be highly rewarding. First of all you’re not drenching yourself with negative expectations which usually only leads to negative results. And you’re opening up your creative channels, which allows you to take positive action and get positive results.

Once you have positive expectancy — you can implement a very powerful strategy that I call I look forward to. Let me explain how it works. One center I worked with was having a problem with late tuition payments. The Directors at this center did not like asking the parents for money or nagging them about their late payments. So I developed a memo that contained the following statement three times – I look forward to… This letter and this approach helped the Directors communicate positively and effectively with their parents. And yes this letter started with stating I look forward to and it ended with another reaffirming I look forward to and there was another one in the middle. The letter is filled with positive expectancy and it’s working great!

2. Communicate the importance of what you’re requesting with enthusiasm. This is an important step in getting people to follow through on your requests. If people aren’t aware of the importance of what you’re requesting from them, they will most likely procrastinate as long as they can. Even if they are aware of why their following through is so important, they may still procrastinate or simply forget. So communicate what you need in an enthusiastic way.

3. Positively acknowledge the correct behavior. During my keynote presentations and workshops I talk extensively about positively reinforcing our teams when they exhibit the behaviors we would like them to display more often. The same principles apply to parents or basically to anyone.

B.F. Skinner, the world-famous psychologist, proved through his experiments that an animal positively reinforced for good behavior will learn much more rapidly and retains what it learns far more effectively than an animal punished for bad behavior. Later studies have shown that the same applies to humans.

I challenge you to think about how you can positively reinforce those who follow through with the information you request. Some simple ideas may include providing candy or soda and chips when the requested information is received. Yes — I said this is simple but sometimes some of the simplest strategies (that only take a few minutes and a few cents) avail tremendous results.

Through using positive reinforcement, one director I worked with inspired parents to follow through on paper work that needed to be completed in a timely fashion.

The challenge was to get Spring paper work completed and returned in a timely fashion. She asked parents nicely – and there was no follow through. She posted notes up everywhere – and there was no follow through. She used “I statements” to express her frustration – and still no follow through.

But the situation was not hopeless – not yet anyways. She thought: “If positive reinforcement works with my team, it should also work with parents.” So instead of nagging and begging, she decided to positively acknowledge parents who followed through.

She created a bulletin board to publicly acknowledge all parents who met her deadline. Since it was nearing March, she created a clover board in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day. The board was located by the front door – so parents couldn’t miss it. It simply read “Thank You!” Then, as parents turned in the requested information before the deadline, their names were written on bright green clovers and posted up on the clover board for everyone to see. As names started accumulating – parents would stop, look, and read the names that were written on the clovers. Some parents noticed that their names weren’t on the board. This sparked their curiosity. They wanted a clover with their name on it! Parents began to ask the Director why only certain names were placed on the board. She told them why and shortly thereafter – she started getting completed paper work from all parents. What a great idea!

4. Put something in the envelope.
Another strategy to help increase follow through is to put something in the envelope — a fun token of your appreciation for their business. Perhaps a stress ball or a pen with your program’s name on it.

Another idea is to attach a piece of gum or another small incentive to the information you would like returned to you. One center that implemented this idea received twice as many completed forms back than normal. Also remember when mailing information, different sized envelopes and different color sheets of paper stand out more than regular mail and may yield a higher response rate.

Transitioning from work to home

Yes, it is a challenge to mentally transition from work to home. Listed below are several strategies that will help you to leave your work at work so you can have more mental and physical energy to invest in your personal life.

1) Make a to do list for the following day before your work day ends. If you have a planner, use it; otherwise, a piece of paper will do the trick. Before you end your workday, write down all the things you have to get done the following day. If you choose to do this consistently, you will experience a load being shifted from your mind onto a piece of paper. You’ll experience less stress, frustration, and anxiety.

2) Practice a transitional activity. Once your workday ends, find an activity that you can engage in that requires focus and allows no time for other thoughts. Examples of transitional activities include exercise, meditation, reading, etc.

3) Journal about your day. This is a powerful tool. Write about your day, including the good and bad. Once again a ton of stress, frustration, and anxiety will be lifted from your mind.

4) Make the decision to leave work at work. I’ll never forget a statement Les Brown made during one of his motivational speeches. Les stated that we can’t control what thoughts pop into our minds — but we can control what thoughts we dwell on. Choose to dwell on positive, motivating thoughts!

Child Care Teacher Wanted: Attract The Very Best

“Child care teacher needed!

We offer competitive benefits and wages.”

Every week I see this same help wanted ad in the newspaper. The ad then lists the program’s contact information. I see this ad so often I wonder why this child care program is always looking for help. I doubt if it’s because the ad doesn’t generate any response. I think it does otherwise I couldn’t imagine why they would run the ad so often in the same publication. As you know, it’s expensive to continuously run an ad. It’s a small local program so I doubt if it’s because they’re growing and expanding. My guesses are: there’s a lot of turnover going on, there’s a lack of interest in the position after the interview, or perhaps the candidates that the ad attracts are simply not right for the position.

