This week on The Preschool Podcast, we are honored to welcome back Prerna Richards to talk about strategies for hiring and retaining quality educators. Prerna is the CEO and Founder of Together We Grow. Prerna has a calling for early childhood education and is honored to support educators, caregivers, and children.
As most of us know, this moment in time has been dubbed the great resignation. Prerna is encouraging us all to reframe that to the great opportunity. A chance to do things differently!
Myth #1: There is no difference between hiring and recruiting.
There is a difference between hiring and recruiting. Hiring is when you put a job ad out and hire for that specific position, while recruiting is when you see someone show up in the world and you approach them with an opportunity. Start looking at the people around you in a new light. If you recruit for attitude, you can teach skill after the fact.
Myth #2: Change is something to avoid.
We are at a crossroads in our community where we can either complain that the old ways aren’t working, or change with the times. Change can be viewed as a challenge or an opportunity – choose to view it as an opportunity! Be aware and alert of your surroundings and who you meet. Allow your brain to look at things in a different way, being open to new opportunities.
If you are a manager, do not lead from a fear mindset. Do not be afraid of team members leaving. It does not help your families or children. Instead, be brave and invest in feedback to you help grow. Being open to feedback takes courage, but the results will be everlasting.
Invest in team members who are committed and aligned with your vision. Once your strengths and weaknesses are sorted out, your messaging will become clear and parents and team members will share it within their communities, which will allow you to recruit more broadly.
The more you connect, the less you correct!
There is a direct correlation between how satisfied our educators are, with how our children thrive. Everything is connected. We cannot expect educators to show up for us if we do not show up for them as leaders. If you focus on the negative, you will continue to get more of it. Instead, focus on growth, investment, and evolution.
Myth #3: Employees should always be motivated in their jobs, regardless of circumstances.
When it comes to engaging your team, Prerna has three main suggestions:
- Create a community in your workplace (celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, have fun events, be silly)
- Have an internal chat group (for sharing, support, encouragement, and belonging)
- Parktake in team building activities
Listen to the full episode to dive deeper into debunking hiring and recruiting myths!
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Prerna’s Recommended Resources:
Just drop all that and just say, “Okay, I’m ready to listen and learn. And maybe this is an opportunity for my personal growth on my professional growth.” So, being open for feedback takes courage and vulnerability. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and to hear things that you may not want to hear.
Prerna, welcome back to the Preschool Podcast!
Hi, Ron, happy to be here!
We’re always delighted to have on the show Prerna Richards. She’s the CEO and founder of Together We Grow. And we’ve had the pleasure of getting to work with Prerna at HiMama through various different projects that we’re working on. And such a delight to connect with you, Prerna. And we’re here today to talk about a subject that we hear almost every childcare and early education program out there is affected by, and that is hiring and retaining great early-childhood educators. A really large challenge right now.
And so we’re going to talk about some of the hiring and retaining myths out there. We’re going to see if we can debunk them and get people to think about things a little bit differently, I think. So, excited to get into that. Prerna, before we do, for those folks who haven’t had the opportunity to listen to one of our previous podcasts or webinars, maybe you can just tell folks a little bit about yourself and how you got into doing what you’re doing today with Together We Grow.
Thank you, Ron. So, a little bit about me, being in the field of early-childhood for the past 36 years and have had many, many different roles: teacher and director, program director, vice president of a division. Three and a half years ago, I started Together We Grow. And Together We Grow provides three services: professional development, which is brain-based, research-based, best for our children; coaching, coaching for behaviors. My sweet spot happens to be helping children who are struggling, displaying challenging behaviors. And I want to change that and help all adults who are helping their little children.
So, coaching for behaviors, individual family coaching or in the programs, and then consulting for NAEYC [National Association for the Education of Young Children], specifically for any NYAEC programs who are trying to improve quality but are feeling overwhelmed through the portfolios and such. So, that’s really what Together We Grow does.
And I am still passionate about early-childhood after 36y ears. And I really feel like this is not a job, this is a calling. I am here on this earth to help children and adults in any way that I can. So, I really appreciate HiMama because you guys are doing amazing work for excellence in early childhood.
