What makes children future leaders

Successfully mastering management tasks in the daycare center

Antje Bostelmann

"The key factor for success is leadershipThe quote comes from the entrepreneur Karl Schlecht, who with his foundation named after him is committed to "Good Leadership" and not only in the classic entrepreneurial areas of industry and trade, but also in cultural institutions and education.

Leadership is not the only factor in the success of an organization - it is the decisive one. Above all, leadership means making decisions and can be more precisely defined as "planning, coordinating and controlling activity in groups and organizations"(Staehle 1999). Ultimately, all actions of a company are part of success. Management work means bringing these actions into a promising sequence for all those involved, distributing the tasks accordingly and ensuring their implementation.

1. Requirements for managers in children's facilities

Managers in educational institutions such as kindergartens and crèches perform the same management tasks as their colleagues in industry or administration. That means they also need to bring the same skills and knowledge to ensure the success of their facility. A job in the social or educational field is no excuse for a lack of specialist knowledge or unprofessional leadership.

The requirements for leadership work are specified in five categories of leadership summarized:

  1. Goals, strategy and future,
  2. Organization and structure,
  3. Leadership and development,
  4. Checking and assessing as well
  5. internal and external communication.

1.1 Goals, strategy and future

Organizations always strive for self-support. This means that they want to continue to exist, develop and grow in the future. For the kindergarten, this means looking into the future and asking the question of what future demands will be placed on children's institutions.

If the facility is integrated into the structures of an agency, future specifications are often developed there. The institutions are commissioned by the executing agency to implement them. If the kindergarten is an individual organization, the management must plan the future goals and strategies.

From a practical point of view, future tasks in the field of childcare are mostly growth tasks such as opening a new group or a new facility. This also includes conversion or renovation work, the refurbishment of rooms, the development and implementation of fire protection and security concepts. For these tasks, the manager must observe their environment and try to foresee future developments. From the knowledge gained, strategies for adapting to these changes are derived and implemented.

An example: New fire protection requirements are to be adopted in the district. This may mean the house the facility is in needs a new fire escape. The management must start early to plan the impact of this change on the room concept, staff and budget.

When it comes to working with parents and staff, it is important to give everyone involved a picture of the future of the facility. This is best done in the committees provided for this purpose and through target agreements, which may be coordinated with the institution responsible for the institution. People work best when they know what goals to achieve and how to achieve them. Here the management must be able to agree on goals and operationalize the way to get there.

1.2 Organization and structure

Organizations are characterized by structures. These structures mostly result from the purpose of the organization. In day care centers, groups of children are the typical care structures to which educational staff are assigned. The decision as to whether these structures are open or closed is made when the furnishing concept is drawn up.

The structures are lived through room allocation and communication rules. This means that the management determines which pedagogues supervise certain groups and which space is available to them for this. It also determines the age at which the children are assigned to a particular group. Organization also includes rules. The management must ensure that these are developed and lived.

In children's institutions, it can often be seen that structures and rules exist on paper, but are seldom implemented in reality. There are always occasions to disrupt the structure, for example by canceling team meetings due to a lack of staff, assigning children that are too young or too old to a group, because, for example, the parents prefer a certain educator for their child, etc. The agreement that is so important for everyone involved the daily routine is usually superfluous at breakfast. There was guaranteed to be an event that meant that the morning circle would be canceled, the children would not go to the garden, etc.

There is one constant in children's institutions and it is: "Something is always." There are always plenty of reasons for ignoring the agreed and established structures. This results in one of the most important tasks for kindergarten leaders: protecting the structures. Like the captain of a ship in stormy waters, the kindergarten management has to stay on course and defend it against many often emotionally well-founded temptations to override the structures.

An example: In the "Sunshine" kindergarten, it is forbidden to bring beverages. This rule was debated for a long time. Arguments such as the high sugar content in many drinks, the rapid formation of bacteria in bottles that are half empty in the rooms, and the high risk of accidents that arises if a 1.5 liter bottle falls on a child's head from an upper shelf, ultimately led to the rule being introduced and lived for a while. Drinking stations have been introduced where children and adults can help themselves to unsweetened tea and water at any time.

