Bryanna’s love for dance was sparked as a child living in Virginia. “I wanted to be a soccer player,” she says with a laugh. But then a woman at her school nagged her to try dance. “I was about 10 or 11, uncoordinated, lanky kid. I tried it, loved it and stuck with it. I haven’t found anything else I’m more passionate about.” That first class she took was creative movement, much like the classes she now leads as a part of UGOT Active Kid’s Active Toddlers program.
That love of dance led her to earning a B.F.A. as a major in dance at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, Florida. Her studies focused primarily on ballet and modern. During her fourth year in the program, she took a semester to study in New York City and she decided to stay.
Now based in Queens, Bryanna leads Dance and Good Sport programs for UGOT Active Kids and does some prospecting work for the office. She also teaches for the non-profit, Dances for a Variable Population, and is involved with The Movement Studio, on Coney Island Avenue. Outside of dance, she loves painting, photography and reading. She is also actively choreographing and performing in New York City. So far her works have been part of various showcases and have served as prequels to the projects she’s hoping to perform “hopefully in the future. I’m excited about that. It feeds my soul.”
Where else does she find inspiration? “Kids. There’s really something amazing they have and can grow into. A sense of imagination and creativity that’s inactive in adults.” Bryanna discovered her love for teaching when she started subbing at the age of 16 for her teacher in her home studio. Now teaching with UGOT Active Kids, she gets to explore that source of inspiration regularly. “I love when kids have free space to be whoever they want to be. I love teaching them and learning from them.”
And what makes UGOT’s programming specifically great? “With UGOT Active Kids, I get an array for kids: no experience with dance, lots of experience with dance, kids with special needs . . . It’s great it’s not limited.” She also points out that the UGOT Active Kids instructors “Meet the school at the time and place they need. It makes it accessible, especially when funding for arts and programs that gets kids creative isn’t there.”
Bryanna enjoys the journey she gets to go on along with her students in the classes she leads. Each day “it’s open to how they want to go. We’ll go to the zoo or under the sea. We explore places and lifestyles they may not see in New York City. I try to run with it, keep them active and having fun. I love the journey of it all.”
- What would people be surprised to learn about you? I am a tea enthusiast!
- If you could travel anywhere right now, where would it be? Ireland
- If you could live anyplace, where would that be? Here, NYC of course!
- What languages do you speak? Unfortunately just English, but I am currently learning some Russian for a primarily Russian speaking studio I teach for.
- What your favourite thing about teaching dance to kids? The places there imagination takes them! I love exploring and nurturing there sometimes outrageous ideas!
- Who or what inspires you? Everyday people, I have my dance figure inspirations, but mostly the kids I teach and the everyday life that turns around me.
- What’s your favourite food? Sweet potatoes – thrilled that we are almost in November!
- What is your least favourite exercise? Ugh, to run.
- What is your favourite thing to do in your free time? Journal, drink tea, paint, being silly with friends and family.
- Does dancing run in your family? For lack of a better way to say it, I get my moves from my mama! Although, I would encourage the idea that people are capable of dancing no matter their background.
Interview and Article by Jeanette Hedley
UGOT Active Kids presents an exciting brand new program – Storytime Adventure Club!
Designed for pre-school and kindergarten children!
Exploring Beloved Characters from Children’s TV Series & Movies through Dance, Musical Theatre, and Drama.
Musical Theatre at any age can stimulate a lifelong love for performance, fun-filled storytelling, and character-building. Now you can tell the same stories as those you see on screen, with 10 lessons devoted to the most popular characters of children’s’ TV shows today!
Introducing Storytime Adventure Club, where “Chase is On the Case”, and so are you! Featuring a wide variety of weekly themes inspired by Peppa Pig, Frozen, Aladdin and Paw Patrol! Children will explore the story behind their favourite theme songs and participate in a wide range of activities like dancing, acting, imaginative play, and storytelling while developing confidence, concentration, memory, and presentation skills.
Contact us today to learn more or book your program!
Introducing Mariam Baklytska – amazingly versatile and talented dance teacher based in New York!
Mariam is a former Ukrainian gymnast and professional dancer based in NYC, specializing in a variety of styles like hip-hop, street/commercial jazz, broadway jazz, and dancehall.
Back home Mariam had a privilege of working with TODES, one of the most famous and prestigious dance companies in Russia. Mariam participated in international tours, TV shows, performances for music awards and other special events.
