Celebration of EC School Leaders

Each day of the year, EC School Leaders are showing up to guide their teachers so that they can create excellence for the children and parents in their school.

As any director knows, this is NOT an easy task.

And that’s why it is so important to take a moment to reflect and celebrate the wins throughout the year. As the guide of the Directors’ Inner Circle, I see the progress of some incredible directors as they share their experiences throughout the year.

These are real life stories of amazing school leaders who have removed the overwhelm, chaos, toxicity, and excuses from their day-to-day work life.

The Directors are living their mission and values, with high retention, high morale, and phenomenal culture.

As a result, they get to spend more time with their family, spending time on projects that have been on the back burner for year, being the leader they only dreamed of and enjoying a culture of collaboration, risk taking and innovation!

This post is to highlight the achievements of some of these EC School Leaders. We will celebrate their wins and look at the toolbox they used to get these results, so that other school leaders can follow in their footsteps.

Who am I?

Chanie Wilschanski, Early Childhood Leadership Coach and Culture Specialist

I began my journey over a decade ago teaching toddlers at the acclaimed Preschool of the Arts in NYC.

Continuing my path into higher studies and receiving my Masters in EC and Special Education, I started training teachers and school leaders on the HOW part of creating excellence in their school.

I created the 3 Pillars to Build a School Of Excellence Framework to help directors and EC leaders to know what to focus on so that they can confidently lead the way forward. 

Pillars To Build A School Of Excellence

When working towards building a school of excellence there are three foundational pillars that you need to build. When these are strong, the everything else in your school culture will begin to fall into place. These pillars are:

  • Daily Operating Principles (DOPs)
  • Standard Operating Principles (SOPs)
  • Leadership Operating Principles (LOPs)

I created this framework to explain the underlying principles that will help you to build your own school of excellence.

In this post, we are going to look at real life examples of EC School Leaders who have implemented these principles and the results that they have experienced. We’ll also look at the tools they used to get there so that you can implement similar ideas to build your school of excellence.

Story 1: School Culture And Creating Standards Of Excellence

Let me introduce you to Sharon Hopson from La Bella Vita Montessori School. She joined the Directors’ Inner Circle at the start of last year (January 2018) and has completely revolutionized the culture in her school since then. Below are just THREE BIG WINS for her school culture since joining the community one year ago.

WIN #1: High Retention Rate Of Great Teachers (Even In The Face Of Competition)

When you find a great teacher, you’ll do whatever you can to keep them on board with your school. And it’s no wonder why. The estimated cost to hire and train a new teacher for your school is $6,000. (conducted by recent national study) For every year you keep EACH teacher – you save the center the $6,000 cost of replacing that teacher! One day this year, one of Sharon Hopson’s teachers came to her to tell her about an offer she’d received from a different school. They offered her $2 more per hour. To put this into perspective, this is a teacher who is:

  • Single and living at home with her parents to save money
  • Working on the weekends as a babysitter
  • She NEEDED that money!

Despite this, she told Sharon:

“The culture here is so much better, and I want to stay here with you.”

Busting the myth yet again:

Teachers do NOT leave a job for more money. They leave because they don’t feel valued and appreciated.  

All of these are symptoms that are easy to find an excuse because the teacher knows that this is “acceptable” as a reason to leave. Because if she told her peers or her parents: “I left the job because they didn’t appreciate me.” It doesn’t sit well with your average person’s perception of a job.

People say they leave a job for things like:

  • Better hours
  • More money
  • Shorter commute

But there are always other things under the surface that are the real reasons that people stay ago. Things like:

  • Great culture
  • Values
  • Appreciation
  • Being part of a bigger mission

As a director, you need to be aware of what is under the surface so that you can address what really matters.

Don’t just look at the tip of the iceberg, but consider the whole thing.

Tools and strategies used to get these results:

The Gratitude Map:

The GPS system for creating happy, excited and passionate teacher who are working towards the same goal.

Community and Support:

The private, members-only community is a SAFE SPACE to ask all your questions without being afraid of people’s’ reactions.

Only 8 spots remaining.

WIN #2: Building Teacher Ambassadors Within Your Culture

At a staff meeting, there were two teachers waiting in line to get food from the buffet that Sharon prepared for her team.

