How Do You Know When It is Time for a Career Change?

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I would like to switch gears a little bit and dive into a question that has been on my mind the last few years. How do you know when it is time to move on? I have worked for the same organization for the last 13 years. Throughout those 13 years I have had several supervisors come and go, some who were excellent at their jobs and some who were not. I have been working towards gaining the qualifications for the supervisor position myself the last 5 years. I am one week away from graduating with my EMBA and today realized that the position I have been working towards the last 5 years may not actually be the position that I truly want. I have been unhappy the last 3 years largely due to the leadership of the newest supervisor. I made the decision to leave last year with no real plan when she offered me an amazing opportunity to stay. A promotion and substantial pay increase. I accepted the position but found that while I very much enjoy the aspects of my new position, it changes nothing regarding why I have been unhappy.

Another opportunity has presented itself to me this year and I have done a lot of reflection about what I truly want for my career. The new opportunity is in the same field but offers more opportunities for growth and the opportunities to expand my coaching skills to other centers in my region. It sounds like an easy choice, it’s more money, better opportunity, and I would be free from the issues I am struggling with at my current job. However, I have a very deep sense of loyalty to my current center. I started my career there and have worked my up from a part time assistant teacher to full time assistant director. I needed to find a way to make the decision that goes beyond a pros and cons list.

I opened up my Twitter feed and found a video clip of a blogger that I respect and follow. She was explaining that supervisor’s often offer two choices “Stay in joy, or leave in peace.” However, sometimes an employee will choose a third option, “Stay in hate.” This is unacceptable and should be taken off the table. This was a pretty eye opening clip for me. While I am not in the “hate” phase, I am unhappy. Being in a supervisory role that includes coaching and mentoring, I can’t be unhappy. How can I effectively lead when I am no longer bought in myself?

I realized that the answer to my question “How do I know when it is time to move on?” could be answered by asking myself these questions.

  1. Does your current job lend itself to your core values?
  2. Do you feel like you still have valuable services to offer?
  3. When you wake up in the morning, how do you feel about getting ready for work?
  4. Is my current job meeting my needs financially, emotionally, and intellectually?

After asking myself these questions I realized it is time to move on. I have an interview for the new position next week so stay tuned!

What questions do you ask yourself when new opportunities present themselves? Have you ever stayed in a position longer than you should have? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Teaching in Centers

The majority of early childhood educators can agree that children learn through play. Learning through play can look very different from one center to another depending on their chosen curriculum. If you walk into almost any Pre-K classroom you will find an area for students to play with Math materials, Science materials, sensory materials, creative art materials, dramatic play materials, writing materials, blocks, and an area for reading books. How the students interact with these materials is an indicator of the center’s philosophy.

We used to believe that if we supply the appropriate materials and arrange them in an attractive way for students, they would naturally learn on their own through play. We also believed that the bulk of “teaching” this age group happened at circle (or large group) time, or when transitioning students from one activity to another (also taking place as a large group). The average circle time looks something like this:

  • Every child sits on their designated spot on the carpet
  • A song related to welcome to school or good morning the students sing along to
  • Count the students that are present and identify those who are missing
  • calendar (day of the week, weather, etc.)
  • Music and Movement (1-3 songs)
  • Presentation of a story
  • transition to the next activity by practicing a skill (writing their name, patterning, identifying colors etc.)

During all of these activities, students are expected to be engaged, sitting in a manner acceptable to the teacher (criss-cross applesauce), non-disruptive, and excited! Why do teachers choose to jam so many “activities” into a large group setting in this way? Why are their lesson plans packed with details for circle and transition times, and include the bare minimum for free play time? Because they have been taught that this is what “teaching” looks like.

Most preschool classrooms have a period of “free choice” or “free play”, where they have the chance to play in learning centers and interact with the materials that have been meticulously selected and displayed for the students. Too many times I have seen “free play” time turn into a time that teachers are free from teaching for that time period. Free play includes assisting children in the bathroom, managing behaviors, prepping for an upcoming snack or meal time, cleaning up messes, and many other tasks that require little to no interaction with students. When I see this, I wonder if the teachers realize the missed opportunities.

