From Seth Godin: “Every job candidate ought to be able to outline the five lessons learned from the leaders they’ve worked with previously. Those unwilling or unable to do so are not paying attention.”
I’ll take that challenge. I’m not a job candidate, but I’m about to start a new job, and I want to be both willing and able to outline five lessons I’ve learned from the leaders I’ve worked with in my job of the last eight years.
Today: the Preschool Director.
For a pastor, working with a Preschool Director is super educational, because early childhood education is a field unto itself that most pastors know very little about. There are state licensing agencies and national accrediting organizations to navigate, a staff of 15-20 teachers to manage, books to keep, and marketing to conduct. It’s dizzying to watch.
Here are five things I’ve learned from our Preschool Director.
Care Out Loud
Our Preschool Director cares about her work and about her staff in a big, big way. She has them over to her house for a holiday party. She quietly puts her own money into supplies for classrooms. She listens to them and advocates for them. They notice, and their work in response makes our preschool better. Caring starts at the top.
Know Your Stuff
Early Childhood Education isn’t so unlike other fields in the amount of continual learning it requires to excel at it. My colleague knows every teacher-to-child ratio, every food allergy policy, every accreditation standard. When something changes in the field, she’s the first to know. That’s tremendously reassuring to parents, and it’s prevents a lot of distracting headaches. It helps that she teaches Early Childhood Education at a local community college.
In order for our infant and toddler care to be as good as it can possibly be, our Preschool Director caps enrollment at a lower number than we can actually take. She’s learned that if we get as much out of the teacher-to-child ratio as possible, the quality of care will suffer. Staff will be less flexible. So the center actually is under-filled, but with a waiting list that expectant parents in town are increasingly eager to get on.
One of the most effective developments in our curriculum in my colleague’s tenure has been enrichment programming run by artists from the community and not by preschool teachers. These have included painting, dancing, and singing. Parents don’t pay extra for these (we have some of those programs too), but the Director puts them in the operating budget. She invites artists to work with children, then pays them what their time is worth. It gets even better: her invitation to a local music teacher has led to our preschool being the only one certified by the Music Together program in town.
For almost four years now, my colleague has assisted with the weekly chapel time at our preschool because I asked her to. She only misses if she has a parent tour scheduled. It gives her a weekly chance to interact with the children her teachers are working with, so she gains valuable insight into her staff’s experience. Also, it helps the chapel leader (now the Christian Education Director) immensely. She knows things about working with children that we don’t. She teaches us.
Working alongside a rock star professional in an adjacent field makes you better. Here again, I’ve been lucky, and I’m grateful.