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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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The next round of applause is on me…

I have not written a blog for a week because some of you said you could not keep up with my output.  Others have since asked ‘where is the blog?’ So I hope to now see a huge surge in readership.  Either way…

It has been a week of conferences and events; not least one where I spent the morning talking about retaining good staff at the Nursery World Business Summit, and the afternoon joining Neil King our Head of HR as he presented on the concept of wellbeing at work. Neil is an engaging presenter, so I was very proud to witness such a good performance.

At this particular event, the question posed by the employers and HR people was this: how do you recruit and retain good staff in a sector that is by its very nature not well rewarded?  Interestingly, pay was not a feature of retention, especially for those moving up the scale.  More crucial factors are job satisfaction, good conditions, fun activities, induction, training, working for an organisation that shows its staff in the best light; and most of all a manager who makes you feel important.  I often say to staff that we have a long way to go to praise our staff with the same vigour and enthusiasm and warmth that we use when praising the children.  There is, of course, a whole set of reasons for this and one is culture.

Earlier this week, Neil Fenton and I attended a Leadership Bootcamp organised for all 25 winners of the Big Venture Challenge.  I had no idea what to expect, but I wore boots just in case. The trainer began the day by asking if anyone was from North America.  There was silence, and then she said

Well, I am going to ask you to do something very North American and give yourselves a round of applause.” (or bualadh bos as we say inIreland).

The group responded obediently with a timid clap, and I cringed.  To me all this is a bit over the top; praise has to be earned and valued by those receiving it.  At that point, I hadn’t done anything that I thought merited a bualadh bos except to find the venue and arrive on time.  (Actually, the whole of LEYF is probably applauding now, as my time-keeping can be somewhat erratic!)

Praise giving and receiving in the UK is much more of a timorous  affair. We tend to be diffident about drawing attention to ourselves, and in some ways that shows sensitivity and courtesy.  But we do have to get a better balance; we need to be more able to praise more often and in a way that is valued by those giving and receiving.  Thank you for turning up is never going to do it – unless of course it’s snowing and you have walked across two boroughs to get to work.

On Friday this week, we will be having our Annual Staff Conference in Pimlico Academy, a state of the art local community academy run by an Irish head teacher.  When we first met we both commented on the difference between our own school buildings and the academy. The only similarity to mine was that we had two staircases, except one was for the nuns and dignitaries.

The conference and the attention to detail we try to apply is one way we celebrate and give public acclamation to each and every staff member. It’s a great occasion that sees the whole of LEYF come together.  It might sound cheesy but it’s not; it’s good old fashioned meeting up, eating, playing, laughing, learning, catching up and sharing ideas via the roving Vox Pop.  We will also be catered for by LEYF chefs, which guarantees us really good food.

We have had great conferences since we started them five years ago, and this one will be no exception – with speakers including Chief Superintendent John Carnochan from the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, talking about the power of early intervention (something he knows a lot about, as he sees the results in action every day).  In fact, Scotland is already a key feature of LEYF events in the form of Alice Sharp, a gifted and entertaining presenter who really connects big concepts such as early intervention into real behaviour with children and parents.

Finally this year, we are promised a visit from Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, and I sincerely hope he comes.  I heard him speak with passion about teachers – not that they appeared to value this! – and I want to hear the same power and passion shared with and about Early Years at our conference.  A public affirmation for each and every LEYF staff member from the top.  So again, I hope he comes.

After the day’s opening speeches, the day is littered with great learning workshops which aim to stretch, extend, collect and collate all the things we do and can do to make the whole of LEYF communication rich. From, flip charts to post-its, blackberries to iPhones, we will do our best to ensure plenty of shout-outs and tweeting.  So, if you want to hear about what’s going on or want to interact with one of the best sector, staff-lead learning events, send us a message with the hashtag #leyfconf11!

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