One was a veteran, and one was a new teacher who had only been at the school for a just a few weeks. The veteran turned to the new teacher and said: “You see, I told you, Sharon always pulls out the VERY best for her team. You’ll love it here!”

I know one of your core desires as a school leader is to have veteran teachers who mentor the new ones without significant input from you.

What typically happens is the veteran teachers “poison” the young fresh ideas with the old and set ways to ensure that no real change happens.

But in this scenario, the veteran embraced and ensured that the young teachers saw the value and incredible nature of their leader!!

Tools and strategies used to get these results:

Standards for Communication

A set of standards for everything from weekly emails to your teachers, to newsletter standards, to communicating with parents.

Fireside Chats (1-to-1 meetings):

The blueprint for meeting with every staff member every month to maintain excellence across the board.

Reflective Questions PDF:

A selection of conversation starters to audit the wins and gaps of each teacher and set concrete goals.

Only 8 spots remaining.

WIN #3: Repelling Teachers Who Don’t Fit The School Culture

  • “There is a shortage of teachers”
  • “I can’t find quality staff”

You see and hear this at every conference and event you go to. If you’re a member of EC Facebook groups here, you’ve probably heard it there too. You buy into the scarcity mindset and hold onto to anyone that has a heartbeat so you can fill your ratio in the classrooms. But that is NOT THE CASE in every school. School leaders that are on the pathway to excellence know that: “We attract who we are!” And when we raise our standards of ourselves and we have the confidence to lean into those values and live them truly:

  • The right people will be attracted to us
  • We will repel staff who aren’t aligned with our values.

About a month into a new teacher’s role, she said to Sharon.

“I can see you’re a school of excellence and you invest in your people, and I’m not ready to go down that path.”

She could immediately see the difference in Sharon’s Montessori school and the standards that she was setting for her teachers.

She understood that Sharon was willing to invest in her teachers to help them grow and shape the school culture.

One of the ingredients in Building excellence and a great culture is having a COMMON LANGUAGE amongst all the people on the team.

Ultimately, the teacher was able to understand that her goals didn’t align with the position and school culture so she removed herself from the school.

This was a huge win because the teacher self-selected herself based on the culture in the school to follow a different path, making room for the right teachers to come into the school.

Similar to pruning a plant, focusing on your school culture will cut back the unwanted parts to make room for the healthy parts of your school to flourish.

How much time did Sharon save by repelling the teacher who wasn’t a good cultural fit?

How much:

  • Gossip
  • Toxicity
  • Back talk
  • Frustration
  • Sleepless nights
  • And endless anxiety

How much of these things did she remove from her everyday life, simply because a teacher who wasn’t a good fit isn’t there anymore? It’s not hard to imagine – think about one teacher in your school who you know isn’t a fit, how much is that costing you? This result came directly from Sharon’s actions as she completed the Leadership Sprint as part of the Inner Circle.


Tools and strategies used to get these results:

The Culture Audit:

The step-by step framework how to audit the current state of your culture and how to choose goals and projects that are in alignment with the culture you want to create.

Guest Expert Session With Todd Herman

Performance Coach for Pro and Olymipic Athletes shares strategies for Mindset and Productivity

Ask Me Anything Hour:

An opportunity to text any questions once a week to get Chanie’s back and forth feedback on any problem.

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Story 2: Developing Leadership With The Three Stakeholders: Director, Teachers And Parents

Before joining the Inner Circle in March of 2018, the culture in Elie Hoffman-Estrin’s – Jewish Intown Preschool (Reggio-Inspired), was very fragmented. There was a divide between the veteran teachers and newer teachers to the school.

It was a fend for yourself and hoard your supplies kind of environment.

Teachers were all hard working and dedicated, but not supportive of each other and didn’t necessarily feel supported by Elie.

Since then, she has shifted the culture in her school and right now I’m going to walk you through how she did it, step-by-step, using the community and resources available inside the Inner Circle Vault.

Here are some pictures of Intowns’s outdoor classroom:

Support and Community

At one point, a teacher confided in Elie that she herself and many other teachers (mostly newer staff) did not feel supported by her or each other and didn’t feel heard.

