Managing an Effective Program Operation
Center directors and owners of child care businesses know that the entire program matters. The policies one sets, how staff are hired and guided, and the vision one has for the community come together to make your work a key asset to families, children, and the neighborhood as a whole.
We'll step back in this unit to look at the big picture and to understand the responsibility that being an early childhood educator includes.
Notice that as a professional, you are responsible for what goes on at your center, even if you're not the boss.
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Activity 7.2 - Planning Your Career Path
Your Role In Center Practices
Whether you're an employee at your center or you own the place, its success - and, more importantly, the success and well-being of its children - is very much your responsibility. You have ownership, even if you don't own a thing. You own your professionalism. You own your sense of fairness and integrity. And you own an ability to guide best practices, even if only by setting a great example.
Every business has a reason for existing more than just existing to make money for its owner and employees. Why is your center there? What is it trying to do? Is it doing that?
Your Mission Statement
All programs are developed because of an idea that one person or a group of people had in creating an early learning environment. A mission statement connects this original vision or idea for the program with what the program actually does on a daily basis. Mission statements give staff and families a clear idea of how the program’s views and philosophy are part of their daily practice. It is important that all the stakeholders in the early learning environment have knowledge of and adhere to the program’s mission.
So the question is, what is your program's mission? If you already have a mission statement, does it actually say anything? Too many mission statements present vague, feel-good statements that could apply to any program anywhere. Or they promise so much that they seem to be "perfect" programs, turning out "perfect" children. How about your center. Does your mission statement really mean anything?
If your program doesn't have a mission statement or if you decide your mission statement needs improvement, now is the time to think deeply about what your program is trying to do. Sometimes it helps to remember back to when the program first began. What was the vision then?
In writing or rewriting a mission statement,
- Think about how the program should grow.
- Describe what is special and valued in the program.
- Communicate the services that your program offers to children, families, staff and volunteers.
- Include guiding philosophies, beliefs and goals.
Good mission statements are short and succinct, memorable, and inspiring. The don't sound like anyone else's mission statement. Your mission statement should be perfect for your center.
Does Your Culture Match Your Mission?
Here's a difficult question: does your mission actually describe your center or does it sound better than your center really is? Too many mission statements describe what ought to be the situation instead of what really guides the operation. If your mission statement promises high quality, but your staff is poorly educated, you fudge on the staff-child ratios, and you cut corners to make more money, then your intention to deliver high quality is a lie.
At the same time, if your mission statement promises high quality but management treats staff as if they were not full-partners but expendable, low-wage workers, then not only does your mission statement lie but you also make it very difficult for staff to carry out the mission effectively. People who are treated poorly pass on that poor treatment to others. At your center, those others are the children and their parents.
The reality of the center in private must reflect the center's shiny ideals expressed in public. Take a close look. Make sure there's no disconnect.
Go Public With Your Purpose
Once your mission statement is completed, decide how it will be shared.
First of all, make certain every staff person knows your mission and understands how your mission statement guides your center. Emphasize your mission in new staff orientation but also continue to use your mission as a guiding principle in everyday decisions.
Sharing your mission within the community is part of your marketing of the center: everyone should know the good intentions that guide your work. Sharing your mission also provides you with some accountability. If everyone knows your mission, your mission will have more life.
Some ideas for sharing your mission include
- Posting the statement in a public area in the early learning environment
- Placing it in the program’s handbook
- Printing it on flyers or forms that will be distributed to families or the public
- Adding it to the program’s newsletter or web site.
- Including it in the orientation of new families and in each year's fall kick-off
Review your mission statement every year or so. This is a time to recommit to your mission and also to notice if your mission has changed.
What If You're Not In Charge?
It's very likely that you're not in charge. You don't have responsibility for the mission, what it says or how it is used. If this is your situation, you have your own mission statement. Examine why you are in the early childhood profession and what guides your practice. Know your own guiding principles.
Then see if what goes on in your center - the mission as near as you can see it working - matches your own personal mission.