Since moving to New York, Mariam got certified at Broadway Dance Center, with the Professional 2-year Program and received her Pilates Teacher certification.
Mariam is currently fully submerged in NYC dance and teaching scene by being active in several areas of the industry: working as a teacher assistant at Broadway Dance Center, teaching elementary and middle school programs, as well as being a dance instructor with ASPIRA of New York and UGOT Active kids.
“Being a dance teacher, it is really important to focus on making each class a joyful experience so my students can really step out of their comfort zone, explore new moves and be comfortable to share their own freestyle moments. Dancing is supposed to be fun, it should make dancers and everyone around them happy. I love gathering kids together and letting them do a little dance-off in front of the audience. It always creates an incredible experience for my students. I usually prefer to complete my teaching season with a unique showcase. This encourages children to learn about performing, stage presence, teamwork, and explore a story behind each dance piece.”
Introducing Sarah Robertson – Our Featured UGOT Active Kids Instructor!
While Sarah currently teaches Dance, Yoga and Active Toddler programs for UGOT Active Kids in Toronto, she grew up in Vancouver. While her formal dance studies didn’t start until she was 16, she was always dancing around the house and at her church. She looked up to older teenagers who danced and admired their expression and passion. “I have to do what they’re doing,” she found herself thinking. Sarah had always had interest in theatre and had wanted to be an actor, but soon found herself drawn to dance. She studied tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop and contemporary dance and then completed a 4-year semi-professional program called Mirror Dance Program which focused on dance and choreography. Sarah continued her artistic education by studying theatre with Rosebud School of the Arts in Alberta. After 6 years there, she continued heading East, moved to Toronto last year and had the experience of being a Governor General Performing Arts Protégé, under the mentorship of Tom Jackson.
After moving to Toronto is when Sarah started with UGOT Active Kids. When speaking about the work she does with UGOT, Sarah says she appreciates that the programming is recreational. Because of the non-competitive programming, as an instructor, she has the freedom to customize her classes to what each individual group needs. “I know many dancers who left dance because comparison broke down their self-esteem,” she explains. “Because UGOT focuses more on play and expression, rather than competition, I was drawn to it right away. I love encouraging playfulness or silliness. In structured days at school, there is so much ‘Pay attention and focus’. But I get to have them move their bodies and express themselves.”
Sarah’s interest and passion in play and the importance of it is something she has pursued for years. Over the last year, she has been researching the subject in more depth, looking at studies on the health benefits of play, and how both children and adults learn better through it. She is putting her passion and knowledge towards a new theatre piece that she is producing – a playful and experimental piece about birthdays.
In her spare time, Sarah enjoys reading books, especially biographies of artists. She names “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen as one she particularly enjoyed. “I felt like I need what [he has] to say about life, success and sustainability of an artistic career.” Another artist who Sarah draws inspiration from is Roberto Benigni, the director and star of “Life is Beautiful”. She admires that he is playful and child-like. “He’s always talking about ‘Chase down happiness. Find it wherever you are.’” And naturally, because of the playful nature of children, she gets inspiration from the young people she works with. “I love kids so much,” Sarah gushes. “They inspire me every time I see them.”
- What would people be surprised to learn about you? I once did a vow of silence for 31 days!
- If you could travel anywhere right now, where would it be? Scotland. Those are my roots and I haven’t yet been.
- If you could live anyplace, where would that be? East coast of Canada for SURE! Newfoundland or Nova Scotia. I love the laid-back vibe, the story-telling culture, the kitchen parties and hospitality.
- What languages do you speak? English and Gibberish (I love playing around with language and speaking nonsense for fun!)
- What is your favourite thing about teaching dance to kids? I love kids so much and how much room there is for playing. They’re so ready to be silly and creative and express themselves. All I want to do is encourage that spirit and see it come out through whatever program I’m running.
- Who or what inspires you? Roberto Benigni (the actor from Life is Beautiful – if you haven’t seen it, I insist you do at some point!). He is so playful, so full of life, so free from lots of cultural/societal limitations. He is a very bright soul and speaks of chasing down happiness, looking for it everywhere until we find it, of falling in love NOW because that’s what we’re here on earth for! And children. Children inspire me EVERY TIME I interact with them. They’re so free, like Roberto. 🙂
- What’s your favourite food? Hagen Daas Coffee Ice Cream, good pink lemonade, my mom’s lasagna and spaghetti, and grapes!