When a new teacher joined the team, she claimed to be "addicted to cola" and therefore always had to carry her cola bottle with her for health reasons. The management was at a loss. She decided to make an exception and allow the employee to bring her drink. In just a few weeks, half-empty bottles were again standing around in the children's rooms. The drinking stations were no longer filled. The rule, however, remained in the house rules.

The example shows that management failure often does not result from the inability to establish rules and structures. It arises when, for emotional reasons, the leadership is unable to clearly stand up for the rules.

1.3 Leadership and Development

The most important success factors of organizations are their employees. You can hear this sentence from every management trainer in the first five minutes, and every kindergarten director will be able to confirm it. But how do you succeed in putting this mantra into reality?

Leadership means fulfilling five important tasks: finding the right employees, familiarizing them with them, paying them appropriately, trusting them and letting them work independently in the interests of the organization.

Many providers of children's facilities give their facilities clear guidelines on personnel management and development. There are training courses, remuneration guidelines or collective agreements. Often, organizations develop such structures in order to divide the personnel work between themselves and the institutions. Ultimately, with the exception of the regulations on remuneration, the above-mentioned tasks remain with the kindergarten management. You have to decide which applicant fits into the team. You have to organize that the person is properly trained. She also has to ensure that the team is stable and that all employees remain on the team. In practice, the management often does not have the necessary time and specialist knowledge to carry out these tasks.

An example: A new employee comes to the facility. She is sent to the group on the first day without much instruction and has to watch herself how she finds her way. The other teachers show her where this or that is and provide information about the children, but important informal things are only revealed gradually.

Informal team rules make it unnecessarily difficult for new employees to find their way into the group. New colleagues are first assessed by the long-time residents, there are "pitfalls" and other group dynamic processes are set in motion, in which the "new ones" have to prove themselves.

Management staff often lack the experience and instruments to contain or prevent such developments. If new employees still manage to be accepted by the team, it has not even come to the fact that professional suitability has been proven, as is usual and also necessary in the induction phase. In children's facilities, induction can mean fighting for a place in a highly complex, emotionally dynamic mix.

Institutions with weak management or constantly changing management staff form informal management structures that are very difficult to break down later. This can go so far that these structures prevent the use of a new line. Professional personnel development is hardly possible in such a structure, since it is not the professional qualities of the team members that are rewarded, but their adaptation to the informal dynamics of the group. It becomes particularly difficult to carry out the usual management tools such as working time planning, vacation planning and feedback discussions. As in a school class without a teacher, there is no leadership in such teams, which in the end leads to the right of the strongest being implemented.

The situation described above is certainly the extreme case, and there are a number of very well-run children's facilities. However, the group of less well run institutions is very large.

An example: a young man applies for the position of kindergarten director. The kindergarten is small, has only 40 places and is very close to where he lives. During the application process, the young pedagogue heard that there were repeated changes in the management of the kindergarten. However, he thinks that leadership in such a small kindergarten can not be a problem.

The first days of his new job are also very pleasant. The team seems nice and the parents seem uncomplicated. When he wants to set up the roster for the following week, an employee tells him that he always has to do the late shift, because that's how things are here in the house. In the near future, he will represent missing employees in the groups, conduct all parent-related discussions on his own, clean the bathroom and rarely take a break. Administrative work is out of the question. In the team meeting he has the feeling that everything has already been settled, only that he was not involved in the regulations. When the wearer invites him to an interview to talk about the lack of administrative work, he collapses.

The example also makes it clear how dangerous it can be for educational professionals to accept a management position that has been offered. Even small errors have serious consequences that can hardly be remedied without specialist knowledge and experience. An exchange with other more experienced managers can help here.

1.4 Control and assessment

Leadership means achieving success through third parties. A manager does not work on the product or on the customer himself, but organizes that other people under her control keep the product promise to the customer. This principle also applies to kindergarten. The management has to deal with a whole range of organizational tasks, while the pedagogical staff who report to it look after the children and work with the parents.

In social institutions such as kindergartens and crèches, the hierarchies are flat. This means that the leadership work is clearly visible.