At first she thought: “What? I spend most of my day working to support you guys!”

But then she took a step back and swallowed her pride so that she could just listen and be present as the teacher shared her thoughts wholeheartedly.

This ended up being a big moment of awareness.

The teacher knew that Elie wanted to create a positive environment and she wanted to work in a positive environment, but it just wasn’t turning out that way.

When Elie reflected on the constructive feedback she received during this meeting she went straight to the Inner Circle community to ask for advice and Chanie gave her the blueprint about what to do differently.

The Gratitude Challenge

She wanted to know what to do to be productive, without spinning her wheels getting nowhere, or at best being reactionary. She decided she wanted to change two things:

  1. Shift the culture to being supportive, collaborative and connected.
  2. Make sure the teachers felt heard, valued and supported by her.

Elie was able to tap into so many resources and documents from the Inner Circle that gave her the tools to observe the classrooms and to have quality meetings.

The Gratitude Map (Module 2 of the Inner Circle) also her next go-to, which helped break down appreciation for teachers into action steps and made it more attainable.

Elie made it part of her routine to share something positive I noticed about each teacher once EVERY WEEK, and also buys treats or goodies randomly once a week to show gratitude. She literally schedules it into her calendar and MAKES it happen.

Since implementing this, she has received such positive feedback from the teachers and everyone involved feels like they are able to be more successful in creating a school of excellence. 

Tools and strategies used to get these results:

Community and Support:

The private, members-only community is a SAFE SPACE. Here you can ask all your questions – without being afraid of people’s’ reactions. Besides direct support, I give weekly steps so you will get consistent results.

The Gratitude Map:

The GPS system for creating happy, excited and passionate teacher who are working towards the same goal.

Monthly Challenges

Create momentum and accountability to implement whatever it is that the directors are working on that month.

Only 8 spots remaining.

The Culture Shift

Another big turning point was when Elie start the Culture Sprint as part of the Leadership Challenge in the Inner Circle.

It made her examine and reflect on the culture in her school, literally doing an audit to get a pulse of the current culture and what she wanted the culture to become.

Going through each of the sprints has brought the culture on a whole to an amazing place.

Teachers are noticing each other and celebrating each other.

They notice what other classes are doing and seeing strengths in other teachers they didn’t realize before. It has brought the teachers closer together!

The Leadership Challenge is broken down into stages and builds on each step over a 3-month time period, which Elie found especially helpful.

It breaks down the process step-by-step into action items that she can hold herself accountable for, turning it from theory into practice.

Tools and strategies used to get these results:

The Culture Audit:

The step-by step framework how to audit the current state of your culture and how to choose goals and projects that are in alignment with the culture you want to create.

The Culture Dashboard:

Highlights your 3 key performance indicators (KPIs) or activities are you tracking to get the culture you desire.

Only 8 spots remaining.

Becoming More Proactive

Elie wanted to set the tone that collaboration and connection is her biggest value, so she threw her conventional meeting agenda out the window!

Chanie was so helpful with this in particular because she brainstormed the idea of sharing core values, which was really the start of all the positive change. Each of the teachers shared their core values at the meeting, which was fascinating.

Sometimes some people were surprised by someone’s core value but others were no surprise at all.

Then the magic happened…

People started to speak up and share thoughts or ideas to continue creating a connected and supportive culture.

Some people even took jobs.

Each of the follow up staff meetings continued to dedicate the bulk of the time to team building activities.

Now they have a ritual of sharing the WINs for the month at each meeting!

They do an item swap from our classrooms and recently wrote down their unique super powers on jenga blocks (an idea shared by a fellow Inner Circle Member) to demonstrate we all have skills and to know who to go to when we need help with something specific.

Recently, a teacher are posted a picture of a tray another teacher created and responded: “Hey, I have a great book that might go with that tray. Let me know if you want it”.

That was a huge win! Of course, Elie is still working and growing the culture in her school, but the shift is palpable now!!