- What is your favourite thing to do in your free time? I love really settling into a good book. Getting cozy, wrapped in a blanket or out in a park, and reading away the day. I also love spontaneous adventures, like exploring a new part of the city.
- Does dancing run in your family? Dancing doesn’t really run in my family, though my mom was a cheerleader like I was when she was young!
Interview and Article by Jeanette Hedley
Introducing AJ Sharp – Our Featured UGOT Active Kids Instructor!
For AJ Sharp, dance is her passion and her profession. “When I’m not dancing or teaching, what do I do with myself?” she says with a laugh.
When she was 11 years old, a friend of her mother’s – who owned a studio – got AJ started in Jazz and Hip-Hop. She didn’t look back. She started studying ballet and was a competitive dancer throughout high school. She first started teaching as a student teacher at her home studio, then eventually took on her own classes. She attended Oakland University in Michigan, on scholarship, and majored in dance. “There was no minoring in anything else, there was always just dance,” AJ states. After graduation, she moved to New York and started performing.
Inspiration comes easily to AJ through other art forms, be it a film or piece of music. In her last year of school, she watched a film that was selected by being “the most random title on Netflix” -then found herself creating her senior project inspired by the movie. But it was doing a choreographic mentorship with Doug Verone and Dancers that had the greatest impact on AJ’s artistic work and life. “[Working with Doug and Company], I knew I wanted to move to New York,” said AJ, “They were my biggest inspiration”.
AJ continues to perform and create, happily living in NYC. Recently she has started her own company: Sharp Dance Company, a modern/contemporary focused company that works on experimental dance theatre in New York City (check it out on social media: Facebook @SHARPDanceCo and Instagram @sharp_danceco). Her passion and inspiration for dance is passed on to the students that she works with through UGOT Active Kids. “Introducing dance, music, meditation at a young age is important,” she says. “It becomes part of their lives from the start and helps them cope as they grow.”
Having taught with UGOT Active Kids since 2013, many young people in New York have been fortunate to discover a love for movement through their time with AJ. She leads classes and workshops in dance, yoga and rhythm. “I love that that I get to teach very young children. Nothing holds them back. They have no inhibitions. They hear the music, they dance and it feels good.”
She too, feels fortunate for the opportunities given to her through working with the company. “UGOT Active Kids really helped launch my teaching career in New York. It was the first teaching job I got in the city. It allowed me to connect with kids and day care centers. It made me love connecting with young kids and teaching.”
10-Question Pop Quiz
- What would people be surprised to learn about you? I LOVE junk reality tv! I know way too much about reality tv shows.
- If you could travel anywhere right now, where would it be? Anywhere tropical!
- If you could live anyplace, where would that be? I love living in NYC, but if I could have a second home it would be somewhere on the beach.
- What languages do you speak? English. I took Spanish all throughout high school, but it stopped there.
- What is your favourite thing about teaching dance to kids? I love teaching dance to kids because they are not afraid to move their bodies! Especially the younger kids. I love seeing their smiles and knowing they are having so much fun.
- Who or what inspires you? Doug Varone and Dancers are a big dance inspiration for me. They are a big reason why I moved to NYC.
- What’s your favourite food? I have to try so hard to resist French fries!
- What is your least favourite exercise? I hate running, but I’m starting to work that into my gym routine so I can hopefully hate it less.
- What is your favourite thing to do in your free time? I enjoy reading and learning about astrology. A hobby of mine is to read tarot cards.
- Does dancing run in your family? I’m the only “dancer” in my family!
Interview and Article by Jeanette Hedley
A healthy sleep routine is essential at any age.
A bedtime routine eases the transition from being awake to being asleep. With calming, comforting activities, your child will feel more secure and ready for bed. Sleep associations are strong, and with consistent use, your child will come to expect the routine, making bedtime transitions easier for everyone. A child’s sleep routine can be simple as long as it is consistent and predictable. Your child’s bedtime routine will change as they age, but the basics should stay the same. Quick and easy or long and relaxing, it’s your choice what you do to make your child ready for bed.
