“Licensing is here.” Of all the words my Administrative Assistant said to me as a school leader, these were my least favorite. Any licensed child care center feels the pressure of a licensing inspection, but I think that these visits are especially challenging for Montessori schools.
Unfortunately, much of the time, licensing just doesn’t get us.
- “Where is your dramatic play area?”
- “Why are these materials so small?”
- “Why is there glass everywhere?”
- “Do you need to have so many pets?”
- “This group size is way too large.”
- “Why are your babies on floor beds instead of in cribs?”
- “Are those knives the children are using?”
The questions are endless and the understanding is limited. It is incredibly frustrating.
While the pain and frustration of a licensing inspection is palpable, you aren’t powerless. Here are some strategies to help you prepared for a successful visit from your licensing specialist:
Be sure to take a deep breath and smile. Remember that this person is just trying to do their job to the best of their ability and they are really just the messengers for the jurisdiction. Offer them a hook for their coat, a glass of water, and a comfortable place to sit. Know their name and use it.
Pause to consider the value and importance of health, safety, and quality regulations for child care centers and schools. I moonlight as an expert witness in personal injury and wrongful death cases involving children in child care settings. I can attest to the horrors of many modern-day child care centers. There is terrible stuff out there and our licensing specialists are the frontline to preventing it.
Grace and courtesy are an anchor of the Montessori philosophy. Extend it to every person who comes through your door, even your licensing specialist.
Know Your Stuff
You (or someone on your leadership team) have a responsibility to know your licensing regulations and quality standards inside and out and you have a responsibility to ensure that your staff knows them too. When I first became a school leader, licensing compliance was not a big deal in our school. I was determined to lower our illness and injury rates by getting the school aligned with licensing and health regulations. I read the regulations cover to cover. Then I read them again. On the second read, I made a list of regulations with which our school was not fully compliant and created a spreadsheet with an action plan, due dates, and assigned responsibilities for getting us in compliance.
This action plan not only helped us get into compliance, it also helped us learn the regulations as a community and empowered us to prevent problems by quickly identifying licensing violations and fixing them.
Train Your Staff
Every new employee should have a thorough training on all rules and regulations before starting in the classroom. Along with this, you can establish an annual review of the rules and regulations as part of your annual professional development plan for your staff.
When the regulations pose challenges to your program, work closely with your teachers to make a plan. This may require you to change staffing patterns or hire more staff. As states continue focusing on early childhood and adding quality expectations to the rules and regulations, it will become almost impossible for most programs to operate with minimal staff and remain in compliance. Be flexible with trying solutions that might support your classrooms while helping you remain in compliance.
While you’re at it, have a game plan with your staff for when licensing arrives. Who will tell the classrooms? Is there anything specific they need to plan for or be aware of on the day of the licensing inspection?
Do Regular Program Audits
When I was a school leader I scheduled to days per year in which I stayed after hours and did a licensing/health/quality audit of each classroom. I used a checklist to inform my walk-through in each area of the school. I made notes and shared with the teachers.
In the fall, these audits provided an opportunity to re-train the staff on licensing compliance and have a clear conversation about expectations for the cleanliness and aesthetics of each classroom. In the spring, these audits were used to inform lead teacher evaluations.
These audits positioned us to prevent licensing citations because we corrected problems ahead of time.
Sign up here to get access to a free licensing/health/quality audit checklist I created just for you!
Stay with Your Specialist
When licensing comes, drop everything and join them for their entire visit. Walk with them and explain each area of the school to them. If they record a violation, be ready to correct it on the spot or make an argument for why it is not a violation. For example, you might argue that even though you don’t have a dramatic play area you have dress up because the children put on special aprons and hats for each Practical Life activity in the classroom.
Do not leave your specialist’s side for any reason. It is critical that you observe every minute of their time in your school. You may want to bring a notebook to record notes of your observations during the visit, should you need to accurately recall something later.
File an Appeal
If you are cited for something that you feel is too harshly applied or creates a significant hardship for your curriculum, children, and parents, you have the right to an appeal if you live in the US. The appeals process is a critical part of our basic rights as citizens.
Each state has a different process, but there is always an appeals process. Be sure to learn about your rights to make an appeal in your state. I have helped many Montessori schools make successful appeals in the State of Colorado. You can access coaching and templates for writing waivers in the Bee Line Resources Community.
Some appeals are more complex and require the representation of an attorney. It can be expensive, but it might be worth it if you are ordered to get rid of breakables, small materials, or infant floor beds.
I’ve yet to meet a school leader who thinks licensing inspections are fun, but they are a necessary part of our work. Instead of dreading your next visit, get ready for it!
Sign up here for a free resource packet I’ve created to help you get ready for licensing, health, and quality ratings!