The culture in children's institutions, as in most social institutions, assumes that all team members are equal in a certain way. The leadership is the equating among the equals. It is therefore also the case that in some institutions the person in charge becomes the person who seems most suitable to maintain the existing informal system according to which late shifts are organized and other personal freedom is granted. Managers who violate this system by bringing the organization's concerns to the fore run the risk of conflicting with their team. Now the "principle of equality" is played out. The leadership job is suddenly seen as a privilege, which creates tension and envy in the team. Then it says behind closed doors in the workforce: "She can sit in the office all day".

Kindergarten administrators should be aware of this basic problem and approach it progressively. As a manager you have to assert your administrative task by formulating tasks for the employees very clearly and enforcing and controlling their completion.

The management regularly obtains a precise overview of the status of the educational quality in their facility by observing, monitoring documentation and approving educational plans. The control task of the management also includes presenting the work results of the facility in facts and figures. It documents and checks the occupancy, the fluctuation of customers and employees, budget compliance, praise and complaints, sick leave, etc.

Management work also includes assessing the performance of employees and giving them regular feedback on the quality of their work and the successes that have resulted from it. In order to assess their employees, managers need clear assessment criteria and tools that enable a fair assessment.

Establishing reliable instruments and criteria for employee appraisal is not the task of the facility management and cannot be left to them. At this point, those responsible for the providers are asked to provide their facilities with a professional and uniform competence management system.

An example: Elsa has been working as a kindergarten director for more than twenty years. She has managed various facilities and knows a lot about kindergartens. She used to oversee the educational work in her facility by running tours that were announced in advance. The result of this approach has always been very unsatisfactory. All group rooms were squeaky clean. The children were sitting at the tables, and the toys on the shelves looked glued on. At that time she understood that the children were being held at the tables until the tour was over. The children were not supposed to mess up the rooms that were specially polished up for the tour and therefore had to wait.

When Elsa realized this, she changed her approach. Today she goes through the groups every day. She speaks to educators, parents and children and then makes a note of what she saw, how she assesses it and what actions she deduces from it. She often speaks to the staff. She has got used to appreciating as many positive observations as possible in public by the team.

The example shows that it takes a lot of professional experience to run a facility successfully. The current job market does not make it possible to wait for educators to train themselves to lead by developing their own approach to the task in the course of their professional years. It must be an important concern of authorities and agencies to equip managers with the necessary specialist knowledge and to provide formats that ensure the support of young managers.

1.5 Internal and external communication

How do you talk to whom? Who is allowed to talk to whom about which topics? What goes out and what stays internal? These questions need to be answered in every organization. These answers determine the external and internal communication strategy.

The management determines the communication structures. It regulates who can and must communicate with whom about what. For example, the group educators inform the parents about the dates of the group parents' evening. The management itself informs about the parents' evening. Many organizations give strict guidelines here, which are to be implemented by management staff. But they often fail to fully adhere to the guidelines. For example, too confidential a relationship between individual employees and parents allows internal information to leak out. This can have unexpected negative effects, with which the management and the wearer will be confronted at some point.

The digital media have made these dangerous situations even worse than in the past. This happens, for example, when individual educators romp around in the WhatsApp groups with the parents and maintain an all too confidential dealings with them, while the management has no access and no idea.

In many institutions it appears that staff only have first names. The team presentation shows photos of childish-looking women and men who are titled Manni, Uschi, Susi etc. The pedagogues allow themselves to be taken on by their parents. This creates a communication culture that makes technical and professional collaboration very difficult.

It is work to introduce communication rules and to adhere to them. Children's institutions have to undergo a change here that will not function without strict management.

It is often difficult for the pedagogues in the children's facilities to distinguish which information is suitable for which group of people. A simple picture helps here: Let's imagine we are in a theater. At the front of the stage there is a play that the audience would like to see, that they have been looking forward to for a long time and therefore had to wait an extra long time for the start of advance sales. Everything goes haywire behind the stage. An actress is sick, the key to the technology cabinet cannot be found, and two ballet dancers have fallen out and are now crying bitterly. The audience doesn't want to know any of this. It is therefore a good thing that everything goes smoothly in front of the stage, small glitches are covered over and thus not noticeable.