Developing a sleep routine for your child is easy: simply choose a few calming activities that will help your child wind down before bed. It can be as simple as putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, going to the bathroom, and reading a story, or you can involve bathtime, snuggling, songs, or even massage. Follow these tips to build the perfect bedtime routine for you and your child, adjusting activities for age as necessary:
- Set a consistent bedtime: Your child’s body will learn to get ready to sleep at a certain time if you stick to a consistent bedtime, making the transition to bed easier.
- Tell your child bedtime is approaching: Give your child a warning that you’ll be starting bedtime in a few minutes. If they’re playing, suggest they get “one more time” and then it’s off to start your routine.
- Stop screen time: Screen time should end at least 30 minutes before bed. Do not allow screen time in your child’s bedroom and especially not in bed.
- Limit food and drink: Avoid giving your child food or drink just before bed, and don’t send your child to bed with a drink, especially milk, formula, or juice, which can cause cavities as they sit on teeth all night. If they insist on a drink, give them water.
- Brush teeth and use the potty: While you’re running bath water, encourage your child to use the potty and brush his or her teeth, offering assistance if necessary.
- Start a warm bath: A warm bath will raise your child’s body temperature slightly and induce sleepiness. Plus, they can keep playing for a few more minutes with bath toys.
- Put on pajamas: Help your child dress for bed in comfortable pajamas. If they are old enough, encourage them to choose which pajamas they’d like to wear.
- Choose a comfort item: If your child sleeps with a special blanket or toy, ask them to choose which item they’d like to take to bed.
- Keep bedtime in your child’s bedroom: Once your bedtime routine has begun, keep it all in your child’s sleep environment. Avoid adult bedrooms or trips to the kitchen or living room for snacks or toys once you’ve gone into their room.
- Read a story, sing a song, say a prayer: Enjoy a few minutes of bonding over a favourite bedtime book, especially ones with a bedtime theme. Lullabies and prayers or yoga and meditation are also a good option during this time.
- Put your child to bed: Take a few minutes to snuggle or talk about your day if you’d like. Encourage children to fall asleep on their own by saying goodnight and leaving while they are still awake.
- Stay consistent: Whatever elements you choose to make part of your bedtime routine, stick with them. Keeping the same routine every night makes it easier for your child to settle into bed, giving his or her body cues that it’s about time to go to sleep. Avoid wavering on bedtime rules to cut down on stalling.
For more information om understanding kids’ sleep needs, visit Sleep Help, a great resource devoted to spreading awareness of sleep health and wellness.
Yoga practice has been passed down over thousands of years. What began as ancient text has been seized by booming businesses across the globe. Yoga is everywhere. It seems every urban neighbourhood has a yoga studio, popular youtube channels offer practices at home and you can purchase a mat at your local grocery store. In recent years, schools and pre-schools are offering yoga practice for children too – and for good reason. It’s not just that yoga has become trendy; young people are reaping the benefits of picking up the practice.
All children struggle with instructions in different ways. For some, the challenge is multiple-step directions, while others are easily distracted. More children are being diagnosed with ADHD at younger ages. Introducing a yoga practice to children can help improve their focus. Sat Bir Khalsa, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Harvard University, explains the connection between yoga and a child’s ability to focus. “Children concentrate on hearing their breath or feeling the stretch in their legs. This awareness, known as dharana, teaches children to keep their minds in one place instead of letting them wander. This additional self-control can often spill over into the classroom.”
Raised Self Esteem
Parents want to raise their children to be comfortable in their own skin, proud of who they are and confident in what makes them unique. Self-confidence allows children to grow to share themselves and their abilities. But growing up isn’t easy and children need a path to self-discovery. Yoga teaches participants to refrain from judging not only others but themselves and to accept where they are in the present moment. Not only does yoga remove judgement, but there is also no competition amongst participants.
Marsha Wenig explains that “Yoga at an early age encourages self-esteem . . . with a physical activity that’s non-competitive. Fostering cooperation and compassion – instead of opposition – is a great gift to give our children.” With self-confidence, children are able to explore what it means to be themselves and appreciate their own uniqueness.
Reduced Anxiety and Stress
Adults are regularly told how harmful stress is to their health. But it’s not just adults suffering from high levels of stress – our children are too. Barbara Holden Nixon explains that “for children, whose bodies and minds are still growing, a well-tuned stress response system is especially important. High levels of early stress have been linked to impaired behavioural and emotional development as well as numerous health consequences later in life, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.” When yoga is introduced to young people, their stress and anxiety levels lower significantly. Researchers from Tulane University introduced yoga postures, breath work and guided relaxations (all common parts of yoga practice) to public school third-graders. The emotional well-being of the students improved compared to those who did not experience the program. Yoga creates a better emotional balance.