I have been working with teachers in my center the last 2 years on shifting the focus from circle time to free play. It has been a hard transition for most of the teachers, especially those that have been teaching more than 5 years. Intentionally teaching in centers is a difficult skill to master and one that takes lots of practice. The benefits to students are enormous! It is much more effective to teach a child about the life cycle of a plant by providing all of the materials necessary to grow a plant and make them available to students in maybe the Science center, rather than listening to a story about it. I am not suggesting that books are unimportant, I am suggesting that we use books as a supplement to materials. Hands on experiences have so much more meaning. Imagine helping a child put soil in a cup, adding a seed, watering the seed, choosing a spot in the classroom where the see will get some sun, and then watch, measure, and chart as the seed grows. This would be an experience the child would likely never forget, and it keeps them engaged for weeks rather than minutes!

What kinds of strategies do you use to teach in centers? Please share in the comments!

Personal Development is Personal!

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One of my favorite things to do is learn something new. I spend many hours per week seeking out new information that adds value to my life. You could say that I am hooked on personal growth. I read every single day. Every. Single Day. Books are medium of choice. 90% of my book choices are centered around personal growth, whether its a subject on leadership, education, history, or an interesting biography, I make a point to read at least one hour per day. I am also in the last semester of my Master’s program and the reading assignments, discussions, and homework that is assigned acts as another form of personal development.

I recently came across a tweet where the poster was shocked and appalled that someone had mentioned they didn’t have time to tweet. The poster sent out a call to help this poor misguided soul to see the error of her ways and the value in tweeting. I was surprised at the poster’s presumption that HER most valued method of personal development (Twitter) was not valued by another and that somehow this person needed convincing. Personal development is a personal journey, and a person’s preferred method of personal development should not judged by anyone else. I do not care for webinars. I will watch and listen when I believe the information will add greater value than the inconvenience it causes me to watch and listen, and only if the information can’t be consumed in another medium. There are thousands upon thousands of people that could make a great argument as to how helpful and informative webinars are. However, their opinions are not going to make me enjoy them, and in fact, if I were to decide to take their opinions to heart and add webinars to my daily practice, one of 2 things would happen. One, I would learn to like them. Two, I would continue to dislike them and would begin to dread personal development. Any time any person is pursuing personal development should be encouraged and applauded, not made to feel they are doing it wrong!

I would love to hear what YOU do every day to grow. Share your comments below!

Feeling Overwhelmed? Tips for Managing Others Expectations.

As the new school year is approaching I recently sat down to write my to do list for in-service week. Let me just say, there is A LOT that I need to get done in the next 2 weeks. As I was contemplating how I am going to complete all of these tasks in order to be prepared, I began to get peppered with emails, texts, and phone calls from teachers and my supervisor asking very specific questions about the very tasks I was contemplating. “When will the report card be completed?” “When will the new assessment document be done?” “What exactly will that document look like?” “I need to know XYZ so I can start on my lesson plans for the next 3 months.” AARRGGHH! These simple and seemingly innocent questions immediately put me into panic mode! How am I going to get all of this done? I can’t even answer these questions at this time! I am going to look like such a failure! Then, I took a breath, and realized that I had not set clear expectations about when these tasks would be done. In my eyes, these tasks would be completed by the first day of our in-service training. In the teachers’ and my supervisors eyes, they wanted the information BEFORE in-service. Since our in-service trainings are going to include these documents there is no reason they need access until then.

Managing Overachiever’s Expectations

We have a lot of overachievers (which is usually great!). If a lesson plan is due 2 weeks before it is implemented, they will turn it in 4 weeks in advance. If we are going to be teaching about community helpers in March, they want to know who the guest speakers will be before the Christmas break!