Cool. Thank you, Prerna, very nice of you to share those kind words about HiMama. We’re very passionate about making a difference as well, and that’s what the Preschool Podcast is all about. And so we’re going to talk today a little bit about hiring and retaining great people. And I figured maybe a good place to start is, we talk about hiring a lot; we talk about recruiting. Maybe we can start by talking about what’s the difference? What’s the difference between hiring and recruiting?
Oh, I’m really happy that you started with that. That is really… okay, so before we get into the actual difference between hiring and recruiting, for anyone listening to this, I want us to just be open-minded because Ron and I don’t have a magic wand that we could wave the stress away of hiring great people, recruiting the right people, retaining the right people, whatever you want to call it. We don’t have a wand. But what I’m hoping that this conversation will do is allow us to just sit in the wondering space and just change our mindset. And it’s an invitation to think creatively and change our mindsets and point of views.
So, we’ve all heard of this great resignation, right? This is like a word floating around right now, that this is the “great resignation”. What is, this great resignation? I want to change that to, “This is a great opportunity”. Maybe it’s a chance for us to do things differently. And with that said, we hear these words “hiring” and “recruiting”. What’s the difference? So to me, hiring is when you put an ad out and you have a job posting and you’re hiring for that position. Recruiting is when you see somebody because of their attitude or because of how they show up in the world and you approach them.
I will tell you personally, for me, this has happened to me three times. I have been recruited for positions that I didn’t apply [for] and there wasn’t a position posted. The first time this happened to me, it was in Scotland when my daughters were very little – they’re now in their 30’s, so this has been a minute. But it’s all part of the journey, right?
So, when I was in Scotland, I had enrolled our older daughter in the nursery school near our home. And because I was there so much volunteering as a parent, the director reached out to me and she said, “Prerna, you’re always here. Why don’t you just go get some nursery teachers courses and you could become our substitute or part-timer?” Because I had two very my children at that time. And I’m like, “What is that?” I had just come from India, so I didn’t know about nursery teacher certification, I didn’t know anything about it.
So I took it, loved it, found my passion and I started volunteering. So, that was recruit number one. Then when we moved to Hawaii, I had taken our younger daughter to the preschool near our home to get her situated before I would be getting a regular job. And when I got there to enroll her in the pre-K class – she was four at the time – the director approached me again. She said, “You’re here to register your daughter. But I also have an opening for my toddler teacher.” I said, “Oh, really?”
So she said, “Yeah, but you’ll have to get your CDA [Child Development Associate credential]. And I’m like, “What’s that?” And she said, “Well, you have to go to the community college and you can sign up,” and this and that. Again I started taking early childhood classes. Absolutely loved it, could not stop learning. Just kept taking classes, got my CDA, kept going beyond it. And long story short, that then transferred into a full career.
And then I was recruited again last year. I met somebody on Facebook and we were like-minded people. And she has a membership where she’s supporting owners and directors. And now I am providing coaching for her members, for classroom management. And again, there wasn’t even in position. She reached out and I found a path where I could contribute.
So, all of this is to say, start looking at people around you, whether it’s your parents or whether it’s your staff that know somebody. Recruit for attitude, right? You can teach skills. I didn’t know any of these skills and it became a career for me. But somebody took a chance on me because they saw something in me. So, that’s the difference between hiring and recruiting. It’s a mind shift.
And I really love your positive spin on it, too, just thinking of it as an opportunity. And it’s what we call in the marketing world, sort of “top of funnel” versus “bottom of funnel”. Bottom of funnel is you’re just focusing on the opportunities right in front of you, which is folks who have seen your job posting and applied to your job. Top of funnel is where there’s a bit more work to do and there’s lots of creative things, too.
And I’m reminded of some of the creative things folks do in the sales world. So I know, for example, sometimes sales leaders will go to their local BestBuy or retail store and just see who’s got a great attitude on the floor doing sales. Or a drama program – the folks who are studying drama, they’re really good at talking and communicating and listening. And so they recruit from there.