Ability to Self Regulate
Everyone has seen it – the young child having a tantrum and the frantic parent trying to soothe the child whose emotions have pushed them to lose control. How can children learn to regulate those feelings and their reactions to them? Again, yoga provides a key. Self-regulation is at the heart of yoga. The ancient writings state that yoga “is the cessation of the vibrations of the mind.”
Asanas, the traditional postures of yoga, give participants specific physical movements and Pranayama, the practice of focusing on breath, points to a specific focal point in the body.
The physical work of the body leads to increased awareness of not just the movement but the emotions in the body as well. “Self-regulation happens in the body,” says Leah Kalish, the owner of Move With Me Yoga Adventures. “That’s why intentional movement, such as yoga, has such profound effects on children’s ability to focus, calm themselves, and filter sensory information.”
As already discussed, yoga fosters increased focus, higher self-esteem, lower stress and emotional balance. All of those improvements, in turn, allow for greater academic performance in children. The healthy state of mind that yoga provides, lets students approach their learning from a more peaceful place. Including a regular yoga practice at school creates a readiness to learn and students have a new enthusiasm towards learning. A study by the International Journal of Yoga shows that academic performance improved with students who regularly practised yoga, compared to students who did not.
With more and more studies being done and finding similar results, it is not surprising that schools are including yoga programs on a more regular basis.
Not only do young people mentally benefit from yoga, but they also enjoy it! Unlike other things that are good for children that can be a struggle to get them to take on (brussel sprouts or going to bed early?), once children give yoga a try, they embrace it and are eager to return to the mat.
Recipe for Success at School – Are we missing key ingredients?
Just study harder? It’s not that simple!
Almost from birth we begin to search for ways to help our children to prepare for the world of academics. Whether it’s playing Mozart, learning baby sign language or gazing at black and white picture books, we often prime babies for learning and achieving long before they enter a classroom. Once formal school learning begins the focus on essential school subjects and grades tends to narrow our view of how our children learn and how we can support them. Spending time on school work is seen as the key to achieving good grades and so we do our best to get our kids to study. However, research suggests that the recipe for academic success includes more than just academics! We are going to explore the concept of learning through the arts and using dance and yoga to enhance academic performance.
Dance of Discovery – the value of dance & the arts in learning
Dance class for kids may not seem like an obvious way to enhance academic learning, especially as kids have fun doing it! However, children learn a lot more than just dance steps and fitness in these classes. The mind-body connection in dance has huge potential to help children in all areas of learning.
The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities tells us: All of the research points to the success of schools that are “arts-rich” — in which students who may have fallen by the wayside find themselves re-engaged in learning when their enthusiasm for film, design, theater or even hip-hop is tapped into by their teachers. More advanced students also reap rewards in this environment, demonstrating accelerated learning and sustained levels of motivation.
When researchers led by Dr. Scott Grafton at the University of California, Santa Barbara, examined What Can Dance Teach Us About Learning they concluded that teaching arts and physical skills is essential as it encourages creativity, motivation and social intelligence. In this fascinating study of how the brain works when we learn dance, Dr. Grafton argues that it is a mistake for schools to focus exclusively on reading, writing and mathematics as “experiential knowledge is essential for creating great surgeons and truck drivers alike.”
Many researchers and teachers even recognize a link between dance and mathematics. Here two dancers and mathematicians, Sarah-Marie Belcastro And Karl Schaffer, explain what may at first seem like an unlikely connection! “There are superficial links such as counting steps or noticing shapes, but also deeper connections, such as mathematical concepts arising naturally in dance, mathematics inspiring dance, or using mathematics to solve choreographic problems”. It is exciting to see that there are even a growing number of programs that use dance directly to teach math as a fun and effective new teaching method!
Having a great dance program has been shown to have even wider benefits for the whole school. A study by the National Dance Education Organization tells us that “In schools where dance programs flourish, students’ attendance rises, teachers are more satisfied, and the overall sense of community grows”. Encouraging a positive environment at school in this way is an important part of creating the best conditions for learning.
