Working relationships are an important part of any work environment. While you’re likely familiar with the manager/employee dynamic or coworker peer relationships, some companies miss out on the benefits of incorporating coaching and mentoring relationships. In an early childhood program, becoming a coach or mentor to your staff can boost morale, increase engagement, and create high-performing staff members.
In this post, we’ll discuss what coaching and mentoring are, how they can improve the performance of your childcare staff, and how you can become a competent coach and mentor within your company.
What are coaching and mentoring?
Coaching is a process that involves training or instructing an individual or group to develop skills that improve their performance and help them achieve goals. Mentoring is a collaborative, learning relationship—generally focused on long-term career development—where one shares their knowledge, skills, and experience with another person to build their skills and guide personal and professional growth.
Coaching and mentoring are relationship-based, personal, and professional development strategies that share similar goals and objectives; however, they differ in their definition, focus, structure, and approach. As you can gauge from their definitions, coaching is performance-driven, while mentoring is more focused on long-term development. Coaching is meant to actively improve your staff’s job performance. Mentoring, however, expands beyond the current job function and targets their career development.
When comparing the two methods, coaching is typically more structured than mentoring. In this capacity, the former can be likened to tutoring, where regularly scheduled meetings occur weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Mentoring sessions are more informal and often take place as needed by your employees.
The focus and structure of coaching and mentoring sessions create a difference in the timeframe of both processes. Coaching relationships are more likely to be short-term, while mentoring relationships tend to be long-term. Because coaching is done with a specific goal or objective that was created for your staff member, the relationship often ends when the goal is met. Alternatively, mentoring relationships can last for more than a year.
The approach to coaching and mentoring also differs. In coaching, you and your employee will collaborate to decide the agenda—their needs and goals and how you plan to meet them. In mentoring, the course is decided by your employee. They’ll often approach you with a topic where they guide the session with questions meant to tap into your experience.
While they’re slightly different, both methods will help you improve the performance of your childcare staff by helping them build new skills and work towards personal and professional growth.
How do coaching and mentoring improve performance?
Many industries are so focused on key performance indicators (KPIs) and hard data that they often forget that there are people—their employees—affecting these numbers. In child care, you’re likely tracking child turnover rate, employee turnover rate, children dropped versus children added, and more. There are additional outside factors that contribute to these KPIs; however, the performance of your childcare staff has direct and indirect influences on your business. By training your staff to improve their performance, not only are you helping them as individuals, but you’re also strengthening your childcare facility with skilled, experienced employees.
Coaching and mentoring can improve the performance of your childcare staff by:
- Fostering employees’ self-value and confidence
- Boosting collaboration
- Creating consistent productivity
- Accelerating leadership development
Fostering employees’ self-value and confidence
Your staff wants to feel valued, and they want to be confident in their skills. By coaching and mentoring your employees, you can engage with them personally and professionally. This practice will help them feel valued as an employee. Additionally, the work you do together will help them grow more confident in their skills.
When employees feel valued by their employer, this can boost staff motivation and make them more likely to go the extra mile for themselves and your business. Coupled with a coach or mentor, your employees will be consistently reminded to keep working hard towards professional development.
Collaboration in a childcare setting is crucial to success. Coaching and mentoring build stronger relationships between you and your employees and your employees and their peers. It can improve communication between staff members. It allows senior and junior-level staff to collaborate, which can reduce conflict, streamline processes, and help employees strengthen their interpersonal skills. A tool like brightwheel’s communication feature makes the process easier than ever, centralizing communication within the app and offering around-the-clock, real-time support to message your staff and build community within your team.
Creating consistent productivity
If your childcare staff is stagnant, your business likely reflects this. In effective coaching and mentoring, the coach or mentor must identify the skills or qualities needed to succeed. They also help design the path that will lead to development. This is a continuous process. While coaching may stop after a goal is met, mentoring can keep your staff from plateauing and can keep them moving forward. This productivity you see in your employees will likely be mirrored across your childcare center as a whole.
Accelerating leadership development
Promotions are an effective way of boosting employee morale. Coaching and mentoring your staff can better prepare them for leadership roles within your business. Because your employees are already familiar with your company, including your mission, values, and culture, you can quickly shape them into the ideal candidate by solely focusing on the qualities you envision for a childcare supervisor, manager, or director.
Improving your staff performance also has great benefits that directly impact your childcare business. When your staff is more successful, they achieve goals. They’re effective and efficient in executing their roles and responsibilities. This creates a positive work environment where they’re confident and motivated in interacting with the children, families, and other staff members.
