I may have been the one in charge, but managing a preschool taught me these extraordinary insights.
When I look back on all the education and career positions I’ve experienced, I believe I learned the most life lessons and about leadership from running Children’s Corner Preschool and Kindergarten.
After graduating from college, armed with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a thirst for unlocking the potential of the human mind, I became a preschool teacher. I quickly realized, while I loved kids, I was more interested in the business side of the school than being in the classroom.
Fast forward a few years later. I was going to school at night working towards a master’s degree in organizational management at Antioch University, and I was offered a life-changing opportunity to acquire and run a local preschool.
I was in! It felt full circle to what I’d really wanted to do when I was a teacher – be a part of the education community and practice building and running a business. I dove in head first and with my whole heart. Over the course of the next six months, I hired a full staff of incredible educators, added curriculum and activities for further learning, revamped the food served to be fresh, homemade and nutritious, and completely turned the school around going from five kids to a full enrollment with a waitlist – over 50 kids.
I created a sustainable business, and the community that grew at my school was familial and supportive. Everyone who enrolled joined my cause and saw the pure intention of what was being built – a business with integrity centered around the comprehensive child and its community.
What I Learned About Myself
Life Lesson #1: I am Capable
Had I ever run a preschool before? Heck no. But could I figure it out? ALWAYS. I was put in situations every day that I’d never conceived of before.
Hosting animal educators, balancing the books, insurance, enrollment systems, marketing, curriculum – all new to me.
What I learned was that if I showed up with integrity in my heart and used every experience I’d had to date, I could not only get it done, but succeed at a high level.
If you are in a new job right now, or are a new parent, or in any new situation you’ve never handled before, I’m here to tell you, You. Got. This. You are capable of even more than you know! The growth is in the hard stuff!
Life Lesson #2: How to Have Difficult Conversations? Lead with your Heart
Hey, have you ever been bitten on the face by a child and had to tell their parents? I hadn’t, either. Until one day this kid decided to literally eat my face.
I had learned the concepts of how to have difficult conversations in a productive and respectful way in grad school, but putting the concepts into practice while running a preschool really taught me this skill.
The key to having a difficult conversation is that you go into it with an open heart, sharing openly and also learning from the other person. Hear the other person’s side, try to understand their context and what’s real and true for them.
If, for example, a teacher was teaching in a way that didn’t line up with my school’s vision, we would have a conversation about it. I would bring her the concern, explain the why, and truly hear why they taught the way they did. It’s not weakness to listen, it is strength.
At the end of the day, I still might have had to let that teacher go, but I always made sure it wasn’t perceived as personal – it was merely a fit issue. This de-personalizing technique can apply not just to work, but in friendships and relationships. You don’t need to burn bridges, you just need to know how to have difficult conversations where both people feel heard and respected, no matter the outcome.
If you are about to have a difficult conversation with someone, do this: Share your experience and why there is a difficulty respectfully. Then ask and listen (really listen!) to their side. Then decide the way forward.
Life Lesson #3: I Have Endless Energy for Something I’m Passionate About
I learned that when I love something, like Chaos to Calm, I have boundless energy for it. I freakin’ loved my school. It was my baby. I put in hours around the clock with (mostly) a smile. I barely slept for I don’t even know how many months. I even had a futon in the back of the school I could sleep on.
I arrived at 5am, the school opened at 7am. I wanted to get stuff done (like paint a gate!) before all the teachers, kids and parents got there, and then I’d stay really late. And, many weekends were spent at the school while we were in build and growth mode.I didn’t want to leave and I didn’t want to stop.
I learned that when I’m passionate about something, I give it my all, easily. I learned for the first time what passion for something looks like, versus someone.
If you feel fatigue and overwhelm in your life, take a look at how much of your day is spent on something you couldn’t care less about. I bet the answer you need to make a positive change in your life is right in front of you.
What I Learned About Leadership
Life Lesson #4: How to Create a Team – Hire People Aligned with my Vision
I knew how to hire people before hiring at the preschool, but here, I learned how to actually hire a team: A community of people who align toward a vision.