Yoga for Kids – reducing stress, increasing the success
Anxiety and stress are real issues for our school children. Thankfully school communities are showing great awareness of these issues, but it is a constant challenge to find ways to deal with them. Research shows the negative effects of stress on children’s capacity to learn. The good news from one study in particular is that by finding ways to help children reduce their stress levels and by working to reduce the stress in their environment we can help to improve student performance.
Yoga has long been accepted as a terrific way for adults to deal with the stresses of modern living. Could it also help in teaching children the skills they need to deal with stress? The evidence so far is extremely positive. Yoga classes for kids are designed to teach vital coping skills to build children’s resilience in stressful environments, develop their ability to focus and nurture self-esteem. Supporting children in this way helps them to be in the right ‘headspace’ for learning. More and more studies are examining how yoga can play an important role in schools, even demonstrating the positive effect on academic performance for students taking part in a yoga module.
Our kids are under pressure to succeed and we are under pressure to support them! However, too much pressure is not healthy or helpful for our students. Improving student performance is not all about the classroom – roll out the yoga mat, get on the dancefloor and let’s create a learning environment where students can fulfill their academic potential and learn the skills they need to become truly successful in life.
“C’mon guys! It’s dance time!” – UGOT Active Kids celebrates 10th Anniversary
How it all started…
In 2007, after reading a number of articles in daily newspapers about the importance and absence of physical activity programs for young children, an established entrepreneur and publisher G. Randall Munger saw an opportunity to develop programming for schools and childcare facilities in Toronto, that would center around dance and yoga. In 10 years that vision has turned into a flourishing company and has changed the lives of thousands of children.
Before launching UGOT Active Kids, Munger had possessed an extensive business experience – he started Homemakers Magazine at the age of 19, which has been one of the leading women’s service magazines in Canada for over 40 years. Then it was Marcom Systems, Canadian House and Home Magazine and Advantex Marketing, a pioneer in the loyalty marketing field. Having such a wide-ranging background in developing start-up businesses and turning them into successful companies, Munger arranged a team of dedicated and creative people who manage the company from an office in Toronto. The founder mentions that finding and putting the right management team together was the most challenging part of growing the business, but today he is pleased to say that UGOT has got a very good team in place.
Our awesome teachers
According to Alena Tuchina, program director and instructor manager of UGOT, teachers are the most valuable asset of the company thus the hiring process is taken very seriously. Some of the main qualifications for the instructors include formal education in dance, experience teaching in a group setting, and extensive experience working with young children. “We look for teachers who are passionate about sharing their knowledge and using their talent to inspire young generations, – Alena says. – People who radiate positive energy, charisma, and bring a sense of excitement and fun with them everywhere they go”.
The positive energy proves to be a key element in the work of UGOT Active kids. The excitement and love for dance of the teachers is very contagious to young kids, who might be reluctant in the beginning or feel shy about joining a group. Business manager Leslie Irwin adds, “Our instructors are keen and energetic, the kids love them and they get great reviews from the teachers and directors at the schools and daycare centers”.
It’s all about discovering a new passion and joy…
Ugot has a roster of 75 teachers across North America, including Jeanette Hedley, who has been with the company for 5 years. With her outgoing positive energy and enthusiasm for teaching dance and yoga, she confesses that the most satisfying part of the job is witnessing students discover a new passion and joy of a new activity, especially when an initially reluctant child announces that ”signing up for yoga was the best decision I ever made.”
So who is responsible for the programs that kids participate in? Although the teachers are provided lesson plans, videos of activities and choreography by UGOT management, there is a lot of room for teachers’ own creativity. “We always encourage our teachers to incorporate their own style while using the tools as a guideline”, says Alena Tuchina. Dance and yoga teacher Regina Ferrara shares that she “really loves” to have that freedom to create and develop her own plans, based on the UGOT Active Kids guidelines.
“Since day one it has always been about the kids!”
So how different are the programs between schools and daycares and how individual is the approach to the needs of kids? “We like to customize our programs for each school or childcare organization based on their goals and expectations, – shares Tuchina – If one of the schools wants to do something special for their graduation, we will make sure that our program is geared towards a performance. In other cases, we could be designing programs geared towards introducing certain concepts and topics to complement curriculum, or just making it as athletic and active as possible to provide an outlet for all that energy that children need to burn after sitting at their desks all day.”
