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.

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.

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.

Are you a part of the gossip?

When your staff thinks that you are a part of the gossip it creates a huge communication barrier between you and your staff and between co-workers. Here are a few ways that leaders become part of the gossip chain.

What do you do when a staff member approaches you with a story about one of the parents or negative feelings about a co-worker?

Many leaders get pulled into the gossip and listen intently to what the staff person is staying not realizing the harmful impact that this type of communication can have on morale. Some leaders feel that this sort of gossip and hearsay is a good way to find out information about people in their child care program and may even encourage staff members to share the stories and gossip with them so they can stay on top of it.

At other times leaders may listen to the hearsay and then take it one step further by trying to get to the bottom of situations by not only listening to hearsay from one staff member but then they go and ask other staff members about their opinions on the hearsay.

The problem is that much of a leader’s time can be consumed by investigating who said what about who. Additionally – - – this style of communication sends a message that this method of dealing with issues is accepted as opposed to staff members resolving issues positively and directly. Remember the saying: Our actions speak louder than our words. So regardless of how you tell your staff they should communicate and act, what you do is the more powerful protocol for how they will communicate and behave.

The bottom line is that you need to know if a child is being abused or if someone else is immediate danger but for the most part listening to who did what to who is a waste of time.

Please share your thoughts and comments!

Listen in to our workplace gossip conference call. Click here.

Child Care Leadership Training For Directors and Owners

How would you like a step-by-step plan of action to help you manage, motivate and retain great staff in your child care program?

This plan of action has helped countless leaders:

*Boost morale in minutes without spending a buck
*Eliminate workplace gossip
*Facilitate staff meetings that sizzle
*Inspire team members to make behavior changes
*Have more time
*Increase professionalism
*Motivate team members to reach new goals

Does this plan of action interest you?

What if you could get this plan of action without having to leave the comfort of your home or workplace?

What if this plan of action was FREE?

The great news is – - – you can get this plan of action for FREE this August.

You’re Invited!

Come and get your plan of action to help you manage, motivate and retain great staff for FREE this August by participating in a live teleconference and/or web cast hosted by Julie Bartkus. You decide how you want to participate via the telephone, computer or both! No special equipment is required to attend.

Julie Bartkus has been working with child care teams for over a decade helping them become positive, productive and overall dynamic. She has established 2 companies (Motivate Teachers and the Leadership Connection) to help child care leaders manage, motivate and retain great staff.

For more information visit http://www.LcforCC.com.

Boost Morale in the Bathroom

Did you ever think that the bathroom is a great place to boost morale in minutes? Well, in my working with teams I’ve discovered many ways that leaders can boost morale in minutes – - – in the bathroom!

Since the bathroom is a place that’s visited several times a day by your staff consider creating a special bulletin board for funny stories. As team members visit the bathroom they can post funny things that are happening in their day and read about the funny stuff that’s happening in other classrooms.

Here’s another idea:

I’ll share more ideas with you about boosting morale in the bathroom in future tips. If you have an idea to share, please post it here!

Gossip Questions Are Answered

Can women work together without gossiping?

How does it feel to work in an environment where workplace gossip is present?

How can you get your entire team on the same page when it comes to eliminating workplace gossip?

Carmen and Tabitha are back to share with you their views on these questions plus how they now handle gossip and conflicts.

Are you ready to put your plan of action into place to eliminate workplace gossip? Here’s a tool that’s available to you today http://www.eliminategossip.com. Make sure you check it out! This is the audio program that Carmen and her team used to eliminate workplace gossip for good.