Have you ever wondered why some programs have no difficultly attracting top-notch candidates to work in their child care programs while others struggle to fill positions for what seems like endless periods of time? Have you ever wondered what it takes to attract the very best candidates to work in your child care program? If you’ve answered yes, keep reading because I’m going to share with you one of the most powerful recruiting strategies for leaders in the child care industry.

What does it take to attract the very best child care professionals to work for my program? This question comes up often during my Motivate Teachers Retreats for leaders in the child care industry. When it comes up, so does one answer that is highly correlated with attracting and retaining great staff. Care to take a guess at what it is? Well, if you guessed money, you’re right. Many leaders share with me their feelings of: If only I could pay my staff more money, I would have less turnover and attract the very best candidates to work in my child care program.

It’s true that salary is one component of attracting the very best candidates, but it’s not the most important. By this I mean if all of the child care programs in your area offer pretty much the same salary and benefits (“competitive salary and benefits”) you will not necessarily attract the very best staff by offering more money to potential candidates.

One director recently shared her realization with me. She said that initially she thought that if she built the nicest facility with the best equipment and offered her staff wages higher than the average in her area she would have a winning formula. But after several years in business she still struggles with attracting and retaining good staff, let alone the very best. This is only one story out of thousands of stories directors have shared with me. Many are left confused as to why their efforts failed but yet with a greater understanding that something else is required to attract and retain the very best.

What’s the key? There are several vital keys to attracting the very best. To summarize the vital keys into one major key I’ll just write the words — word of mouth advertising. Word of mouth is a powerful force that I’ve seen propel programs and businesses to the next level of success when it’s positive and cause them to collapse when it’s negative.

There are 4 components of word of mouth advertising that are critical for a child care director to consider. They include the type of word of mouth advertising that is passed around by previous and current staff as well as previous and current clients.

The most powerful recruiting strategy is when your previous and current staff along with your previous and current parents spread the positive word around about you and your program. This is incredibly powerful so please don’t overlook it. One supervisor shared with me that through tapping into this power she now has a stack of current resumes on file that she can go through whenever she needs a new staff member. She receives many calls from potential candidates each day asking if she’s hiring and to please consider them for employment. She never has to place a help wanted ad because the positive word is out!

Now at some point in your life, I’m sure you’ve felt the power of word of mouth advertising. Perhaps you’ve even helped pass it around. Many can relate to going to a restaurant and receiving bad service. And many people who receive that bad service will tell everyone they know not to ever step foot in “that place.” That’s right, I’m talking about negative word of mouth advertising. And on the other hand, many can relate to going to a restaurant and having a good experience. When I survey my audiences most will admit that they still pass around the positive word but not nearly as often as they pass around the negative. The reality is — negative word of mouth spreads farther and faster than positive word of mouth.

Your previous staff members have the opportunity to share many details of their experience in working for you and with your program. If they felt they were treated fairly and the program provided quality care they will most likely dwell on those factors in their conversations with others. But on the other hand if they leave their position feeling negative they will most often exaggerate their negative experiences and tell many people in the process — yes, negative word of mouth advertising.

Many child care professionals have shared with me their feelings about the child care program they worked for. One stated that she would never advise anyone to trust their children in the care of the program she worked for. She stated that communication was destructive and the leader didn’t do anything when destructive gossip was out of control. Conflicts and issues were not resolved and team morale was low. She didn’t necessarily explain her reasoning every time she made the statement: I wouldn’t advise anyone to send their children there! This child care professional had an amazing enthusiasm for the child care profession before she started working for this program. Unfortunately, this one bad experience led her to the decision that the child care industry was not the place for her. She viewed it as unprofessional and wanted something more for her professional life. Needless to say this was a person who knew how much money the child care industry offered and it didn’t matter because she wanted to be a part of it and make a difference in the lives of the children. It was her passion. She quit her position and is now working in the public school system. Although I did not work with this center, I did learn that they were always looking for new teachers; turnover was very high. Within a couple years of my conversation with the teacher who had the bad experience, the center was forced to close down.

Another child care professional stated this about the program she was currently working for: I wouldn’t send my dog there! Why such as a harsh statement I asked? Mostly because of the destructive communication patterns that were rabid.

On the bright side, if you have a staff member who quits their position within your program and they leave with good feelings they have the power to positively impact potential candidates and clients. Let’s say this person moves on to another industry and shines in their position. Their manager may take notice and is thrilled with how professional this person is and how their communication skills are amazing. He also takes note of this person’s ability to stay calm under pressure. He then asks his employee how she developed these skills. She replies by saying that these skills were acquired through working for you in your child care program. He thinks to himself: If they train staff so well there imagine what they must do for the children. And that positive word of mouth is spread. There are so many examples I could share with you, but I’m hoping you get the idea.

