Five Things I Learned from A Preschool Director

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.

I’ve written about my Head of Staff and Christian Education Director.

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.

Scale Appropriately

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.

Invite Artists 

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.

Be Generous 

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.

Five Things I Learned from My Christian Education Director

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.

Yesterday I wrote about my Head of Staff. 

Today is for the Christian Education Director I’ve worked with here for nearly six years.

You’re The Ministry

Christian Education Director; Director of Ministry to Children And Families; Children’s Ministry Director–my colleague has been called all of those things and more at our church. Through all those title changes, though, she has done remarkably consistent work, which I think is because she puts her personality fully into that work. No matter her job title, her work bears her unmistakable mark. It’s work only she could do in the way she does it.

Stand Up for Kids

Even in a community that is outwardly friendly and welcoming of children, people can act in a way that privileges the sensitivities of adults (guilty as charged). The only way that changes is if someone calls it out and insists it be different. Someone on our staff team has done that, and it hasn’t been me.

Work in Secret

It was three years into our working relationship before I understood that my colleague had a habit of taking people who had visited the church out for coffee. That’s not, like, an official church or pastoral procedure. She was just doing it. So she had these insights, both into particular individuals as well as into a certain profile of church visitor, that she started interjecting into programming conversations. That’s when I knew, and started to copy her.

Say When You’re Struggling

The temptation to fake it in this work is strong indeed. But my colleague has shown me how to admit when you’re having a hard time with some aspect of ministry, whether that involves a particular skill, like managing personnel, or a more meta issue, like the challenge of balancing church work with other pursuits (my colleague has been earning her PhD while on our staff). Allow people to help you.

 

Work Like The Artist You Are

My colleague and I completed Godly Play training together in 2010 and then partnered to convert our congregation’s Sunday School for children 100% to Godly Play. She worked like mad at that. Particularly, she sweated the artistic details of how to tell Biblical stories to children from memory, not only herself, but also the new staff of volunteers we recruited to carry the program. Teaching those skills is an art form all its own, and she developed that far more thoroughly than I did, hosting quarterly “confabs” to work on skills and troubleshoot struggles. There again, I copied what she was doing.

I took this call eight years fully aware of the things I needed to learn in the area of Christian Education programming. I got lucky with the Christian Education Director I got to work with for most of my time here, because she knew a lot of those things already, but mostly because we got to learn a lot of them together.

 

Five Lessons I’ve Learned from My Head of Staff

From Seth Godin yesterday: “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 Head of Staff.

I’ve been fortunate to serve with the same Head of Staff for my entire time here. We’ve had a great working relationship. These are five lessons I’ve learned from her.

Listen first, speak later.

My colleague is a careful listener. She will offer substantive leadership to the question at hand, although perhaps not right now, in this particular conversation. She will say, “I need some time to think about this.” Then, the next time you talk about it, she will have a carefully refined conviction about it that is infinitely more valuable than if she’d forced some position in the moment, just to have something to say.

Keep it professional.

Two of the most active members of my youth ministry here are my Head of Staff’s kids, but that has never been awkward, because my HOS maintains a very clear distinction between her relationship with me as a staff member and an adult working with her kids. She asserts that distinction with her kids, too.

Let people laugh

I’ve laughed a lot these past eight years. The culture my HOS has cultivated allows for–encourages, even–levity. There are serious challenges involved in this work, but none of us feel overwhelmed by them; the boss smiles a lot and gives space for yahoos like me to crack jokes in staff meetings.

Do what you say you’re going to do

Dependability is priceless. I can’t recall a single instance in which my HOS has failed to follow through on something she committed to. Not one.

Assume the best about peoples’ competence, but yell if you must

I have grown here because my HOS has let me work on the things I think are important and has only very rarely questioned me on that front. And when she has, it has been more with curiosity than with judgment, and never with anxiety.

I’ve heard her yell twice, both times to great effect.