For these types of employees I try to set very clear expectations. If they are waiting on me for a document or instruction I try to be very clear about what MY timeline is. I do not introduce anything new and expect them to implement it immediately. If they are waiting on me to create a document or give them instruction, I try to be very clear about what date they can expect it. I will also explain the reasoning of choosing that date. It gives me time to create the document, distribute the document, instruct them on how to use the new document, answer any questions, while also giving them plenty of cushioned time to implement to document.

Occasionally, I will have someone try to push the timeline in order to satisfy their desire to “stay ahead”. I remind them of the timeline that was set and let them know that I will be glad to answer any questions after it has been distributed and they have received instruction. In the past I have tried to accommodate those needs by answering questions or sharing a partially finished product before I am ready to do so. This has caused problems in that I look unprepared and unprofessional. If I have to make any changes to the document then it appears that I am unpredictable, and negatively affecting the teachers in now they ALSO have to make changes. I learned NOT to share a partially finished document, or to answer questions until I am sure of the end product.

It can be hard to resist the pressure to conform to other people’s timelines, especially those that are persistent. Stick to YOUR timeline unless it is appropriate to move it up for some compelling reason. You will be happier, less stressed, and so will your teachers as it takes away any sense of unpredictable timelines.

As you approach the new school year, are you also feeling overwhelmed? Share your tips and stories below!

Lessons in On-boarding New Teachers

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A hard lesson I have learned very recently is that our on-boarding process for new lead teachers is terrible. In the twelve years I have worked at this center, we had hired all of our lead teachers from within the organization. When a lead teacher retired, or quit, we would promote an assistant teacher who had a good understanding of the policies and procedures of our center. This system has always worked well for our program, until recently. For the first time in the history of my employment at the center, we hired 2 lead teachers who came from different centers. It soon became painfully obvious that we had almost no process for on-boarding in these situations. We offered an initial orientation that covered the basic policies and procedures that every employee receives, regardless of their position, and a multitude of training opportunities on developmentally appropriate practice, child guidance, nutrition, challenging behaviors, 1st aide, CPR, and many more. However, there was no procedure in place to introduce new teachers requirements specific to the lead teacher position such as lesson planning requirements, annual events, newsletters, our expectations on classroom environment, their role as a mentor to assistants and aides, etc..

When you have worked somewhere for a long period of time, there are things that you forget that you also had to learn at one point. Things become so routine, that you forget that someone new may not have the information, or that it is something you have to teach. For example, our center holds an annual event called pancake breakfast day. Teachers are told when the event will be held and what the general expectations are. However, there are small details that are forgotten about that are necessary the teacher knows in order for the event to be successful. Invitations to families are created and distributed by each individual teacher, the center provides the pancakes, but the teachers are expected to ask parents to bring other supplies such as sausage, milk, fruit, plates, napkins, etc., tables and chairs need to be set up in their classrooms to accommodate the parents, and the teachers are expected to mingle and interact with their parents during the event.

Our center is now working on creating a comprehensive on-boarding process for new teachers that will include at minimum a binder with all of the requirements listed in detail, as well as a separate orientation specific to lead teachers. What strategies does your center use in the on-boarding process? Comment below with any ideas or questions. I look forward to hearing from you!

Preschool Teacher Turnover

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As the new school year is approaching, our center is facing the same problem we have faced the last twelve years. Teacher shortage. Our particular center employs about 35 teachers, assistants, substitutes, and administrative support staff. This school year we are looking to fill 10 of those positions. We lost nearly 30% of our staff. That may sound unreasonably high, and it is, but it is typical. Typical not only for our center, but for the field as a whole. We are a lab school for our local community college and so should have a direct pipeline for teachers for our center. However, we face shortages like this every year and we are not alone. There are many reasons we face this problem year after year.

