It’s a known fact children benefit greatly from meaningful one-on-one time with a caring adult. But what about the rest of us?

Whatever their age, all human beings crave attention and feedback.

If you’re shying away from sitting down with your care center staff because you don’t love the idea of leading a tough conversation, think again. The 20 minutes you invest in a face-to-face meeting with your team members today could save you major headaches down the road.

To make it a little easier, we’ve compiled a complete list of the various types of one-on-ones you may want to have with your school’s staff, along with a sample list of questions for each.

Why have one-on-one meetings with your preschool staff?

You don’t need us to tell you early education is a tough line of work—the average annual turnover rate speaks for itself.

At 30% for child care staff in the US, people leave this industry at a higher rate than both the hospitality and sales industries.

Care providers and early educators need consistent motivation and feedback to keep them going during those days and weeks when it all feels impossible. And believe it or not, they’re not just looking for warm, fuzzy praise.

Your employees want honest and constructive feedback that will make them better at their jobs.

According to a 2014 survey of nearly 1,000 employees, 57% of respondents said they preferred negative feedback over positive feedback. And 92% agreed with the statement: “Negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.”

If you’ve been avoiding these sit-downs because you’re afraid of piling more stress onto your team’s already full plates, know that the opposite is true. Open and transparent dialogue is the key to giving your people the sense of control and empowerment they need to keep moving forward.

A few simple rules for effective employee one-on-ones

Before we dive into the various types of one-on-one meetings you might want to have, let’s take a minute to set some ground rules.

According to Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, “One-on-ones are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager” for two specific reasons:

  1. Face-to-face sit-downs give you a chance to swap notes on strategy and figure out how you can achieve better results together.
  2. Employee one-on-ones are golden opportunities for you to show your employees you value and respect them.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Saunders and other organizational experts gave their top tips for making employee one-on-ones as productive as possible.

Here’s a quick summary of their biggest dos and don’ts:

  • Set a recurring time and place
  • Try not to cancel or show up late
  • Share discussion points ahead of time
  • Focus on the person in front of you (phone on silent!)
  • Listen more than you speak
  • Begin with a win
  • End with a “thank you”

It’s important to note that this meeting is just as much about your employee’s personal goals as it is about your goals for the business. A good strategy is to aim for a healthy balance of work and personal talking points at each and every sit-down.

Here’s a list of the most common types of employee one-on-ones with some questions and statements to help spark a productive conversation.

The course-correction meeting

This is the meeting everyone dreads.

Listen, no one enjoys giving negative feedback (or worse, disciplinary warnings) but in this line of work, you can’t afford not to. One bad apple can spoil the entire culture at your center and create a damaging reputation within the community—one that can directly impact your enrollment rates. Here are a few questions to help you nip these problems in the bud.

Example questions:

  1. Some of your team members/parents have said you’re taking a harder line than what’s required with some of the children. Let’s talk about that.
  2. Is there anything you’ve been struggling with lately?
  3. We haven’t been achieving this goal, let’s work together to figure out why.
  4. I want to talk about something I noticed the other day.
  5. Is there anything you think I should know about?
  6. Do you feel like you’re meeting your own expectations at work?
  7. Is there anything you’re currently trying to get better at?
  8. We didn’t hit our targets last semester. What do you think we should do differently next time?
  9. Do you have an easy relationship with the children/parents/other members of the team?
  10. Have you noticed anything that felt off lately?
  11. Do you have any questions about what’s expected here?
  12. Is there anything you need from me?

The vision-building meeting

In her paper for Child Care Information Exchange, What Do Teachers Need Most from their Directors?, author and early learning consultant Margie Carter writes “Teachers can sense when directors are moving their program forward toward a bigger dream, even as they are thwarted by the crisis of the week. The climate is quite different than one limited to following the rules and regulations or resigning the program to the limitations of the moment.”