So, I’m trying to translate that to early-childhood education and spending time with students who are graduating from the early-childhood education programs who, to your point, have that great attitude. And they can improve their skills and get that experience. I also think about maybe there’s folks out there who are doing family childcare at home. So, they’re a bit entrepreneurial, self-starters, responsible. And maybe there’s an opportunity where they’re transitioning out of that and it’d be great to have them in your centers. So, lots of creative things out there.
Yeah, and I learned something from you. I hadn’t heard of this marketing term, “top of funnel “ and “bottom of funnel”. That’s interesting, I love that idea. But I think that is where we’re at in our early-childhood landscape. We are at a crossroad and we can either gripe about this and complain about this because the old traditional ways are not working. Or there’s a saying: “Change is an opportunity or change is a challenge”. Well, if the pandemic hasn’t changed our life upside down, I don’t know what will. So, here we are: change is in opportunity or change is a challenge.
And you were talking about the drama people – yes, that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to start looking at people differently, that they have an amazing work ethic. I had a director who shared with me, she said her office window faces the parking lot and there’s pavement in front of her office window. And every day at 9:30, she happens to be in her office at the desk. She watches this young man walking in front of her office every single day. And he’s never late and he’s on time and he’s a young person. And she’s thinking, “Where does he go? He’s always on time and he’s so committed and he’s so responsible.”
So, she just one day happens to be out there, places herself outside and starts chatting with this guy. “I noticed you, you’re doing good, this and that. Where do you go?” And he’s like, “Well, I just wash cars down the road.” And she’s like, “Well, would you like to work for me?” And she recruited him for her after-school program. And it turned out that he has a natural passion to help young people. But nobody had thought of him like that.
I love it, I love it. Great example. There’s really talented people with the right attitude everywhere, if you know how to keep your eyes open, I guess, right?
Yeah, you just have to be aware and alert and allow your brain to look at the world in a different way. So, “I’m open to opportunities,” is what you need to tell the universe. I’m a believer in the universe.
Yeah, and here’s a thought: Do you think that how we work with our current staff and how we treat our current staff and engage them plays also a role in recruiting? Because people talk, right? And if there’s a great place to work, folks tell their friends about that and vice versa.
One hundred percent. So, I like to think of that as, “Is your boat sailing? Is your current business sailing or is it sinking? Do you have a hole in your boat?” So, before you bring on amazing people that you want to become part of your team, do you have a hole in your boat? And do you have sabotage people on your team who are not letting you sail beautifully because of their negativity and their story out there is, “This is not a good place to work”?
So, you’ve got to start with, “Who’s on your boat right now? Is your boat sinking or sailing?” And then we need to find out how we can take care of it. I’ve heard of so many directors right now saying that “I can’t say anything to anybody because I’m so shorthanded. And I’m scared to hold anybody accountable because they’ll leave me. And I’m needing breathing people.”
Okay, so don’t lead from a fear mindset. You’re not helping your families and children. So, the flip side of that is, there are people on your team who are golden nuggets but they’re not being noticed and seen and heard because the other people, the squeaky wheels, are taking so much of energy, effort and time. So, that’s where it really needs to start. Who’s on your team?
And secondly, invest in your team members who are committed, who are aligned with your vision mission, but maybe don’t have the title to sit at your planning table or brainstorming table. So, for example, very often the owners, directors, assistant directors, education coordinators or whatever your admin team is, usually comes together and brainstorms. We don’t think about our assistant teacher or a floater teacher to include in these conversations. But she’s a committed, he’s a committed person, responsible person.
So, what I’m suggesting is, beyond your titles, create a core group of team members who can be empowered, who can be recognized for their qualities and ask them to join the team for brainstorming. “What are we doing good?” Like almost doing a SWOT [Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat] analysis, right? Find out your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for your program. Do a SWOT analysis for your program, including the team members who are committed to your program.
Once you have your strengths sorted out and your weaknesses sorted out, then your message will become clear. What is the message that’s going on social media about your program? What is the message your parents are sharing with other parents? The best marketing is for a parent to say, “I just love my child’s teacher. He comes home, he learns so much.” They are promoting it.