If it does, great. If it doesn't, you have a decision to make. Is this a place where you still want to contribute your efforts? Is this the best you can do?
Linking Policies To Rules & Laws
No one likes paperwork. No one likes rules. But the business of child care depends on rules to ensure the health and safety of the children and to ensure the value of its program. It's easy to imagine that our interactions with children are more important than observing the rules and filing paperwork. But to stay in business, rules and paperwork have to be front-and-center.
Rules and paperwork are everyone's responsibility.
How to Help Your Licensor Like Your Center
Each employee and volunteer in a child care program is responsible for completing a number of forms for complying with certain licensing rules and policies in order to maintain their employment with the program. In addition, if a center employs more than five people, certain written policies must be in place and discussed with each employee that is hired. Each employee will have a personnel file with required items that will be monitored by the licensor.
During a monitoring visit, the licensor will review if the program is in compliance with the licensing rules, also known as WACs or Washington Administrative Codes. The WACs can be found in the Child Care Center Licensing Guidebook or the Family Home Child Care Licensing Guide as well as online. Sometimes additions are made to the WACs. Updates are posted on the Department of Early Learning’s website.
The WACs are divided into sections including:
- Health and nutrition
- Care of Young Children
- Safety and environment
- Agency practices
- Records, reporting and posting
Within each section are listings of the WACs written in numerical order. Family Child Care WACs have a letter A in the middle sequence of numbers listed for the WAC.
If a center fails to comply with the Washington Administrative Code, civil fines can be imposed your license can be denied, suspended, or revoked.
Your licensor will be pleased with your center if your program is in compliance with all the WACs and if records that demonstrate compliance are easy to find and up-to-date. Careful attention to licensing regulations and state administrative codes are important. Make it easy for your licensor to see your careful attention.
What If You're Not In Charge?
As you begin your work with children, it's important for you to be aware of the Washington State licensing rules so you can be certain your practice is in compliance. You can also alert your manager or center owner if you notice something that needs fixing.
Knowing the licensing regulations will help you in evaluating your own center yourself, and deciding if your center is worth your loyalty to it. It will also give you a greater appreciation of the complexity of running a center.
Do your part. Make certain your practice is in compliance with regulations. Keep up with your annual professional development requirements. Be cooperative when the licensor comes to call.
You may not be in charge but you're still a professional.
What's the evidence that your center is doing what it sets out to do? What's the evidence that children are happy, staff are well-prepared for each and every day, and every possible opportunity to keep kids healthy and safe has been put into place?
Your center's records are your evidence. You must have good records.
What Sort of Records?
Licensing laws require that some records are kept and updated annually. Know what type of information needs to be documented and kept as records, and what doesn’t. Know what records need to be posted (such as mission statements), which should be kept confidential, and which must be made available to DEL during licensing visits.
This information is determined by a combination of WACs, individual program policy, and whether or not the program is in a family home or classroom.
Examples of documentation and records include:
- The center’s or program’s mission statement
- Children’s immunization and attendance records
- Incident reports
- Children’s individual class work, IEP or assessments
- Personnel records
- Food program records
The Guidebooks also tell how long different records need to be kept.
Record-keeping is an important aspect of every staff member’s duties but each program may have different ways of managing records. However, every staff member who is responsible for record-keeping should keep records in the same was as other staff members. Uniformity will make records easy to organize.
Once a program is licensed, a licensor will do a monitoring visit at least once every 12 months if you’re a child care center provider, and at least once every 18 months if you’re a family home care provider. During the visit, the licensor will check to make sure documentation systems are in place and accurate records are maintained.
What If You're Not In Charge?
Although many of the responsibilities of reporting and record-keeping may be completed by a director or program supervisor, it is important for you to be aware of the information and documents required by DEL, and what information will need to be continually updated.
For example, if you change addresses or phone numbers, be sure to update your employment file. When you complete additional STARS training, follow up to make certain these are recorded in MERIT and that both you and your director have copies of your certificates.
You may not own or manage the center but you do own and manage your own career. Start thinking of your work as your profession and not just as "a job."