Don’t take it for granted that your team shares (or even remembers) your vision. Use every meeting as an opportunity to get them excited about the mission and show them how the bigger picture supports their personal life vision.

Example questions:

  1. Have I told you how your new project fits into the center’s future goals?
  2. Let’s talk about the school’s 2020 priorities and how that impacts what we do every day.
  3. What part of the business or this field would you like to learn more about?
  4. Can we talk about the impact your work has on the children/families?
  5. Where do you see our school in 5 years? And in 10?
  6. What’s the biggest opportunity we’re not yet pursuing?
  7. What’s your wildest idea that could probably never work, but you’d love if it could?
  8. What’s your dream job?
  9. What do you want to be doing a decade from now?
  10. What do you want to do in your next job?
  11. Do you feel like your work here helps you make progress towards that goal?
  12. What part of your work is most in line with your goals?
  13. Do you feel like you’re learning new things at work?
  14. Is there anything else you’d like to learn?
  15. Are there any additional training programs you’ve considered pursuing?
  16. Is there anything else I can do to help align your work with your personal goals?

The shared decision-making meeting

We’ve talked before about how important it is to give your caregiving team a sense of autonomy at work.

In fact, workers with higher levels of autonomy have higher levels of job satisfaction and are therefore much less likely to bail. This type of one-on-one will help you lead a discussion focused on prioritizing tasks, avoiding stress, and making better decisions together.

Example questions:

  1. How was last week?
  2. Tell me about your plans for next week.
  3. What are you prioritizing and what are you putting on the back-burner?
  4. Is anything getting in your way lately?
  5. What could we do to make it better?
  6. If you could change anything about your work here, what would it be?
  7. If you were me, what would be the first change you’d make?
  8. How do you feel about our team culture? What would make it better?
  9. What project do you want to work on next?
  10. Are you confused by any part of what you’re currently working on?
  11. What feedback do you have for me?
  12. Is there anything I can do to give you more support at work?
  13. Can I help you work through anything specific?
  14. Is there anything you would change about how you we approached things this semester?

The are-you-happy meeting

Even with all the right interview tools, great talent is hard to find—and even harder to keep.

This meeting will help you reduce voluntary turnover and keep your rockstars nice and close. If you’re holding regular meetings with your team members, you might find that the need for an are-you-happy meeting is less and less. But if you’ve noticed a drop in morale in one of your top performers, it’s always best to address it head-on.

Example questions:

  1. Are you happy working here?
  2. Tell me about the last time you felt really proud at work.
  3. Do you enjoy coming into work every day?
  4. Tell me about a recent good day.
  5. Tell me about a recent bad day.
  6. What parts of your work give you energy?
  7. What parts of your work detract from your energy?

The trust-building meeting

Whatever the talking points, each and every employee meeting helps boost rapport between you and the individual members of your team.

According to a 2017 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 61% of employees say trust between them and their senior management is very important to job satisfaction—and only 33% are very satisfied with the level of trust in their organizations.

The good news is, the preschools where teachers are actually able to open up and trust their directors will have a huge competitive advantage when it comes to attracting star players for their teams.

Example questions:

  1. How are you?
  2. What did you do last weekend?
  3. What do you love to do outside of work?
  4. Do you have any special skills or hobbies most people might not know about?
  5. What’s your favorite thing about work?
  6. How are your kids/partner/parents doing?
  7. Do you have any exciting plans for summer/holidays/the weekend?

Don’t forget to follow up

In an industry where you can’t always give your people the compensation and respect they deserve, know that you can give them a voice.

But remember, these new lines of communication should always lead to tangible outcomes. In the words of Margie Carter, “Listening to what teachers need from their directors can be a superficial endeavor or one which deepens understandings and broadens possibilities.”

As director, you decide whether these meetings are actionable opportunities to learn and grow, or just another task to cross off the list. Commit to making the right kind of changes based on your staff’s valuable frontline insights, and you’ll always have the top-notch talent you need to stay ahead of the curve.

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