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How to Give Constructive Criticism to Practitioners

Understandably, the worst part of being a manager for most people is when they need to reprimand or give negative feedback to their team. It’s an awkward conversation and nobody likes doing it. However, it’s a vital part of your role to effectively manage your team and prevent future issues, so what’s the best way to do it?

To start, you need to be consistent. Feedback should not only happen when there is a problem. But, rather, you should be holding regular one-to-ones with your team, regardless of their work performance. This allows for any concerns or issues to be brought up before they cause major problems, and also builds a good relationship between you and your practitioners, making it easier to talk about problems when they arise.

A strong relationship between you and your practitioners should not get in the way of your job, however, and giving feedback should be professional – not emotional. Make sure that any feedback or criticism is based on facts and not opinion. You need to be honest with practitioners about whether or not they are meeting the standards for your setting and, if not, find out why not and how to help them reach that level.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Depending on the nature of the issue you’re discussing, the conversation between you and your practitioner could be shaped different ways. For example, if it is a minor problem you need to bring up, try the “feedback sandwich” method, sandwiching your criticism between two positive comments about their performance. The practitioner in question may be amazing at getting children to eat, have a wonderful manner with parents, but be prone to distraction when supervising activities. Ensure the negative is delivered between the two positives in order to soften the blow of the criticism.

Focusing on the situation, rather than the person, is another way to make sure your criticism sounds more like a problem you can both work towards solving, rather than an attack on their character. For example, “I’ve noticed that the children don’t seem to be calming down as much as we’d like at the end of the day”, rather than “I’ve noticed you can’t calm the children down”. This turns your criticism into a space for friendly suggestions, rather than a personal complaint. Similarly, keeping your language positive helps the entire exchange go smoother. So instead of saying “You don’t suggest enough ideas”, you could try “I’d love to hear some more ideas from you about what we could do with the children”.

If your practitioners are not meeting the required standards for your early years setting you need to be honest about this. If their behaviour is unacceptable, it is essential you address it as soon as possible. Let your practitioner know you want to meet, and what about so they are not blindsided. This will allow more of a dialogue instead of what might feel like a barrage of criticism from you. If they have reasons or a defence for their behaviour, hear them out before judging, but make it clear that whatever the reasons it was still unacceptable.

Before meeting with your practitioner, assess what could have caused this behaviour from your side. For example, if rules have been broken, were the rules adequately communicated to the team? Is extra training needed, or are staff generally not being held accountable to their actions and therefore standards have slipped? Coming to the meeting with solutions or suggestions, as well as your criticism, can be extremely helpful in allowing for a more positive outcome to the interaction.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

When it comes down to it, you are the manager and if your team are performing well you need to step in. But how you do it could mean the difference between a practitioner or team that feel like they’ve just been subject to a verbal attack, or who feel like they have problems to work through, but they have the support from their manager and are both in it together.