by Tressa Giordano
Deciding to become accredited can be a tough decision; yet it is a very exciting time in the life of an early childhood program. The reasons for striving for accreditation vary from program to program, but the hard work that goes into meeting that goal is the same. As a Director who brought my program through NAEYC accreditation in the “old system” as well as the “new system”; I can attest to the hard work, stress, and late nights that go into this process. For any program going through accreditation through the various accreditation organizations (view our Accreditation Organizations page for a listing), I hope that you find these tips helpful.
Get your staff on board
An Early Childhood Director cannot go through this process alone. The work needed for accreditation is demanding no matter what the size of the program. It is crucial for you, the Director, to understand the process, believe in the reason for going through the process, and communicate that to your Staff. Your Staff need to be given clear expectations and timelines so they understand what their role in this process will be. They need to take ownership for the program, feel proud, and be up for the challenge. They need to feel part of the transformation that your program will go through.
Inform your parents and board members
It is important that a Director communicate to parents that their program will be going through the accreditation process. If your program is overseen by a Board of Directors, they too need to be informed and understand their role. As your program goes through the process, give updates to both of these groups frequently. Don’t be afraid to ask these individuals for help along the way. You may need to make improvements to your physical space, need donations of materials or supplies, need surveys completed, and or need financial support. Having parents and other supporters involved will make the process much easier and much more rewarding when you receive that certificate.
Accreditation programs will be asking for lots of paper work and be putting you on strict timelines. As a Director you must keep your staff on a schedule in order to meet your deadlines. Give yourself plenty of time to complete tasks….try not to procrastinate. Leave yourself time to edit your submissions and/or have another person read them over. Make copies of EVERYTHING you send. Be sure to back-up files that are on the computer. Use organizational systems that make sense for you and your staff. There are many options out there, so do your research and choose systems that work for you.
Keep your staff motivated
Some accreditation programs take long periods of time…some up to 18 months. Your staff will be working hard, so be sure to celebrate and reward them along the way. Recognizing individuals for their creativity and hard work at a meeting, little candy bars in their mailboxes with a little note, special staff lunch (perhaps prepared by parents), and/or small comments of encouragement, thanks, and praise as you see your program grow and strengthen. Doesn’t matter how big or how small….thanking your staff and encouraging them goes a long way.
Use this time to empower your staff
As you start the accreditation process and begin to engage your staff in this journey, you will learn much about your teachers. Quickly you will learn about their individual strengths and weaknesses in a variety of areas including creativity, writing skills, ability to document information, computer skills, ability to transform classrooms, ability to assess children etc. As a Director, be sure to keep your eyes open for your Staff’s strengths and empower them to use their talents to make your program stronger. Give your staff the encouragement and guidance they may need in areas that they struggle in and have staff help each other. Remember your program is as strong as your staff, so this process is to help them grow stronger too.
Network with Directors
Be sure to find other programs going through the accreditation process so that you can network with them. It’s nice to know that there is another Director going through the same things that you are. Your staff has each other to “vent” with; sometimes it’s a little lonely being the Director. I was so thankful to have the opportunity to network with another Director who was going through accreditation the same time my program was. Her program was a few months ahead of us, but we talked frequently and supported each other. Together we networked with other programs in our area; programs that completed the process which was a huge help too. We were able to help each other through the process and celebrate as each of our programs reached that ultimate goal of accreditation. Our relationship continues to grow to this day.
Do your best!
As a Director of a non-profit program, funds are always tight. But a great program does not have to be the program with the most money. Honestly, I think that our program is a better program because I constantly challenge my staff to be creative with the resources that we have. During each stage of accreditation ask your Staff to simply give it their all and do their best with the funds and supplies you have. Most importantly remind them that all of their hard work is in order to create a better program for your students and families. If everyone does their best then the goal has been met.
It is crucial that you as a Director plan a celebration for all of those involved in the accreditation process. Staff, parents who assisted, board members, donors, etc. should all be involved. You decide when and what kind of celebration is appropriate. Big or small…it really doesn’t matter, what does matter is that those who worked so hard feel appreciated. For our program, we chose to have a celebration after our validation visit. At that point we did not know the outcome of all of our preparation, but at that point our hard work had come together. My staff and I were so proud of how far we had come and how much our program had grown. We chose to celebrate then. Three months later when we received the great news, we had a smaller celebration and were able to re-live it all again!
To find out more about Tressa Giordano – visit our About Us page.