As Leslie Irwin mentions, “since day one it has always been about the kids!’’. Dancing and activities are not only crucial for creativity and burning extra energy in children, but it is a way of liberation and confidence growth for shy children. Regina Ferrara shared a touching story about a great kid, who was deeply shy and was not participating in the beginning. “Little by little, with encouragement and inclusion, he participated more and you could visibly see his confidence grow, not only in our dance sessions but through his interaction with his peers. Now each week he is excited to participate, has a blast and keeps his peers in line when they lose focus “C’mon guys! It’s dance time!”
What does the future look like?
Fun fact – both client account manager Alanna Budhoo and program director Alena Tuchina started their journey with UGOT Active Kids as dance instructors. This might be the reason why the management is very accommodating and flexible in working with the teachers and capable of organizing all the processes so smoothly. Regina Ferrara shares that one of the best parts of working with UGOT Active Kids is the flexibility and choice of opportunities that the company provides in terms of locations and times that work well around teacher’s schedule. “UGOT Active Kids management being wonderful, professional and flexible is a huge bonus. They are well-organized and outstanding in their planning of same-day sessions within the same region, making it possible to transit from one location to the other allowing me to take the full day block of lessons”, shares Ferrara.
Currently, the company is looking at ways to make the systems more automated and to utilize technology to help with behind the scenes tasks of running this business. Business manager Leslie Irwin notes, “Part of having a new system will be the ability to get better reporting as well so we will have a better pulse on how the company is performing in different areas”, which today include Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
What does the future look like for UGOT Active Kids? Unstoppable, G. Randall Munger shares that they have lots of exciting ideas on the drawing board, which include expanding geographically and bringing programs to adults and seniors as well.
Article by Darina Granik
17 Secrets To Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers
By Jennifer Carsen, Childcare of Choice
Although child care has gained a reputation as a low-paying, high-turnover industry, there are secrets to finding the best talent and retaining it at your program. And these secrets will work for you even if you don’t have extremely deep payroll pockets.
Remember: Nobody goes into early childhood education for the money! It’s always great if you can pay even a little more than the center down the street, but ultimately money is not going to be the deciding factor in who wants to work for you, and who stays for a long time.
A successful hiring process starts long before that first applicant ever walks through your door. Here are 17 smart hiring and retention-boosting strategies to use at your center. They work best as a unified system, but implementing even a few of them separately will help your staffing efforts immensely:
1. Remember that great teachers are attracted to great programs.
This should go without saying, but it’s a key point whose importance can’t be overstated: If you have problems at your center with staff morale or gossip, or high family turnover, or an ill-maintained facility that is literally falling apart, you will have difficulty attracting the best teacher talent.
It may be your hope that getting a few great teachers on board will turn your program around – but the reality is that you need to address the other problems first, in order to become an attractive destination for the teachers you want.
2. Sit down and decide what you’re really looking for.
Saying you’re looking for “great teachers” isn’t much more helpful than saying you’re looking for a “great spouse”! What specific characteristics are you looking to add to your team?
A teacher who’s a wiz at curriculum development? Someone who has experience with autism spectrum disorders? A fantastic communicator who can effectively serve as a staffparent liaison?
Alas, no single teacher can bring you the whole package, so it’s important to figure out your most pressing needs right now and focus on those.
3. Get the word out.
Now that you’ve figured out precisely who you’re looking for, get the word out – to
everyone in your network. That means parents and staff (both current and former), personal
friends, LinkedIn, Facebook, and so on.
Just because someone isn’t directly part of your professional life doesn’t mean he or she
won’t be able to lead you to the person you’re looking for. In our increasingly connected world,
everyone is just a few virtual steps away from everyone else. You may not even need to post an
official job ad at all. But if you do…
Applications & Interviews
4. Write a good job ad.
And by “good,” I mean specific, accurate, and above all: Not boring! Run-of-the-mill ads attract run-of-the-mill applicants. So by all means let your personality, and that of your center, shine through in the ad itself.
5. Consider pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
Most child care centers don’t use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and those that do tend to use it to bring in new families rather than teachers. But a well-written, geographically targeted ad on either Google AdWords or Facebook can be a great way to attract new teachers to your center (particularly younger, web-savvy teachers who are frequently online).
You pay only for the times that someone clicks on your ad – and because you’ll be focusing on a narrow geographic area, these clicks won’t cost you much money.