How to coach and mentor employees
Understanding the nuances of coaching and mentoring can help you better implement the different methods and build a staff of high performers working towards professional development.
You might use coaching to:
- Introduce a new skill to employees
- Help staff who aren’t meeting expectations
- Prepare staff for promotions or advancement
- Strengthen your experienced staff with revived skills
- Provide one-on-one attention to employees who work better individually
You might use mentoring to:
- Motivate your staff to focus on their career development
- Enhance your employees’ leadership development
- Transfer knowledge from more experienced staff to newer staff
- Inspire employees to explore different avenues in their career
When coaching and mentoring employees, you’ll find it beneficial to tweak your approach based on their level of experience. Experienced staff—whether new to your childcare business or not—likely have some confidence in their abilities and an idea of benchmark goals they’d like to reach. As they prepare themselves to gain experience, new employees may need more guidance in understanding the qualities and skills required of them and any role they aspire to fulfill.
As you coach your employees, work with them to create clear goals. While you can let your experienced employees lead this process, take the lead with new employees. Make sure they know what’s expected of them. Additionally, help keep new and experienced employees on track with their goals. Time management is a skill that can be strengthened at any point during one’s career. Create a schedule that helps your staff keep track of when they should focus on learning their new skills or tasks.
While your approach may differ slightly, it’s important to provide constructive feedback to all employees, follow up to maintain accountability, and celebrate their accomplishments.
Mentoring is development driven versus performance-driven, so you’ll need to use different strategies with your employees. Instead of creating a list of goals or tasks, start by identifying an employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Whether they’re new to child care or a seasoned professional, performing a modified SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis can act as a good outline to guide the mentoring relationship. When creating a SWOT analysis, consider:
- Tasks your employee does well
- Qualities that separate them from their peers
- Qualities your employee is missing
- Areas in which they’re being outperformed
- Chances for development
- Circumstances preventing development
This information will help you and your employee decide how to build on their strengths, reduce their weaknesses, take advantage of all possible opportunities, and avoid threats.
As you mentor your employees, remember that this relationship is focused on passing along knowledge and experience. To increase their opportunities, consider having more experienced staff mentor your newer staff. This provides your new employees with a well of information and can boost morale and engagement within your company.
Lastly, one of the best strategies to use when mentoring new or experienced staff is to lead by example. Mentorship isn’t designed to give your employees all the answers; rather it’s focused on giving them all the tools they need to succeed. Leading by example can show your staff how you approach problems and find solutions.
How to be a good coach and mentor
What does it mean to be a “good” coach and mentor? It’s up to you to decide; however, you can incorporate a few things into your coaching and mentoring relationships to provide value to your staff.
Never stop learning
As a coach and mentor, it’s your job to provide something of value to your staff. It might be guided through learning a skill or your knowledge and experience. Ensure that you’re keeping up with your development. Never stop learning. There is no cap on the skills you can learn. There is no finish line to your personal and professional development. While you benefit from building and strengthening your skills and acquiring new experiences, so will your staff.
Buffer negative feedback with positive feedback
Coaching and mentoring relationships can be complicated. When working closely with others, you’ll likely experience some conflict, especially when it seems as if there is an uneven balance of power. When coaching and mentoring others, it’s your responsibility to provide feedback.
Be mindful of your delivery. You should always be honest; however, a flood of critical feedback could negatively affect anyone. Balance is an important part of maintaining a good relationship. Buffer any criticism with positive statements. While you shouldn’t have to coddle your employees, ensuring your feedback is constructive is key to maintaining a functional, effective relationship.
Your employees may be looking to you to solve all their problems. While you’re in a place to be a resource for them, a good coach or mentor will encourage problem-solving. Your goal is to help your staff learn. You want them to grow, and making mistakes is a part of that process. Talk and guide your staff through creating solutions and risk-taking. Your perspective is important; however, you want to encourage them to be independent thinkers.
Coaching and mentoring your childcare staff is a significant way to create and retain high performers and support your employees through their personal and professional development. These relationship-based methods can build confidence in your staff, boost employee engagement, improve productivity, and promote leadership qualities.
Because of the slight differences between coaching and mentoring, you’ll find that there are varying reasons to use each process. As long as you incorporate logical strategies and execute the behaviors of a good coach and mentor, you can create mutually beneficial relationships for yourself, your staff, and your entire company.