I learned how to hire the right people for the specific culture I wanted to foster. I had to figure out, “What’s the type of human I want to bring into this space?”, “Who’s going to build this dream with me?” I learned that every person I hire should feel like a partner.
If you are hiring, look further than the job description / skills needed. Look for a person who shares passion in your company’s mission. Who will be your partner? Who will be equally as invested as you to help you reach your goals?
Life Lesson #5: How Passionate Others are When They Believe in Your Mission
I worked hard to create a clear vision for our school. Our school philosophy was that parents and staff would work together as a team to support children through their development. With a progressive approach to education, we would meet the needs of children of all cultures and races and provide educational, age-appropriate activities in a comfortable, non-competitive environment.
My staff felt so connected to our mission that I had teachers leave higher paying jobs to come work for me. I made sure every person who walked through the door knew what our vision was, and either they were on board or they weren’t. Either way it was okay, but the more I chose people who believed in our purpose, the better the school became.
The same held true for the parents who sent their kids to my school. The school sold out quickly because parents saw we were doing more than teaching the ABC’s. Parents gave teachers coffees and gifts, not because of a pre-ordained “Teachers’ Day,” but because they truly were thankful for the job they did on the daily.
If you create an amazing environment for people, if you appreciate their work and foster their growth, if you make them feel heard and part of getting the results, if your company contributes to a larger mission outside of making money, you will attract and retain the most wonderful people!
Life Lesson #6: Successful Businesses Do More Than Just “Business”
Children’s Corner was successful because our preschool was more than a business, we were contributing something important to our community. It wasn’t just a business for business sake, it wasn’t a place just to make money, we did so much more.
We created a safe, healthy place for our next generation to grow. We didn’t just focus on academics, we taught children how to be active participants in the world around them. We focused on awareness of self, others, community and the environment.
More than a school, Children’s Corner was like a community center. It wasn’t just a space for kids to exist while their parents were working, we enriched their lives in every way we could. The school was in a lower income area, where not all families had access to the highest quality food, and sourcing nutritious, healthy food was a huge relief for parents. Additionally, healthy food supports neural development. Win-win for developing minds.
If you’re creating or leading in a business and want to increase your impact (and sure, the money follows!) set your business goals to be more than just financial. Create projects and opportunities for community enrichment through your work, and success will follow.
Life Lesson #7: Great Leadership Starts with Listening
To be a great leader means that people trust you. What I learned by running the preschool was just how much trust is a factor in succeeding as a leader (and as a business, and frankly in every area of life!). Sure, our parents had to trust us with their children, but from a leadership perspective, my employees needed to trust that I had their back.
I also, as a leader, needed to step back and trust the employees I hired to do their jobs.
To be a great leader I had to learn how to listen, like really well. So many people don’t know how to listen.
There was a disagreement once between two kids at the preschool, and I asked one child to listen to the other before talking. Then I thought, do they know what listening means? Sure enough, when I asked, the child had no idea what the word “listening” meant!
As a leader, I am in a place of authority, and I make the final decision, but I also need to take everyone’s opinions and viewpoints into consideration. For real, not just for show. I had a feedback box for people to submit anonymous feedback, and I asked teachers feedback on what their experience was regularly.
It’s not that I had to implement everything people suggested, but heard them. I showed I cared about that person’s experience. And if I didn’t implement an idea, I told them I appreciated their input but went a different direction and why. And you know what? I never had an issue with people accepting the direction because they felt respected and heard and usually could see the reason.
I had to listen, even if it was something I didn’t want to hear.
Running a preschool was a wild, fun, unexpected journey I was honored to take. I think about those kids and that staff frequently. The life lessons I experienced truly shaped who I am as a leader and person, today. And for that I’m beyond grateful.
Thinking of starting a business and don’t know where to begin? In a leadership role and need to grow your business and need help figuring out how? Need to hire employees and not sure how to recruit the best talent? I’m here for you. Email or DM me
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