But then you can also recruit them, if they might be the right people, you know what I mean? So yes, I agree with you. Using your team to spread your message of why you should work there and send your child there is going to change the dynamics because these are people who want to be there, not the ones who are whining and you are just carrying extra baggage.
Yeah, and I’m so glad you brought that up because that’s something we’ve been talking about a lot at HiMama actually and is something I’m really passionate about, which is this concept of almost putting what you mentioned on its head, which is one interpretation is, “I don’t want to push people too hard on expectations and what they’re doing in their role because I’m worried they’re going to leave.” However, the opposite spin on that is by putting higher expectations on people we can give them an environment to rise to a challenge which will allow them to be their best selves, which is going to give them more energy. And it’s going to result in even better outcomes for the children and families in the programs. And it’s going to make them excited to work in your program because you’re challenging them. And that’s energizing.
Yeah, one hundred percent. That’s really where the growth comes from. So, instead of using the word “retaining”, we can swap it for “growth”. So, instead of using “hiring”, we’re changing our mindset and calling it “recruiting for the right attitude and right work ethic”. Instead of “retaining”, we flip it to call it “growth”. So, growth can only come when we understand people’s goals and aspirations. And how can we give them a space in our organization to think creatively, to take ownership and all of us do a job because we want to make it feel meaningful? It needs to be purposeful.
And when our jobs invite us to take ownership and our owners and directors want to know how we can grow personally… just for one day, just try this as an experiment, go to work and just say, “Okay, how can I help people grow around me? How can I nurture growth?” And just coming from a space of relationship building, nurturing in them and investing in them and not focusing on, “I need to retain you,” because “retained” to me sounds so negative. It just has a negative vibe. It’s like, “I’m holding on to you with chains. Don’t leave me, I’m going to retain you. I’m going to throw money at you.”
It’s not about the money. It’s about the work environment and do I feel valued, appreciated, understood, heard? If these are emotional needs, it’s not about the money. And personal growth and personal space where I could be empowered. And “just because I’m the floater”. And so often when I’m giving trainings, people will say, “I’m just the floater.” And I’m like, “You’re not just the floater. You are like a spice.” Imagine cooking, right? If you’re cooking a meal and you have no spices, it’s flavorless. Nobody will enjoy it. Our floaters are our spice goals. We should honor them. “If you don’t come, nobody’s going to get a break. We appreciate you.” So, again, the mindset, right?
Yeah, absolutely. And I think your SWOT exercise is a really good practical takeaway example of that where it’s such a win-win because, first of all, you’re going to get great feedback from the educators who are on the floor and know lots of things about what’s happening and conversations with parents and families that you don’t know as a director or administrator. And then the other thing, the second thing is, they’re going to feel heard and engaged. And it’s a great team building exercise.
One hundred percent. And doing a 360 – and I would say, do a parent survey, do a teacher survey – but have authentic conversations. And don’t sit in a fear space and don’t… you have to be brave and courageous when you ask for feedback because then it can come back as, “Oh, you’re going to retaliate.” Having a mindset of saying, “Okay, this is going to help us grow our business; this is going to help us go towards excellence; this is going to give me feedback.” Because, as leaders, we do things that are not aligning with other people. But we are not listening to them because we think we are the expert and we know everything.
And if we can just drop that cloak of perfection or performing or having this image that “I’m the leader and I need to know I got this together, I have the degree and I have the experience and blah blah blah blah,” just drop all that and just say, “Okay, I’m ready to listen and learn. And maybe this is an opportunity for my personal growth and my professional growth. And I’m so happy that somebody is telling me.” When you do this, this is how it comes across.
So, being open for feedback takes courage and vulnerability. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to hear things that you may not want to hear. But 360 evaluations – “360” meaning people all around you, below you, above you, next to you, – give you feedback. But it’s not personal criticism. We used to do a chart like this when I was a program director. We would make up things of all the things that are working and all the things that need to be improved or have the capacity to be improved that are not there. And “Go, everybody just give your thought’s, we’ll write it on the big sticky chart paper. And no judgment, don’t censor yourself. This is just a brainstorming session.”