Tools and strategies used to get these results:

Guest Expert Session with Linda Fogg:

Linda walked them through the step-by-step on how to create routines and habits so that consistently take action that is aligned with the school mission and vision

The 4 E Framework (Part of the 90 Year Framework)

Routines and habits are enforced when you follow the Four E’s Framework, which is part of the 90 Day Year Framework from Todd Herman.

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Story 3: Developing Leadership With The Three Stakeholders: Director, Teachers And Parents

Lisa Sciabica is the director of Mariners Church Preschool (a faith-based Christian school). Her story is deeply personal.

She fell under the common belief that as the director, she had to do everything and be there for every moment and for every person.

Due to prior circumstances in the program leadership, staff was stressed, traumatized and not functioning well.

There were too many 7am-6pm days and then continuing to work all night and on weekends, which was stressful, isolating, defeating and frustrating.

It wore her to the ground and she got sick.

It was a huge wake up call in hospital when she was diagnosed with rare condition called Ramsay Hunt Syndrome: partial facial paralysis, vestibular/balance issues and vision issues.

She went back to work just a week after release from hospital and then had relapse 3.5 weeks later, which took her out of work for 3 months!

Intentional Changes To Protect Boundaries

When Lisa returned in September, she joined the Director’s Inner Circle because she knew she needed more support and better systems throughout the day if she was going to last.

Here are some of the things she implemented:

  • Created a new workflow plan and moved all daily operational duties to her admin team (AD, registrar, greeter and curriculum coordinator).
  • Set up calendar with theme blocking
  • Created a sign for her office door to protect uninterrupted time
  • Decided to come in a bit later or leave early at least 2-3 times/week WITHOUT GUILT.
  • Held an admin team huddle 2-3 times/week and delegated tasks via Asana to get things done!

These changes made a huge difference to the way everything else in her school ran.

Now, the staff meetings are engaging, with active teacher participation. Teachers are solving problems independently or with one another and they have become a much tighter, professional and engaged team.

“Thank you, Chanie from the bottom of my heart. I cannot imagine where I would be if I hadn’t started with the Director’s Inner Circle before I got sick. Before, I felt like I was putting out fires constantly and managing squirrels. Now, we have a plan and clear direction. We have standards and a cohesive vision.”

She shares that the weekly thank you cards, adapted from the Gratitude Map in the Inner Circle, have been a game-changer.

Julia Salmon from the Courthouse Academy took it a step further and create thank you cards for all of their 210 families.

This is an adapted strategy for the Parent Partnership Blueprint in the Inner Circle, which includes simple daily actions that build incredible trust over time and meaningful, authentic relationships with parents


Stop Putting Out Fires And Get More Time Back In Your Day

In this short clip Lisa shares how she:

  • Shows up in her day in a way that supports her team
  • Maintains what she has created
  • Continues to grow her school culture.

ALL while not putting out fires!

Tools and strategies used to get these results:

The School of Excellence Door Sign

A sign that field and manages teacher interruptions so that you can focus on what

Daily Door Time

Specific times during the day that teachers can come and ask questions

Block & Tackle Method

Blocking of a portion of your day to tackle something valuable to the growth of your school.

Theme Days

An organizing principle for how you show up in that day, plugged into the 90-day framework.

Lead With Confidence and 100% Engagement At Staff Meetings

In this video Lisa walks you through:

  • The exact wording and scripts that she uses to get teachers on the same page
  • How that has affected her confidence
  • Examples of how staff engagement at meeting is at an all-time high

Here’s the video for you to watch now.

Tools and strategies used to get these results:

Difficult Conversation Template

Exact scripts that you can use to work through difficult conversations and make sure you are on the same page.

The Gratitude Map

Specific times during the day that teachers can come and ask questions

Classroom Observation Guide

step by step of how to observe in classes, give feedback, follow up and hold teachers accountable.

The Teacher Audit:

An assessment to help your teachers to audit their own performance in 5 key areas.

The Teacher’s Goal Tracker:

The system of how to guide teachers to choose goals create milestones and ensure follow through until the end of the year.

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Master of Your Time

As a director, you know what it feels like to do a thousand things at once. But all that multi-tasking can actually be counter-productive, especially when you factor in all the time that you are interrupted from working on important tasks. On average, directors are interrupted from what they are doing for up to 3 hours per day. 

