You either love paperwork or you don’t. Chances are, you don’t. Directing a daycare, managing staff, having high customer service, and being organized seems all too good to be true. But I’m here to tell you, it IS possible. You have to be intentional and strategic about making it happen though. Here are some ways to get you started.
1. Find out what you need for licensing.
Depending on what state or province you work in will depend on what you need in your staff and child files. No matter where you are located, we can all admit that it sneaks up on us each and every time! If you are new to this role, do yourself a favor and find out exactly what you need in every staff file and in every child file.
Some clearances have to be done every five years, while some physician exams need to be done every two years. Training might need to be each year and some forms every six months. It can get confusing and daunting, so make a list of EVERYTHING you need to know and have. Sit down with your licensing rep or a fellow director in your district and learn the ropes!
2. Find out renewal dates for certain file items.
Once you learn all you need to know, now it’s time to organize that information. There are some amazing software options out there that not only keep all the information for you but also alert you when a certain form is going to expire. This is a game-changer! Even if you have to keep paper files for inspection purposes, it is still helpful to keep things electronically to keep it all organized.
Devote a certain day of the week to work on data entry or filing or both! Put some fun music on and try to enjoy it. As a director, it is important to make file organization an important part of your day. An organized file cabinet shows an organized staff. On any given day, I should be able to walk into your office and see that everything is up-to-date with clearances, physicals, and emergency training. All child files should have up-to-date emergency forms as well as health exams. If you do not have these things in order, this is a big problem. If you find that you are scrambling during your inspection window, that is also a big problem. Do yourself a favor and pace yourself so that you are regularly keeping track of these dates and file items so that nothing is sneaking up on you anymore.
3. Use an app or software that can do it all!
There are many apps and software choices out there that claim to be “all in one,” but a lot of them may miss the mark in one area. It’s important that you research what works best for you. At our center, we love using HiMama for reports, lesson plans, and scheduling.
Our teachers write their lesson plans directly into HiMama, then attach the early learning standards to their plans that are already programmed in! Then, when writing their daily reports, teachers can use parts of their lesson plans so that parents can see the intentions and objectives.
It’s also wonderful to have a program that allows parents to sign in and staff to clock in. It saves so much time for everyone. Directors love the fact that they can look at the dashboard on HiMama and see exactly who is there, which educators are there, and which classrooms they are in. It makes everything so easy to track and keeps everyone safe for ratios and emergency procedures.
4. Research what your current software offers.
You’ll be surprised how many of us are paying for software but not using it to the full capacity that it can offer. For example, whatever you use for staff to clock in or what you use to track for payroll most likely also offers a scheduling feature where you can easily have a set schedule for all staff, whether hourly or salaried. It’s important to look into what your software offers, and if it isn’t user-friendly, try a new one!
At our center, we love using as few types of software as possible, but we have learned over the years what our preferences are and what works best for us. Every organization is different, so do your research and then pick what fits your culture best. For you, it may be the cost that is the deciding factor. For others, ease of use is most important. But chances are, whatever software you already have just might do way more than you thought!
5. Find a trusted team member that likes to organize and delegate!
Not everyone can be trusted to keep track of child or staff files. So this isn’t something you can just delegate to a parent volunteer. But when it comes to child files, you can certainly delegate this to a staff member who is organized and reliable. Give them the assignment to keep track of which children are needing new health assessments, updated contact forms, observations, etc.
One tip that works great for our center is that we always have parents fill out new forms at Back to School Night and then again at Parent/Teacher Conferences, which are six months apart. This helps keep every file up to date and easy to track.
For staff files, it will typically fall under the responsibility of the director/administrator, but at my center, we started making it each staff member’s responsibility to know when they had a clearance, training, or assessment due. They are given a list of dates and titles of what is needed, and they are to keep track of it. That way, when it comes time for me to ask for a certain form for their file, they are already pursuing it and are aware. They set reminders in their phone, or the software alerts them with an email letting them know that the time of expiration for a certain file is approaching. Empower your staff by giving them this responsibility, but always be sure to touch base and set them up for success.
6. Make it easy for parents and staff!
If you expect parents to give you new forms every few months or you expect staff to keep track of their own files, then you have to make it easy for them. No one likes a multi-step, difficult process. For parents, have forms available on your website to access whenever needed. Make sure they are fillable PDFs, and also have hard copies available in your center in a public, accessible place like your parent resource wall.
For staff, when collecting regular items like lesson plans, give them the choice of electronic or hard copies, and make it easy to submit. If they choose to do their lesson plans electronically, give user-friendly templates. If hard copies are what you require, have an easy-to-follow process so that it becomes a rhythm for them. It could be a dropbox in your office that they hand their plans in by Monday morning each week. It could be that you offer to come around and copy the plans for them. Whatever works best to make it easy for them to get in!
Benjamin Franklin once said, “For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” So while it may seem tedious in the beginning when it comes to streamlining your process, it will be worth every moment knowing that you earn hours of being able to be present in the classroom and enjoy your staff rather than be knee-deep in file cabinets struggling to get ready for inspection each and every year.