Increased Minimum Credentials

There is a big push to raise the minimum requirements for early childhood educators. This is great news and very beneficial to students and to the early education field. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) rolled out minimum requirements for preschool teachers that were to take affect in 2019. The requirements were that 75% of lead teachers hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher in Early Childhood Education or related field. In addition, 50% of assistant teachers and teacher’s aides were required to have an Associate’s degree. Highly qualified teachers means a richer educational experience for students. However, NAEYC had push-back from early learning centers on these requirements. The majority of centers simply could not meet these requirements because of the teacher shortage. In addition, a higher degree resulted in the need to offer a higher salary, a problem for a field with very narrow profit margins. In response, NAEYC relaxed the requirements and now lead teachers are required to have any higher education degree with a minimum hours of early childhood educational training, and assistants and aides only need to be working toward a certificate (the equivalent of 12 higher education credits). This is bad news for students but a necessary change until we figure out how to make the field more attractive to potential college students.

Low Wages

There is a large disparity in the wages of preschool teachers vs. elementary teachers. This holds true even when the teachers have the same credentials. The U.S. Department of Education reports that preschool teachers make a national median wage of $28,570, while kindergarten teachers make an average of $51,640. The gap gets even higher when looking at elementary teachers (excluding kindergarten) who make an average of $54,890 annually. What this means is that preschool teachers who pursue a Bachelor’s degree choose to leave preschool and join the school district for a higher wage. When you consider that many private preschools can only afford to offer part-time positions it is easy to see why good teachers are hard to find.

Burn Out

Burnout contributes to turnover rates in a significant way. Caring for young children in a huge responsibility that comes with many stressful circumstances. Children this age are just learning to regulate their emotions and more and more students are needing intensive interventions in this area. Teachers are often with students from early morning to evening with very few breaks. Children this age require a significant amount of teacher support which means teachers have to be “on” for long periods of time. In addition, there are not a significant amount of substitutes available and so teachers are working when they are sick, leading to a feeling of being unsupported. Parents of preschool age children have very high expectations (as they should) for the services they are paying for. Some parents look at preschool, not as a gentle introduction to social interaction and play based learning, but as a means for their child to be “ahead of the game” when they enter Kindergarten. These parental expectations can cause teachers to introduce content that is not developmentally appropriate, leading to challenging behaviors, frustration, and a sense of failure both for the student and the teacher when they are not able to reach those expectations.

Lucky for us, there are advocacy groups who are actively working on addressing all of these issues and more. Feel free to share your thoughts on preschool teacher turnover in the comment section below. I look forward to hearing from you!

Coaching Contracts/Agreements

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One tool that I have always found helpful when presented with a coaching opportunity is a coaching contract or agreement. I am not referring to a legally binding contract full of legal jargon and very fine print. I am referring to a document that outlines what the teacher can expect from you as the coach, and what you expect from the teacher throughout the process. A quick Google search will give you a wide variety of agreements that you can use and change to fit your situation. One of my favorite agreements to use is from the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI). You can find a copy here. This contract is specifically created for coaching on Pyramid Model Practices but will give you an idea of what a good contract or agreement should include.

Coaches Responsibilites

  • Maintain confidentiality
  • observations
  • respect your educational beliefs and values
  • focus on strengths
  • use a variety of tools for assessment
  • offer guidance and support
  • adapt my coaching to your learning style
  • support you in professional development
  • follow through
  • be organized and prepared
  • be approachable and trustworthy
  • be respectful, non-judgmental, and supportive

Teacher Responsibilities

  • build positive relationships with my students, families, peers, and coach
  • create an environment that supports children’s growth and positive behavior
  • learn and implement a variety of social-emotional strategies in the classroom
  • Recognize when behaviors require an individualized interventions
  • Collaborate with all pertinent persons when creating a behavior plan
  • provide coach with data when asked
  • take charge of prioritizing my own goals
  • continuously work to implement changes in my teaching practices
  • be organized and prepared for our coaching meetings
  • be approachable and trustworthy
  • be open to suggestions
  • ask for what I need

Benefits

When a contract or agreement is in place, both teacher and coach know what is expected of each other. This helps in creating a collaborative and trustworthy relationship. The agreement takes away any uncertainty as to why you are there, what you will be doing, and who you will be sharing the information with. This is very beneficial to all parties, but especially to those teachers who are reluctant or nervous about having you in the classroom. Having a contract or agreement also makes the process feel more professional rather than a casual process that may or may not be implemented.