6. Request a detailed cover letter.
Cover letters are remarkably revealing and often tell you more about a candidate than the resume does – as well as how effectively he or she is able to communicate in writing.
7. Set up a dedicated email address.
Set up a new email address specifically for the purpose of receiving applications for this particular position. This will reduce the risk of attracting spam to your primary email address. You can also disable the new email address when you are no longer accepting applications.
8. Create some hoops for applicants to jump through.
Make a few specific requests of your applicants. For example:
• “Include the names and email addresses of three professional references.”
• “Describe the best job you ever had, and why you liked it so much.”
• “Email your application to [email address] with ‘teacher job posting’ in the subject line.”
• “Our deadline for receiving applications is 6 pm Eastern time on [date].”
Your requests should be designed to elicit valuable information about the applicant, and/or make your life administratively easier, but their primary purpose is to serve as a screening device to eliminate, right off the bat, applicants who can’t follow directions.
Yes, eliminate them – period. Anyone who doesn’t follow your directions to the letter should be eliminated from contention for the job, regardless of how great he or she may seem otherwise. If an applicant can’t or won’t follow the specific directions you set out in a job ad, chances are good that the person will be similarly lax – or more so – on the job itself.
9. Listen both to what the applicant says – and doesn’t say.
The best applicants are those who focus on what they can bring to you and your center, rather than why the job would be a good thing for them. They will also have done some research on your center and will have good questions for you.
Also, if the applicant has gaps on her resume that she can’t satisfactorily explain, or is unable to provide references upon request, these are generally very bad signs.
10. Ask probing questions.
I’m a big fan of, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” There is no single right or wrong answer to this one, but the answer is always highly revealing.
11. Check references.
Always, always, always check references. Even if a former employer isn’t willing to tell you much of anything, you can (and should) still confirm that an applicant is telling the truth about his or her employment history.
Also, it’s a good idea to ask whether or not the reference would be willing to re-hire the applicant. Even if the answer is “yes,” any kind of hesitation or delay before answering is very telling. Post-Hire
12. Plan an orientation.
“Employee orientation” can be an intimidating phrase, but all it means is having a specific plan in place to help new hires feel welcome, and not completely clueless, as they start work.
This can be as simple as having the person come in 30-60 minutes early on the first day for a cup of coffee, a center tour, and a chance to hammer out details like keys, break times, paycheck procedures, and so on. The very worst thing you can do for a teacher’s first day? Nothing.
13. Have a handbook.
A staff handbook clearly spells out the “3 Ps” at your center: Philosophy, Policies, and Procedures. It’s an essential part of making sure that all of your employees are on the same page, so to speak, with how your center conducts its business.
It’s also a great one-stop resource for questions new employees have about things like sick days, dress codes, emergency procedures, and so on.
14. Assign a mentor.
Depending on the size and ethos of your center, one or more mentoring relationships may develop naturally over time. However, it’s a good idea to help the process along by specifically assigning a willing teacher to look out for the newbie and answer any questions he or she may have. Make a point of introducing them bright and early on the new teacher’s first day.
Mentors don’t have to be long-time employees at your center, but they should be knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and eager to help the new hire get acclimated and feel welcome.
15. Conduct performance appraisals at least twice a year.
It would be a stretch to say that anyone eagerly looks forward to performance appraisals (whether on the giving or receiving end), but they are an important part of any employee’s career growth and development – as well as an opportunity to formally discuss goals and objectives for the upcoming six months.
16. Make employee appreciation an integral part of your job.
In the day-to-day crush of child care, it’s easy to overlook the efforts, both big and small, of your dedicated teachers. Find a system for expressing appreciation that works for you – whether it’s a quick chat in the hallway or a short note on an employee’s paycheck – and deploy your thanks often.
17. Loop teachers in on your big vision.
Your employees were attracted to ECE because they wanted to make a difference – and people absolutely love being part of something bigger than themselves.
So keep your staff looped in on your big vision for your center: the programs you hope to launch, the increasing numbers of children you hope to serve, the new improvements you’re planning, and so on. The more you can excite and inspire your teachers, the more they’ll want to stay an integral part of what you’re doing.
The great thing about employee retention in this field is that it’s a “virtuous cycle” – the better you become at keeping great teachers around and engaged, the more great teachers your program will attract.