CELC CEO Lessons from Covid-19

Our CEO, Sheila Olan-MacLean was invited to be a panelist for the AECEO Child Care Operators Webinar on Friday, April 24. If you missed it, you can watch the webinar here or you can review the collective resources here

By Sheila Olan-MacLean, CEO, Compass Early Learning and Care

Who are we?

At Compass Early Learning & Care we value the uniqueness of each child, family and staff. Together with children, families, colleagues and community, we discover the joy of learning, celebrating each child’s one and only childhood. We are a non-profit, charitable organization, established in 1981 with a Board of Directors, leading our policy and strategic plan.  We have grown from a small home child care program in Peterborough City and County to a multi-site early learning and child care organization with 35 licensed programs caring for over 2500 children aged birth to 12 years in the City of Kawartha Lakes, the County and City of Peterborough and the Region of Durham. Our programs include full day early learning and child care, nursery school, before and after school programs, and home- based child care. Each program is unique, with hours of service ranging from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Our home child care program offers flexible hours of care, offered by our 52 care providers.

Our staff team of over 400 are the key to our success. Leadership emerges from all aspects of our organization with each staff taking a lead in the strengths that they bring to their role. Our daily work is reflective of our shared values about relationships, wellbeing, environments and experiences. Teamwork is evident throughout our organization as the way we do business: Professional Advisory, Health and Safety, Communities of Practice, Leadership and Program teams work collaboratively to realize our strategic plan and deliver excellence in early learning and care.

We practice pedagogical leadership principles of How Does Learning Happen across our organization with a strong emphasis on our values of children at the heart, trusting relationships, safe, caring, joyful places, equal worth, collective intelligence, responsibility and accountability, and lifelong learning. These values apply to the classroom, the administrative offices and the boardroom to guide our daily practices and decision making.

Our deep respect for early childhood extends to our community work with our municipalities, United Way, Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, Association for Early Childhood Education, the Ontario Reggio Association, the Home Child Care Association of Ontario, the Canadian Association for Young Children, Ontario branch and various community networks. We believe that together we can contribute to a democratic society where children are valued as citizens of today.

Rose – Bud – Thorn

The Rose of this pandemic has been the opportunity to demonstrate our dedication and support of our staff.  Being able to keep them on and continuing to pay them has been our greatest takeaway.  It has taken courage, creativity, teamwork and strong values of equal worth and collective intelligence to make this work.  Another rose is the huge sigh of relief that the earth is expressing.  We are seeing the Mother Earth’s resilience when given a chance to heal. 

A metaphor for us all. 

The Bud of this time is the ability to think creatively.  We are so bound by rules and guidelines.  This is not the time to be bound.  It is a time to say what if…. In doing so, we have learned how to use Zoom, GoTo, Teams, HouseParty and tried out many new technical tools that we had not explored before.  We have learned that we can communicate effectively and creatively through virtual means. 

The Thorn is the not knowing and the shifting messages.  Not knowing if we will have enough cash to float our payroll until the federal funding comes in.  Information that is slow to come, quickly changes and waiting for the next announcement, hoping that it will give us more hope.  And knowing that there is so much stress and fear among our staff.  And keeping our Compass Family together.  Watching colleagues in our communities having to lay off their staff because they do not have the resources to wait for the government funding. 

Which brings us back to the Rose – which is having the opportunity to show how much we care.  Reaching out to our teams, our colleagues, our community to help. 

How have we supported staff?

In the child care field, our staff are the reason for our success.  They are the ones caring for the families and children every day.  The first thing we had to do was assure these amazing human beings that we cared about them, we had their back and that they were each an integral part of the Compass Family.  Self worth is so important at this time of isolation and fear. 

Opportunities for Connecting came next.  We used Zoom primarily to connect our teams with weekly meetings for all staff, providers, leads, teams and individuals.  This time has helped us to think about connecting in many ways, helping people through their fear, accepting when they can only care for themselves and their families, and letting them know that they are enough, that their job right now is to care for their families and themselves and when ready to reach out to families and children.  This has allowed people to move beyond the safety stage of isolation and begin to enter the connection stage.  https://www.achieveengagement.org/virtual-event/leading-teams-through-profound-uncertainty

Celebrations – reinvent ways to celebrate and advocate.  Make it fun, make it meaningful and make it energizing.  We have held a car rally parade train to celebrate our Emergency Child Care Workers.  So grateful for their contribution to our efforts.  The energy and joy that this event created was magic.  127 cars paraded by our children and staff.  Wow, powerful.

We have been doing dancegrams.  Showing up on people’s doorsteps and cranking the radio and dancing on front lawns to music.  We are laughing again.  And it is good. 

Music is such an energising medium.  We have inserted it into our meetings with various team members playing guitar and singing a song for their colleagues.  Nothing like it. 

We have set up many ways for staff to connect with one another, their teams, their families and with senior leaders.  We are using Facebook, Zoom, Whatsapp, Sandbox, Facetime, Messenger, Youtube, etc.

Humans reaching out to humans – asking about their head, their heart and their health. 

Sharing stories on Facebook – connections with families.  We never underestimate the power of connection and telling someone you care. 

Funding Challenges

Cash Flow – Even though we took a leap and trusted that the funds will eventually flow, we have a half million dollar payroll twice a month to continue to cover.  Our CFO came back from Maternity early to support our analysis and help us to determine our financial position.  So grateful for our finance team who has worked tirelessly throughout this 6 weeks.  We deal with 4 municipalities.  One had advanced us funding for the next quarter.  This is helping tremendously.  Also, municipalities are being flexible with funding.  Careful with this though because the messaging is shifting.  We have developed extensive cashflow charts that show our expected expenses and payroll and when we expect funds to come in, the resources we have available and our reserves.

A challenge has been not knowing for sure anything really.  We have had to make decisions based on what we know, what we think we know and what we don’t know.  We have made decisions based on our values.  https://www.compasselc.com/about/values/

We have led with our heart and our head, making reasonable, cautious assumptions.  We have a financial reserve that is also helpful. 

We are continuing to amend our budgets as known costs are known.  All of our school boards have waived their rental fees.  This helps tremendously.  We are investigating the help for commercial rents which also may help. 

What we are finding is that we have a community waiting to help.  They need us to be clear about what we need.  Reach out to your municipality.  Tell them what you need – cashflow, short term funding, reach out to school boards. 

Our Three Big Ideas

  1. Reach out – Connect. Don’t try to do this by yourself.  Engage your team – Let them shine and take leadership showing their individual strengths.  Reach out to your community for help and to help.  Advocate for what you need. 
  2. Communicate – not just the facts.  Tell your team what you know, what you don’t know and that you care about them.  Tell them you have their back, and that together we will get through this.  Tell them they are enough, that their efforts are enough.  Ask them about their head, their heart and their health.  Tell them our best is enough. 
  3. Take care of yourself.  Others are counting on you. Step back so you can step up when you are needed.  Ask for help and what you need. 

Finally, let your inner child out.  They need to dance, to play and to laugh.  Together is better. 

Thank you to the AECEO for organizing and to Panel Moderator: Jennifer Kirkham and fellow panelists: Tracy Saarikoski, Executive Director, Discovery Early Learning & Care Amy O’Neil, Director, Treetop Children’s Centre.