Petra, the manager of a day nursery, recently shared how worried she is about her team. She said “We have been through so much. The COVID-19 pandemic, working throughout the 2020 lockdown as keyworkers, a long-overdue inspection looming, and now the EYFS changes for September. I sense staff confidence has been knocked and they all need a boost to get them up and running again.”

Petra asked what she could do to help boost the team’s confidence. As part of the coaching conversation, I introduced the popular GROW model (originated by John Whitmore, 1937-2017) to help frame Petra’s thinking.

There is a logical process to asking coaching questions using this model:

  • Goal – what do you want?
  • Reality – where are you now?
  • Options – what could you do?
  • Will/wrap up – what will you do?

(Fig 1)

As our first session progressed, Petra reflected that as the leader, she had been supporting everyone else for the past year and a half. She had been in fire-fighting mode since the pandemic hit and had just about managed the day-to-day operations of the nursery, including two COVID bubble lockdowns, very stressed families, reduced occupancy and a staff bereavement. When Petra recognised the enormity of what she had been carrying during this time, she let out a huge sigh. “I think I just need to take a break and relax for a while,” she declared. She planned two weeks off and took her young family on a camping trip.

As a leader, it is important that you look after yourself first, and be a role model for those who work with you/for you. Initially, Petra wanted to make sure all the staff were ok but quickly realised her own confidence had been knocked. She was running on empty and needed to fill her tank.

On her return, Petra was visibly more relaxed and her head was clear. She was pleased she had allowed herself a break and made sure that all her staff had a break over the summer too.

I offered the GROW model to Petra again, and this time she started to put some plans in place. Here are some of the thoughts that arose from the session:

Goal – What do you want to achieve?

I want to re-engage with my staff so they are ready for a new start in September. By the end of today I want to have started a plan for a training week at the end of the month.

Reality – Where are you in relation to your goal now? 

There has been so much stress with the impact of COVID, not least losing a long-standing member of staff to the illness. The practitioners have given so much they could not think straight and some of them have definitely doubted their ability to take on more changes right now. Their internal resources were low.  Thoughts are emerging about how I can help everyone move forward. We do need to do some work on the EYFS changes, they are small but necessary for our practice.

Options – Consider 5 options 

As we have a whole week together when the nursery is closed there are lots of things we can do. 

  1. Everyone is worried about having to talk about their children to an inspector– I know they all know their children’s learning and development inside out, but they think they will forget everything they know in the moment if asked on the spot. We could put some informal practice conversations in.
  2. We could have a session on the EYFS statutory changes and build this into the week in the form of a quiz or a presentation from each team. 
  3. We could do a session on how confident they are. I could ask them on a scale of 1-10 how confident they are in their role. This could be on several aspects e.g. confidence in engaging with parents, confidence with facing change, confidence with delivery of educational programmes. I could do this twice, at the beginning and end of our training week.
  4. The room leaders could lead a session on getting to know their team members more, their strengths and areas for development, or something fun like sharing a fact that no one else knows about you.
  5. We could have a fun day such as a treasure hunt in the community or making something for the nursery.

Will/wrap up – What actions will you take? Who will help you?

I will take these ideas away and work on each idea with my leadership team and from this we can make a timetable of events throughout the week. I am sure my deputies will have some great ideas too and I must remember I don’t have to do it all myself. I will aim to make some of the work entertaining and ensure there is time for staff to shape the learning. I will make sure there is time for them to enjoy being together in their rooms.

I will make sure I am available to join in and be present if the staff just need to share any worries on concerns and I will make sure I am available to listen.

What could you do?

This session with Petra brought out some important points for nursery leaders and their staff in building confidence within the team:

  1. Revisit your vision for the setting with your team, to make sure your values and practices are aligned.
  2. Provide time to just be with each other during the nursery day – just 5-10 mins at the start or end of the day is enough for a check-in. Everyone has responded differently to the pandemic and everyone manages change differently so it is important to know how individuals are thinking and feeling.
  3. Use “on the scale of 1-10 how confident are you?” to help you appreciate where other people are, and respond appropriately, giving more time to those who are feeling less sure.
  4. If team members are worried about talking to others about their key children let them practice with someone they feel most comfortable with. Repeat this opportunity regularly so it becomes a natural part of the nursery week.
  5. Practice the GROW model with staff during supervision or introduce it as part of the training week. GROW can help you manage difficult conversations and also helps place the responsibility on the practitioner/team member to think through issues for themselves.
  6. Make sure you are looking after your own wellbeing and that someone else is keeping you in mind too e.g. your own supervisor/coach.
  7. Celebrate your learning together with a display or short film or a website update – everyone needs recognising for contributions made within their role.


About the author:

Ruth Mercer is a coach and consultant, with a career background in early education. Ruth is committed to creating a positive learning environment for staff, children and families. She has a successful track record of 1:1 coaching for leaders and group coaching across the maintained and PVI sector. She supports leaders and managers in developing a coaching approach in their settings through bespoke consultancy and introductory training on coaching and mentoring for all staff.

Virtual course forthcoming: Onwards and Upwards - Becoming an Effective Leader in the EYFS (6 half-day sessions over 6 months). Suitable for EYFS leads in school, nursery school teachers and reception teachers. Please email for further details, to book a space or request a bespoke option for your school/setting.

Contact: ruthmercercoaching@gmail.com

Website: www.ruthmercercoaching.com

Expression of interest

Complete the form below if you are interested in joining our family. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This