This week's blog is an amended version of the 2023 Year In Review Letter I distributed to the families of my two preschools, Developing Dreams Early Learning. I've omitted details and names not required outside the Centres.
I hope you notice similarities between leading teams and being a mum. I've long believed the role of Mum is the role of leader. The role of CEO. Counsellor, Visionary and Strategist! Every quote, book or piece of advice I hear or read about leadership can be applied to motherhood, so read on my dear friend. I hope you can see the importance of knowing what matters as you evolve through your motherhood journey.
As I reflect on 2023, I consider personal and professional aspects, as well as rich conversations with family, friends and the Community of Dreams.
It was a year that called people to stretch and evolve. Can you relate?
It was a dance between hard times and the best moments too. But that’s always what life will offer.
Developing Dreams began as it always does, with a Staff Professional Development Day. The Team gathered at the Woongarrah Centre, with the focus for 2023 being laid in the foundation of Stephen Covey’s “Efficiency with things, effectiveness with people”. This reminded staff what matters at Dreams: people, processes and practices.
In March, cancer once again rocked our team when a staff member’s husband was diagnosed. When shock and grief occur in preschool settings, everyone is affected, but having two staff who have lost a husband and child to cancer previously heightened the journey. As the owner of Developing Dreams, my focus became leading a team through what I knew would be an emotional and unpredictable time. This changed the way I rostered, what things I let ‘fall aside’, and where I invested my time, attention and finances.
As a leader, it’s my role to observe and create culture, to aim to support morale and to provide the resources, training and expectations that move a group of people toward a common vision. (Hint: this is your role as a mum too, it just used different language to describe it!)
During the middle of the year, I could feel the morale of some staff decreasing. Understandably. Staff were being called to muster individual and collective resilience during an uncertain and emotional year…. on the back of several uncertain years with COVID and other factors.
I made several staffing adjustments, adding a second Director, two fulltime staff and a regular relief educator. We held staff meetings more regularly to foster belonging, connection, communication and togetherness.
Our staffing was now complete, but morale and motivation remained my goals. I’m happy to say it was only a matter of weeks before the giggling, high-vibe energy that’s the norm for our Team, had returned. It was felt by staff, by relief educators, and was reported to me by two independent Trainers. The infectious, caring and energetic culture of support and connection had not only returned, but increased. This is one of my personal wins of the year.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker
We had our annual winter wonderland of Celebration of Dreams, Easter Hat Parades, Special Person’s Morning and Afternoon Teas, wonderful conversations with parents, and we hope, bought lots of joy, safety and connection to the children.
Importantly, the children were CARED for. They were hugged and high fived. They were comforted, scaffolded through new learnings, extended in their thinking, and guided in relationship-building.
We’ve painted, manipulated playdough, completed puzzles, practiced drawing, built amazing creations, listened to stories, learned new songs, and had lots of happy times.
As the year began drawing to a close, we were grateful to hear our staff member’s husband’s treatment was a good result, though the journey continues for their family of five. We prepared to farewell 23 children from the Woongarrah Centre and 13 children from Chain Valley Bay Centre, soon to begin their schooling years.
During 2023, Chain Valley Bay were eagerly awaiting notice of their Assessment & Rating. This Exceeding Service was due to be reviewed again, so the year had been spent refining processes and practices. In a HUGE plot twist for the staff, the Woongarrah Centre received their notice of Assessment & Rating … not Chain Valley Bay! This was a VERY big surprise, because the Centre had only just been rated Exceeding in 2021.
With the ‘we’ve got this’ attitude that underpins the Teams, the Woongarrah staff rallied to get the 71 page Self-Assessment Document written in two weeks, and all while prepping end of year documentation, Dreamers photo books, individual USB’s, Certificates and more. The Self-Assessment was due the same day as the Dreamers Celebrations; 7th December. I’m sure October and November existed in 2023, but I can’t quite recall them!
In 2024, Developing Dreams Early Learning Woongarrah will go through their second Assessment & Rating process, and I’m expecting an email to say Chain Valley Bay will be soon too. We aim for an Exceeding Rating, but know it’s not the only way to measure the success of Developing Dreams Early Learning.
As a leader, I look at the happiness, wellbeing and engagement of children, the longevity and morale of staff, the feedback and connection from families, the reviews of Developing Dreams in the Community, and feedback from Sector professionals as tools to assess if we’re doing a good job at ‘empowering children one adult at a time’.
That’s my goal. To provide children experiences that calm their nervous systems, promote feel-good chemicals and give them tools to negotiate ups and downs of life and relationships.
After all, that’s what EVERYONE needs.
Here’s to a continued journey of Developing Dreams f
or all, regardless of age!
Stay amazing and keep dreaming (they really can come true)
PS and it was Developing Dreams Early Learning’s 10 year anniversary – I have to mention that.