Here’s one more example. You have an open position. You advertise for it and get some good candidates to respond to your ad. There’s one candidate you interview and really like. The next step is for that candidate to meet with other teachers. She comes in for the morning to spend time with your staff. Some staff members ignore her while they go about their routines. Others include her in on the gossip and the dos and the don’ts of your program. When her time visiting your program has concluded she leaves without a word. You try to call her later but she doesn’t return your call. For some reason she lost interest. Hmm…

Next week I’ll share with you some specific strategies on how you can create positive word of mouth advertising for your program.

Love to read your comments! Please post them below.

Dazed and Confused

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to celebrate my sister, Salli’s, 39th Birthday.  Typically my family gets together for each one of our birthdays.  Since there are only 3 of us girls (I’m the middle one) it’s pretty manageable.

This year my sister coordinated the whole celebration by inviting us to go to Richardson’s Corn Maze in Spring Grove.  I’ve lived in this area for many years and have never been even though it’s world famous.  So I thought it would be a lot of fun and I was right.  It’s a great place to visit in the fall if you like sitting around a fire, drinking cider, watching the kids bury themselves in the “corn” box and working your way through a giant corn maze in the mud.  Oh I have to tell you this – as we were eating the world’s largest hamburgers that my brother-in-law cooked over the fire, it started to downpour leaving many people soaked.  Even though the rain only lasted a couple of minutes people quickly ran out of the farm and headed home.


After the rain cleared I decided to give the corn maze a try.  As I walked in with my husband, son and niece I soon discovered that there were many ways you could get dazed and confused and end up wandering around for hours with no sense of where specifically you were.  I remember coming to the first fork in the maze and thinking: Which way do we go?  I wasn’t leading so thankfully I was not left to my own fruition. But I was walking behind every one else so if they moved too far ahead of me, I could have easily gotten lost.

I’m sharing this with you in this week’s tip because I know that there are members of your team who can easily get confused with the direction that they’re supposed to take or panic and run for shelter when the down pouring of issues to handle hits them hard.  Sometimes they may feel lost and need a little direction and sometimes – when they feel this way – they may not seek appropriate help from you and other members of your team.

One suggestion I have for you is to practice handling or role-playing difficult situations and putting into practice constructive actions so team members have a clear path to a successful outcome in any given situation.   This is such an important (and under utilized) success strategy.

Another option to consider is to have team members write down difficult situations that they’ve encountered throughout the month.  Then at your staff meeting talk about the different paths that can be taken and where each one of those paths leads.  Some paths are constructive, while others are destructive.  Team members may have taken some destructive paths and that’s okay to share.  It’s a great learning opportunity for your entire team.

When role-playing and discussing these situations be careful not to fall into negative gossip about parents or others who are not present.  Help keep your team’s focus on facts and solutions.  The outcome will be a team that proactively knows (without being dazed and confused) the right path to follow and what constructive actions will get them through their maze quickly and effectively.


Please post your comments below.

Boosting Confidence In Your Child Care Program

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience
in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the
thing which you think you cannot do.” – - Eleanor Roosevelt

My 5-year-old nephew sat on my lap as he played his computer game. I watched and cheered him on as his points added up. He took delight in how many points he was scoring and loved that I was sharing in his success.

But in a minute – his excitement and delight quickly vanished as he approached one segment of the game. It was a new segment. One he had not triumphed over before. He quickly stated: you play now. He wanted me to take over for him because he thought he would fail. He said: I’m scared. He didn’t ask for help or want me to show him how to succeed in playing this new segment — he wanted me to take over.

Do you ever feel like your staff wants you to take over when things get too hard or too challenging? What do you do? Do you jump right in and solve the problem or take care of the issue?

I thought about what I should with my nephew for a minute. I’ve seen him fail before and it’s not a pretty sight. When he loses a game he cries and gets upset with the people he’s playing with. Sometime he states: I don’t like her anymore!Yes, he even says: I hate her! Ouch. His logic is overcome by emotion. No, not an experience I enjoy.

But I also realize if I don’t encourage him to try, and if I don’t resist taking over for him he will not gain the experience of accomplishing a new success, a success that will increase his confidence. He will give up when it comes to that part of the game. He will think: I can’t do that. And if I take over for him I’m saying: You’re right – you can’t do that. Let me do it.

So I encourage him to give it a try. He sits nervously on my lap and agrees to give it a shot. He experiences some new successes and yes, some failed attempts. With each failed attempt he’s one step closer to experiencing a new success. We agree to play again tomorrow and go one step further in the game. Maybe it will be the day we break down the brick barricade and save the princess!

