By Kimberly B. Moore, Ph.D.

It's the beginning of a new year. You're starting out with renewed energy, goals, and plans. It's time to ask yourself: How will you meet those goals and fulfill your plans? How will you help the staff bond into a team? How can you develop a community within your program? Should you facilitate and guide this process or wait and see what happens?

Early education and care requires leadership. Just as teachers are facilitators of children's learning experiences, administrators and program leaders must facilitate the growth and development of the sense of community within their programs. When adults develop respectful relationships, the positives and the negatives of everyday communication are dealt with much more effectively. So take advantage of the opportunity to create an atmosphere of support, collegiality, and respect.

A routine for easy communication might be valuable in that it can provide a feedback mechanism and allow staff to process information, share concerns, ask questions, and even volunteer for new jobs. Make a Questions, Concerns, and Comments folder for each classroom and schedule QCC discussions. If you have five rooms, you can meet with one each day. Thirty minutes at naptime usually works well, but talk to each group to schedule the best time for all concerned. Everyone places notes and comments in the folder for the scheduled time. While not every question can wait for a meeting, the fact that you will be there to talk on a regular basis reassures the staff that their questions will be addressed. It is important not to cancel these meetings!

Establishing a sense of community includes shared rituals and acknowledging and recognizing others. Do periodic check-ups — take the "temperature" of the group. Are they caring and empathic with each other? Model the behaviors you expect from them. As director, your modeling of care and concern for the staff will invite them to do the same for each other.

You may experience a side benefit from developing these bonds if staff members naturally apply these new techniques to their interactions with family members. The result will be better bonds between teachers and families. We will discuss this in more detail next month.

The time you invest in building bonds and a sense of community in your program will be worth the effort. This foundation will allow children to learn and thrive in a safe, secure, developmentally sound environment where people like and respect one another and enjoy the journey of learning.

Strategies for Leaders

Try these strategies to help build bonds in your program.
  • Set an example. Your caring, objective, and fair attitude will set the tone for the new year.
  • Be available and accessible. The beginning of the year is the time to set precedents and model appropriate practice. Find time to be in each classroom for uninterrupted observations. Coaching now will save you valuable time later in the year.
  • Train for — and expect — quality. If you expect staff to uphold quality early childhood practices, hold them accountable. Be clear about your expectations and train staff to meet them. If you have teachers in the program who are experienced in these techniques and practices, ask them to act as trainers or mentors. It will be easier for some to learn from a peer than from the boss.
  • Communicate. Consistent, honest, and respectful communication is a critical component of building solid bonds between individuals. Each person must be willing to be open and trusting. To do this, everyone must be willing to give others the benefit of the doubt. The entire community must feel as if all members are striving for the common good.
  • Coach and develop staff. Use the individual observations discussed previously to give specific feedback. Recognize specific strengths and find ways to use them to help others in the program. Identify areas that need improvement and provide resources and mentors to support this professional development.
  • Involve everyone. Programs that will involve everyone should be discussed and decided on as a group. Start early to allow time to collect ideas, share dialogue, and make informed decisions. While you will make the final decisions, good perspectives and ideas will result from everyone's involvement.
  • Delegate. Encourage personal growth by having staff try on new roles. Delegating day-to-day duties such as safety checks, van runs, or lesson plan reviews will free you to do other things.
  • Recognize and praise. Communities bond and grow when individuals feel a genuine caring and commonality with one another. Help develop this feeling by publicizing each person's strengths and accomplishments. Praise specific things publicly, for instance, during a center tour, a parent meeting, or a training workshop. Openly solicit opinions and be flexible and quick to respond to suggestions and ideas.
  • Offer perks. Send positive notes or post them publicly so others can read them and add their congratulations; put a note of appreciation in each person's pay check as a surprise. Be flexible and understanding when staff members need time off, but don't set a precedent that will inconvenience families or create unfair practices within the group.

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Kimberly B. Moore, Ph.D., an author and consultant, has more than 20 years of experience in early childhood education.