It is similar in the children's facility. There is a lot to do so that the children can have a nice and eventful day and the parents can pick them up happily. In order for this to work, everyday challenges, such as a colleague's illness, late lunch or problems with the printer, also have to be solved backstage in the daycare center.

Communication rules have to be negotiated in a team, lived with the parents and defended again and again in everyday life. If the kindergarten develops further, communication rules must also be checked and adjusted.

An example: The telephone that rings forever in children's facilities and that no one picks up has always annoyed parents. It's much easier to communicate with email. However, it is not enough to simply switch communication from the telephone to e-mail. There is also a need for rules that define the times in the daily routine at which e-mails are answered. In children's institutions, the midday break is the ideal time when educators and management can read and answer their e-mails.

One can agree on such rules. This means that, in contrast to the direct line of the telephone, the parents have to be patient, but they can expect that their inquiries will be answered on the same day.

The example shows that every development leads to a review of rules and procedures. That takes green thinking and always a lot of demarcation.

2. What lines need in children's facilities

Many decisions that affect employees are made intuitively in children's institutions, i.e. by feeling. The effects are often correspondingly emotional. Suddenly there is a riot in the team and nobody knows exactly where they come from. But it is noticeable that some colleagues keep taking sick leave. The mood in the facility is strange and the parents become restless. In such a situation, no one knows exactly what the causes of the bad mood were, and therefore targeted actions to remedy the situation are not taken. The leader fears that the team will slip away from under her hands. Nobody pays attention to the quality of the educational work anymore.

It is crucial for the success of a facility management to know the mood within their workforce and to know how their individual employees are doing. The simple question "How are you?" between the door and the hinge is not an option, because between the door and the hinge there is no opportunity to talk about complex issues or personal problems.

However, if there is no other possibility for employees to have personal conversations, the management will forego important information for assessing their team. Then she lacks the means to see through situations like the one described above and to solve them reliably.

Employee satisfaction can be determined from a wide variety of aspects (see Bostelmann / Fink / Möllers 2015):

  • Justice: Do everyone feel equally respected and treated fairly?
  • Transparency: Do everyone feel informed and can the employees derive actions from the information?
  • Trust: Do employees have the security of being able to turn to their superiors with their needs and concerns?
  • Opportunities for advancement: Will my work be seen, will it be rewarded, and will there be opportunities for development?
  • Identification: Do the employees feel connected to the institution's goals? Do values ​​and mission statement match your personal ideas?
  • Teamwork: Are the colleagues friendly? Will I be accepted in the team and do the agreed routines work?

Goals, structures, development, controls and communication were the categories of management trade defined above. Each of these points plays a role, and on each of these points there is a clear need for action in many children's institutions. There are several reasons why not much has happened here for years:

  • The special leadership culture in the social area is not sufficiently recognized by politicians and specialists. This means that important factors influencing the success of leadership are overlooked.
  • The existing training opportunities for managers are too oriented towards social or educational aspects and do not convey enough manual management tools.
  • Open management positions are often filled hectically and out of necessity, without a review of the candidate's professional and personal requirements. As a result, many lines fail and the prospect of the position of a facility manager does not seem very desirable.
  • Cables are often used, but not incorporated. In addition, it is often not those who become leaders who are capable of doing so, but those who are tolerated by the team.
  • There are too few advice or training opportunities that management can help if necessary.

For me, the successful management of a children's facility is one of the most important success factors for the implementation of an educational quality that benefits the children. There is a lot to be done in this field. Running a social institution is a task that requires a lot of clarity and personal strength. However, this alone is not enough. Good leadership training is required. In such a training it must be possible to practice leadership and to be able to acquire leadership tools. Without this training, nobody should be admitted to management positions. Such training should result in stable advisory groups in which managers can meet regularly and advise one another.


Bostelmann, Antje / Fink, Michael / Möllers, Gerrit: Designing a good daycare center together. A book about quality for parents and educators. Berlin: Banana Blue 2015

Staehle, Wolfgang H .: Management. An introduction to behavioral science. Munich: Vahlen, 8th edition 1999