CommunicatingWithGracesmallerv1Sometimes adults need a little push, a little encouragement to give a new experience a try. Perhaps some of your staff could use a push to participate in the team building activity at a staff meeting; or encouragement to speak directly to a peer about a problem they’re facing. Perhaps some staff members would gain more confidence if they thought about solutions to their challenges instead of expecting you to provide them. And maybe some staff would benefit from being included in resolving a difficult issue with a parent.

Although they may experience some failed attempts — they’ll be one step closer to experiencing a new success. And each new success adds up to increased self-confidence.

Please leave your comments on this topic below. I’d love to hear from you!

A Simple Note of Thanks

I just received an email from a colleague of mine who shared the thanks that her and her husband share everyday on September 11th. She said that it’s a special day for them because he was one of the lucky people who made it out of the World Trade Center and they never want to forget how blessed they truly are.

I remember the day well. Sitting in my office thinking about my next leadership retreat when there it was on the TV. I’m sure you have the images etched in your mind just as vividly as I do.

I remember hearing the stories of bravery and teamwork and of people just doing whatever it took to help one another out. There was a story about a child care center whose teachers saved all the children inside by exiting quickly. It didn’t matter that they were wearing their paper slippers and had to walk over broken glass – they got the children out of there and to safety.

When I reflect on these stories I’m reminded of the miracles that happen in tragic situations and how today in spite of circumstances that are going on within your program or hardships that you’re facing, miracles will happen, people will go the extra mile and you will accomplish amazing things.

I continue to be inspired by those of you who I have met and those of you who are passionate about motivating and inspiring “the future.” Thank you for allowing me to walk along side of you as you accomplish some extraordinary feats.

Committed to your success,

Julie Bartkus

PS: PLEASE share your replies/comments/stories below.

Child Care Leaders: No Time To Breathe?

No Time To Breathe?

angry2Have you ever had that feeling where you literally feel like you can’t slow down enough to take a long breath? Especially right now – more than ever – it might feel like you’re racking your brain and consumed with trying to make your program a success. I just got off of the phone with a program director who said: I can’t slow down enough to even take a look at systems and tools that may help me have more time in my day! I assured her she was not alone.

There are so many things to do, right? Hiring staff, firing staff, motivating staff, completing paperwork, lesson plans, marketing… And you have to squeeze lunch in there somewhere. What’s on your list?

Recently I had the opportunity to listen in to a conference call where a woman by the name of Nicole Dean was speaking about outsourcing. She made a key point that stuck in my head so I thought I would share it with you. She said when striving to manage your time more effectively you should first think about automating processes and then delegating.

I began thinking about that word automating. What can I automate? Then it hit me that there are so many things that I do that I can set up systems for so that things that used to be a burden are handled effortlessly and easily. Here’s a simple example. Handling the mail. What used to happen is that there was a large bin in my office where the daily mail accumulated. So at the end of the month I would take an hour (or delegate the task) and sort through the monstrous pile. Now I automated the process where I have a few different paper holders nailed up to my wall. One is strictly for bills, another is for bank statements, etc. So when the mail comes in I put the items where they go. Some mangers automate the hiring process by using a pre-screening tool to help them quickly identify top candidates instead of manually sorting through a gigantic pile of papers.

After you automate as much as you possibly can the next thing to think about is delegation. What can you delegate? Here’s another wise piece of advice from Ms. Dean. Delegate what’s in your way of your accomplishing what only you can accomplish to achieve a goal or success. So what’s in your way of you achieving greater levels of success? For me, it’s things like bookkeeping or website changes and yes, even handling customer service issues at the Leadership Connection. Sometimes I get fearful to fully delegate those things out – but they do hold me back from finishing my books and further developing my products and workshops to help out this wonderful group of people in the child care industry.

Many leaders have shared with me how they’re fearful to delegate the writing of their newsletter to their staff or other small tasks that takes their focus off of doing the real high pay-off activities that only they can accomplish.

What are the things that are hard for you to let go of?

In closing I would just like to share with you a story about a teacher I met when I first started speaking. The principal of the school raved about this teacher and how he turned his class of low performing students into top-achievers. The same actions he implemented can also work in helping you inspire your team to become top-performers. So what did he do? One simple word – - DELEGATE. After he changed up the appearance of his classroom by adding Christmas lights and bringing in sofas and comfy chairs for his students he began delegating his work. The first task he delegated was entering grades into the grade book. Then he delegated taking attendance and then a student was put in charge of the bathroom pass. He said that positions were earned and it was a huge motivating factor. Yes, new challenges are motivators! Students felt that their teacher was someone who truly believes in them and they felt empowered to be a part of their classroom’s overall success.

Remember today to breathe and think about what you can automate and delegate. Still thinking to yourself: Who has time? My last piece of advice is that sometimes it’s crucial to take a step or two backwards so you can make quantum leaps forward.

Please leave a reply below. I want to hear from you!