The direction our new boss is taking is to set goals. One goal is to lift our early childhood centre towards becoming a centre of excellence. The name sounds a little dubious – what is a centre of excellence?

Everybody wants excellence – when I Google what makes a centre of excellence – so many answers! Many answers relate to business, talk about research and the commitment towards the pursuit of excellence. No one can give me a cut and dried answer though.

What I have found out is that high quality early childhood services seem to have leaders who are inspirational, enthusiastic and innovative thinkers. These leaders manage change effectively, motivate others to make change and have a good awareness of pacing change that leads to improved quality. Perhaps our new manager does tick these boxes – although at ground level I feel some of the changes are going too fast. I don’t feel I have time to finish my work to the standard I like, without starting to work on something else – which disturbs my rather linear idea of serenity.

Some writing about excellence does speak about team coherence and I think that is probably a good place to start on our journey towards becoming a centre of excellence.

Thinking about Tuckerman’s stages of group development – teams grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results. I think we are moving from the comfortable stage of ‘forming’ our team to the ‘storming’ stage. We have gathered information and impressions about each other, moved past the desire to be accepted, and avoid controversy or conflict. Serious issues and feelings are surfacing and the focus is moving on from routines.

Different ideas are beginning to compete for consideration. Team members have opened up and confronted each other’s ideas and perspectives. I think the maturity of some team members will determine if we will ever address serious problems. Sometimes storming can be resolved quickly through dialogue. In others, the team never leaves this stage. Some team members will focus on minutiae to evade real issues.Our next step is to work to address the issues and solve problems – it feels rather like standing on the edge of a precipice.

I know from reading, the storming stage is necessary to the growth of the team. It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict. Tolerance of each team member and their differences should be emphasized. Without tolerance and patience the team will fail. This phase can become destructive to the team and will lower motivation if allowed to get out of control. Some teams will never develop past this stage. It is supportive if team supervisors are more accessible during this phase, but remain directive in their guidance of decision-making and professional behavior. The team members will therefore resolve their differences and members will be able to participate with one another more comfortably. The ideal is that they will not feel that they are being judged, and will therefore share their opinions and views. Normally tension, struggle and sometimes arguments occur.

In high quality services, well-qualified and experienced leaders have a key role in setting expectations for staff and children. They are the educational leaders of the service, with a sound, up-to-date knowledge of how children learn and develop. They translate this knowledge into coherent expectations for centre management and practice, effective teaching, and ongoing reflection on practice. Effective leaders trust and empower educators, children and families, promoting a collaborative, inclusive culture of continuous improvement for all.

After much thought, perhaps excellence is something to be negotiated between teachers and the communities they serve.

This is going to be an interesting ride

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