It’s scary to think about how much time we are wasting and how quickly it adds up! 

  • 3 hours a day
  • 15 hours a week
  • 65 hours a month
  • 690 hours a year

That can be 11.5 weeks’ worth of interruptions each year – that’s almost three months per year of your time!

If you learn to manage your time effectively, you could clear up to 15 hours EVERY week to focus on the important things for your school to grow. 

“The Inner Circle has ERADICATED organizational chaos!”

Before joining the Inner Circle things always got done when they needed to,  but… I had no real set schedule for how I spent “my time” getting things done. The result? Feeling overwhelmed and out of control. That’s now a thing of the past.

Brenda Gill

Director, Gillam Preschool & Child Centre in Gillam, Manitoba

“No more rush to get the year started!”

It’s August, and unlike other school directors? I’m not feeling frazzled and overwhelmed to get the year started! I feel in control because with Chanie’s help, I’ve set up the right systems & strategies. I’m ready!

Rivka Wineberg

Director, Chabad of Long Island City

In Control Of Your Finances

We’ve already covered how much time you could save, but what impact does that have on your finances?

If you’re spending 3 hours a day, 15 hours a week, 690 hours a year on interruptions, it’s costing your school tens of thousands of dollars.

Directors might make a salary of anything between $40,000 – $100,000. Add onto that any benefits, health insurance, a company car, as well as your share of the office overheads (like rent, electricity and heating, equipment, and more), and the cost of your time is a minimum of $50-$75 per hour.

3 hours a day? $225.

15 hours a week? $1125.

65 hours a month? $4875.

690 hours a year? $52,750.

That doesn’t even take into account the amount of future revenue you lose by being overwhelmed, tired, and behind on work. What about the cost of retention? A recent study showed that teachers leaving the profession costs the nation $2 billion each year. When you add in the cost of replacing teachers who move to other schools, it rises to $4.9 billion. That works out at a cost of $6,000 per teacher you have to replace. How many teachers have left your school in the past 3 years? How much could you have saved by retaining those teachers? How much could you save next year, and the year after, by improving your staff retention? Sharon’s culture changed for the better in incredible ways when she joined the Director’s Inner Circle. Even keeping that one teacher MORE than paid for her membership for a year! 

Can you afford NOT to join the Director’s Inner Circle?

“This investment transformed the retention rate with my staff!”

“Game-changer! I’m more proactive, and encourage and empower my staff, instead of trying to “solve” the issue for them. They love the ownership this gives them. And they are far more happy working with me!”

Barbara Labotka

Director, Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center in Chicago

 Positive Culture and Environment


Building Confidence and Status

Becoming a strong leader is an ongoing process that involves constant challenges that you need to face and overcome. 

Sometimes you need support from other leaders who understand what you are going through, who just “get it”. 

The Inner Circle brings together a network of EC Leaders who come together and help each other through and and every challenge. 

Ultimately, this gives you the confidence, pride and status that you need to lead your school to excellence. 

The change I’ve experienced in a year is mindblowing.”

“I have to send you a quick message because I just had this huge mindshift moment and realization. I’ve been regularly going to a coffee shop close to work to minimize the distractions. In a hour I can get an unbelievable amount of work done and my mind is so clear and sharp (plus lattes – WIN). I’m just leaving and my mind is swirling with the upcoming things I want to work on. I realized though I’m not overwhelmed or stressed. I’m excited and energized! I’ve gotten to the point where I’m working on the ‘big picture’ stuff and the daily managing operations is running so smoothly with everything implemented that I’ve learned from you over the last year. Thank you. The change I’ve experienced in a year is mindblowing. You’ve opened up my world to everything I was absolutely craving and searching for everywhere but always coming up short and just couldn’t find. What you provide to Directors is extraordinary. Thank you for your work – I’m so incredibly grateful I found you.”

Jillian Farris

Director, A Tiny Lab for Early Learning

More About Chanie

Through my journey, I got married and I have 4 children ages 1, 4, 6 and 8. My hands are full! I know what it takes to lead a large center and have a full-time job at home as well.

I used to run FB Lives while feeding my 4 month old baby!



Click below to start buidling a excellence in your school!

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