When we can do things like this, we’re going to engage our folks. That’s going to bring joy. It’s going to become purposeful. I’m going to feel like I’m invested in this program – it’s not just a job. I think the worst sentence I hear people saying is, “I don’t know, I just work here.” Well, don’t just work here, take ownership!
Yeah, and part of that is from the leadership at the top, though, too, right? There’s a reason why they feel that way, right?
One hundred percent. And these are the people that are floating around.
Yeah, and if they were taking part in these team SWOT exercises where everybody is providing their input, they wouldn’t feel that way. And I really want to double-click on that one word you said, which I think is so important: “vulnerability”. As a leader, I think oftentimes – you made this point – that you feel like you need to have all the answers and you feel like you have to be the expert and you can’t have any flaws or you’ll be found out or something like that, when in reality, the reverse is true.
And there’s actually research behind this as well, which is that people and teams really want to follow a leader who shows humility and vulnerability. And so I think that’s something that’s just really important for folks to keep in mind, which is there’s almost nothing more powerful than going to your team and saying, “Here are the things that I’m working on for my development,” because that’s going to really create the culture environment where others on the team are also going to be open about what they’re working on developing and where they’re growing.
Yeah, exactly. And we don’t need to pretend. We don’t need to put on a face if we are being authentic and we’re creating a safe environment for other people to be authentic. It opens the heart; it opens our minds and we can learn from each other. Look, here’s the thing: we learn from children, if we allow ourselves to learn from children. They teach us so much. Don’t you think we can learn from each other? Just because we happen to have a title, it doesn’t make us the person who has it figured all out. None of us have it all figured out.
No, absolutely. And I’ll tell you, the most senior people in large organizations, the CEOs of the largest companies and organizations in the world, are doing 360 reviews and getting feedback for development.
Yeah, and many of our early-childhood folks don’t look at this as a business. And you really have to look at this as a business. You have to run it like a business but you have to do it with your heart. At the end of the day, the more you connect, the less you correct: correcting behavior of your team members, correcting behaviors of your children, correcting behaviors of your peers, correct, correct, correct. The more we connect, the less we correct. It all comes down to relationships. And it all comes down to, “How am I being treated, valued, appreciated, heard, understood, respected?” The list is long but these are emotions, these are feelings.
Yeah, and there’s decades of research in literature about business administration, management and leadership. And the reality is almost all of that translates to how you can operate and manage your childcare programs. And it’s there, it’s there for folks to consume. It’s very powerful. And that’s it, right? The more effectively your childcare operations and business runs, the better of quality education you can deliver, the better outcomes for children you’re going to have in your programs.
I’m so happy you brought that up because there’s a direct correlation between how satisfied and content our teachers are. That’s how satisfied and content our children would be. So, if you’re having challenging behaviors and you’re doing the blame game, I do a whole session on the leader’s rule for challenging behaviors because it’s all connected. You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t expect your teachers to show up for the children if you’re not showing up for them.
And again, and I see this, many teachers, many directors and owners say, “Prerna, I have so much on my plate. I do so much for them. I’m constantly giving in to them. But they…” You don’t have to be the only one having the recognition-appreciation happening. This should be happening, again, 360. Recognition-appreciation should be coming horizontal, vertical, up and down because you can’t, one person, be filling everybody’s. It has to be a collective space. It has to be a community. It has to be a tribe where we take care of each other, where we are concerned about each other.
So, it’s almost changing your social culture, social climate of your program. And if you’re just going to focus on, “I’m shorthanded,” and if you’re just going to focus on, “I don’t have the money,” if you’re just going to focus on, “I have so many challenging behaviors,” you are focusing on the negative and you’re going to get more of that. What do you have going for you? Start from there. So, focusing on your strength is so key. That’s why the SWOT is important.
Yeah, and another way that I’ve seen it positioned before, too, which I really like as a framework, is, “What’s in your control or not in your control?” If fretting about the things not in your control is just a complete emotional drain, focus on the things you can actually do something about because that’s going to be a productive effort.
