Commitment is a gift freely given

Someone in a chat room passed on a question from a supervisor.  The gist of it was ‘How do I control my staff?  How do I get them to do what I want?’

I  think they were asking the wrong question.

When we teach young children, we believe they work best when we give them freedom and choices and autonomy. When we learn about behaviour management with children, we don’t get encouraged to read children the riot act and insist that they toe the line. We are encouraged to create a situation where they will want to do the right thing.

Somehow, these lessons get lost in translation to working with adults. Educators who become bosses seem sometimes to forget that much of what they have learnt about children are lessons about human nature.

Adults are people too.  They are not so different from children. People who have some control over their own situation behave more responsibly than people who are told what to do.

So my answer to the supervisor asking how to control her staff is:

Stop trying to control. Negotiate. Give staff a chance to work out their own ways of working.  Figure out what is essential so they know what the parameters are.  But leave them room to move. Let them come up with suggestions that you receive with a genuinely open mind.  Given them patches of autonomy.

You want your educators to be creative, enthusiastic, committed, responsible. These are not things that can be demanded.  They are gifts.  They must be freely given.

Give them freedom.

I am convinced they will give more in return.


We don’t have a history of preparing managers in early childhood services for their management role.  Traditionally, people would move from hands-on care into a supervisory role, building only on workplace experience.  Small wonder they often draw on traditional authoritarian models and ideas from folk-culture about how to be a boss.  
It is encouraging to see professional development now being offered for educational leaders.  I hope it will help them develop a modern understanding of management.  One that is closer to the philosophy of early childhood education than to the traditional image of the small business patriarch.

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