Part 1: Finding the right balance
Running a successful nursery demands hard-work, flexibility and commitment. In an industry suppressed by funding restrictions, demanding parents and ever-changing policies and legislation, managing a nursery brings new challenges every day.
We spoke with Nursery World Awards ‘Nursery Manager of the Year’, Mikki Parkes, to produce a two-part series that reveals exactly what is required to become a successful nursery manager.
Mikki is the enthusiastic and passionate manager of Auden Place Community Nursery in Camden, described by parents as a manager who ‘is always prepared to go that extra mile to improve and develop the care for kids, parents and staff.’
Since taking over the nursery six years ago, Mikki has significantly influenced the growth of the business, revamping the setting, and expanding from 15 to 40 places. However, the aim always remains the same; to support all families from Camden by providing high quality childcare at affordable prices.
Know your market
Like all managers in the early years sector, Mikki’s has to juggle many aspects of the business, but her primary focus is always on the children and helping them reach their full potential.
“To run a successful nursery, you need to be extremely flexible, hard-working and committed to the nursery. You need to be aware of the needs of your market and be proactive in meeting those needs.
“Managing a nursery is different to managing in any other industry, because as well as managing budgets, staff etc, you also have the huge responsibility of having the welfare of the children at the forefront of any decision you make.”
As a not-for-profit organisation, Auden Place does not enjoy the certainty of council funding, nevertheless, Mikki has driven the nursery to financial security. When she took over the nursery in 2005, it was forecasting £30k losses and facing closure. Within four months, Mikki managed to reduce the actual loss by 50% and keep the nursery open.
Her ‘extra mile’ attitude is clearly demonstrated by her research into identifying funding routes for families. Her findings, including New Deal for Lone Parents and Childcare Support Fund, enabled families to access funding, thereby benefitting families that would never have been able to access the nursery otherwise.
Organisation and adaptability is key. Mikki is often required to quickly switch roles to prioritise between tasks around the nursery. Managing a nursery goes beyond the mountains of paperwork; it requires determination and a willingness to adapt to multiple situations.
“You must be willing to put aside your ‘to do’ list and deal with the here and now of the day, still being aware that your list will still need to be done. You have to step into the role of cleaner, cook, handyman, councillor and accountant at the drop of a hat.
“The key to being a good manager is being able to adapt to every situation, ask for support when you need it, take on board constructive criticism and learn from your mistakes.”
Managers also need to have the desire to keep up-to-date with the latest policies and the EYFS and Mikki believes every manager should use resources available to them to benefit their nursery.
“It is important to have regular training. Either myself or one of my two managers attend any forums or workshops organised by the borough, and maintain a strong relationship with the Early years team.
“We receive regular magazines such as Nursery World, Nursery Management Today and are affiliated with associations such as Pre-School Learning Alliance and National Day Nursery Association. The Ofsted and Department for Education are great websites to keep you updated.” Can we get Parenta’s newsletters in there?
Set a good example for staff
Staff often see their nursery manager as a role model, therefore it is important to set a good example. Within a versatile role, the managerial responsibility can range from helping staff out during busy times, to preparing monthly invoices to send out to parents.
“Getting the balance right between the day-to-day care of the children and administration is vital. I remember being a deputy manager with a manager who was great at this. They would regularly come out of the office to help with nappies and lunch breaks etc and I always wanted to be this manager.
“I am always popping in to say hello to all the staff and children, giving them support when needed. We have two managers, both who share my vision, overseeing a room each to support the team. I always make myself available to speak with my staff everyday about what is going on and if they need anything.”
In the second part of our ‘What makes an award-winning nursery manager?’ series, Mikki talks about the importance of maintaining an excellent relationship with both your staff and parents, and working together to reach the nursery’s goals.
Do you have a question you would like to ask Mikki? Are you a manager looking for ideas, or a practitioner striving for promotion? Drop your questions to Mikki below so that we can forward them to her.