Yeah. So, I have a “GIE model”. And I came up with these acronyms all by myself because “G I E” makes me smile when I just say, “Geeeeee!” It makes me smile. So, the G I E stands for Growth – personal growth, professional growth, children’s growth programs, growth-minded programs, investing in the growth of everybody. Then “invested” – what does invested staff sound like? You need team members invested in your mission, vision and your program for you to succeed. And they are emotionally invested, they’re physically invested, they’re mentally invested, they are invested.
So, G I E and the last is E: “evolving”. The hallway conversations should be, “Hmm, I’m wondering how I can do that better.” Or, “Hmm, I’m wondering, what do you think about that?” Or in your team meetings, “I’m curious that we haven’t tried this or I haven’t thought about this. Evolving, right? So, we’re evolving our thinking, evolving our practices, evolving our procedures. GIE just makes me smile. I think if we do a GIE model, that’s one way of doing it.
There’s other ways how you can engage your team members because we’re talking about really investing in our team. The way you can engage your team, I think there’s three things you can do: The first one, you have to create a community inside your organization, inside your workplace. Celebrate anniversaries, celebrate birthdays. It’s a community, it’s a family. But also have fun events, some downtime, being silly. Just having fun is a stress release. So, do you have dress up days? Do you have potlucks? Do you have picnics? I know with Covid , you can still do outdoor picnics. A chance for us to connect beyond work. It is so important to develop a community.
And the other, that takes me to the next connection, which is the next point, is do you have an internal chat group like a WhatsApp or Facebook group or whatever internal chat group where people can share, support, encourage, open their hearts and have a feeling like, “I belong”? And I do a lot of sessions on diversity and inclusion, equity. Inclusion is an emotion. Inclusion is a feeling. “I either feel included or I don’t feel included.” No matter if you tell me, “This is an equitable and inclusive program,” if I don’t feel included, then it’s not an inclusion program for me. Does that make sense? It’s an emotion. It’s a feeling. “I belong.”
And so the last one is doing definitely team-building activities. If you haven’t done a team building in-service for your team and you’ve hired a whole bunch of new people and we don’t understand each other’s communication styles or we don’t understand how we deal with stress and how we show up in the world and how our words and actions are different when under stress, those are the things that you do during team-building activities.
We will take it personally if somebody doesn’t respond to us or if I say Hello to somebody and they just walk by me. My mind could create all kinds of stories in my head. But if I was going with positive intent, because I had done team building and I had understood my team, I might go to them and say, “Hey, is everything okay? I noticed that you walked past. I’m just concerned.” Rather than saying, “Hey, what’s wrong with you? What did I do to you?” The stories and narrative in our heads is better.
Yeah, so important, those team building exercises, spending time with each other, communicating, so important, absolutely. And not surprisingly, Prerna, we have gotten into a really engaging conversation, which means we’re running really short on time. So, unfortunately, we have to wrap up, but it’s been such a good chat. Before we do, just a couple of questions before we wrap up. One is, speaking of growth improvement, exploring development, any resources you can share with our audience for their own professional development?
So a couple of books that I love, there’s one called The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace [Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People, by Chapman & White]. If you haven’t done this for your work team members, you should definitely look into that, to understand their love language at work. The other one is StrengthsFinder [by Tom Rath]. StrengthsFinder is a great book to know your own strengths. We were talking with strengths in the program, but personal strengths or team member strengths. Then you can include them or empower them knowing their strengths.
Love it. Alright, and if folks want to get in touch with you, Prerna, or learn more about your work or Together We Grow, where can they go to get more information?
www.TogetherWeGrow.online is the website. And I have a YouTube channel with little five minute videos, also with the same name. You can find me on social media: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. Yeah, if you’re wondering how to help your team and do team building and such, reach out. I would love to help you.
Thank you, Prerna, I love the positive attitude you bring. You always bring a positive spin on things. End even just going back to thinking about “the great resignation as the great opportunity”, I love it. So, if you have the chance to connect with Prerna, I definitely recommend it, even for a conversation to get a different perspective and maybe change your mindset on some things. So, always great chatting, Prerna, and thank you so much for joining us again on the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you, Ron!