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Practitioner Diary - 1: Effective Decision Making

By Anna McCallum

I was thinking for a long-time about what I should write about for this entry and, as per usual, started overthinking the whole thing. Before I knew it, I was a mess of second, third and fourth guesses.

That’s when it struck me: this is exactly what I should write about. Effective decision making!

Working in Early Years, all practitioners have to make countless, quick decisions with every passing minute. It’s second nature for the most part, but what about when we struggle to know what’s best? How do we come to the best conclusions to help those curious little people in our care? I’m a worry wart by nature, but I have managed to climb the career ladder to become a deputy manager, and I sure didn’t get here by second guessing or overthinking every single decision I have made.

I am lucky to work in a setting where managers are both room and office-based, which lets me see the perspectives of both management and room staff. I know what it’s like to make thousands of snap-decisions on a daily basis whilst being in the room with the children, but I also know what it’s like to make more strategic decisions at management level.


Some scenarios I tend not to bat an eyelid at these days, but I still find myself occasionally faced with a conundrum that I need to solve, where I just cannot help but overthink. Catching a case of the what-ifs, no matter how common or understandable they are, is bad news in any setting. No functioning adult can work like this! So why does it still happen?

After giving this some thought, I think the answer is quite simple: it comes down to your experience within a certain situation. It’s the same with anything. The more you do something, the easier it becomes. It’s what we preach every day when we teach the children in our settings: “just keep trying”, “practice makes perfect”, “next time will be even easier. It’s exactly the same with decision making.

Let’s think about some decisions we might make on a daily basis:

Little Simon has just got sand blown in his face and now has it in his eyes. What do we do? Take the poor little soul by the hand and rinse out his eyes. Easy!

Now Emma has just projectile vomited all over the building blocks. Again. What do we do? Move the other children away, designate one staff member to clean her up while another cleans the toys and floor, while the manager calls her parent. Again, easy!

Now as a manager someone has just asked you if they can have a day off next week for an appointment. What do we do? We run a quick check of the staffing schedule to make sure we won’t be left short-handed, and then, if feasible, we approve it. No panic, no worries.

We don’t even think about what we are doing in these scenarios because we have come across them so many times.


Yet what do we do when we are confronted with a child who is constantly swearing, or one who discloses ambiguous information that leads to concern that there may be abuse in their home?

All of a sudden, things do not seem so easy.

Situations that we do not normally find ourselves faced with everyday are initially harder to solve. You simply might not know the best approach straight away because it is not a common occurrence.

As a room-based practitioner you deal with it as best you can as and when it happens, and know that ultimately you are going to report anything unnerving or worrisome to your manager. As a manager, however, you need to deal with matters using a slightly different approach.

We use policies and follow protocol the best we can, but working with children brings so much pressure. We get so invested in these amazing, tiny people, and we will always try do what is best for them; but we need to keep a level-headed approach. We are human and we make mistakes. However drawing on our past experiences and training, asking for help when needed, and trying not to constantly second guess ourselves, will go a long way in helping us to do what is best for the children in our care.

So that is ultimately how I am now going to deal with these tricky situations:

I will take a breath, look at the facts and the protocols, ask for help if I need it, and go with what I know is the best thing to do at that time. It is vital to have confidence in our own judgment and capabilities.

How do you deal with challenging situations in the early years?

We would love to hear your stories and any tips you might have on how to stop being such a nervous nelly!

Share your experiences with the hashtag #mynurserylife on social media.