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22 Mar 2023

Spotlight on Lorraine Kara, The Hackney Day Nursery (Little Garden Day Nurseries)

Spotlight on Lorraine Kara, The Hackney Day Nursery (Little Garden Day Nurseries)

Lorraine has worked in childcare since 2001, when she started her Level 3 qualification at a Montessori nursery, before working her way up to become a manager.

How did you get into nursery work?

I had moved from living between South Africa and Zimbabwe to the UK to stay with my mum and my step-father in 2001. I was looking for a career and thought, I’ve always loved children and teaching Sunday school. My mum said there was a childcare course at Hackney community college, so I went to the open day.

The course was full-time studying and I had to do voluntary placements at schools, creches, and childminder centres, so I had a lot of experience working in different settings over those years. And to subsidise living costs, I worked in McDonalds as a children’s party coordinator!

I then took a job at a Montessori nursery where I could do my Level 3 qualification and work full-time. I did it as an apprenticeship and that took two years to complete. I remember studying with my two-year-old around in the evening. My boss would give me coffee the next day to try to keep me awake!

Did you ever see yourself becoming a manager?

I didn’t – I was quite happy to be a practitioner. But I was really good at my job and kept getting promoted. One time, I was working at a new nursery in Enfield and we had our first Ofsted inspection. During the inspection, I was doing circle time reading ‘In the Night Garden’, and a child snatched the book out of my hands – but I knew the book so I kept singing “Makka pakka akka wakka mikka makka moo!” and kept the children engaged. That was when I thought, I can do this room leader thing.

Another time, I was on the bus listening to Barack Obama get elected for President. He was talking about how Black children need leaders who look like them – and how in every career there should be someone they can look up to. And I just thought, I need to be that leader that the children can look up to. That message really touched me.

What have you learned in your time working in the early years?

In each role, you learn something new about yourself. I’d always been used to going into settings and having everyone like me and be on board with my vision and ideas. So when I went into a setting where I wasn’t welcomed and was bullied, I had to learn that sometimes my approach may need to be changed. In that case, it wasn’t all my fault, it was the people, but I did take some lessons from it too – not to assume everyone will be on board with what I want, and to look at different strategies to get your team to see your goal.

I also learned to say no and step away. When the situation is not in line with where you’re at, it’s ok to remove yourself.

What do you most enjoy about being a manager?

I love teaching people – going on the floor and sharing my passion for childcare. And role-modelling how to do things: how to engage children, how to set up a room… even down to how the bookcase is – if it’s upside-down like a rat’s den, you’re not showing the children how precious books are and how they should be enjoyed.

What are you most proud of during your time as a manager?

My husband calls me a nursery doctor – he says I’m a fixer-upper. I love my determination – if I come into a setting and there are issues, I love the challenge of building my team’s confidence, then coming out and saying “look what we’ve achieved”.

How do you unwind after a busy day?

When I’m walking home, if I don’t have my daughter with me, I listen to music. Then when I get home, I’ll read my Bible and listen to gospel music, which has helped me a lot. I used to always be stressing about work and couldn’t enjoy my family, and this year, I’m not anxious about it – when I leave on Friday, I leave.

What would be your message to nursery managers across the UK reading this?

Find something you are passionate about, even just one thing that will motivate you. Sometimes you can feel alone, particularly if you’re coming into a nursery where you have a lot of work to do but you need to keep your staff happy and optimistic. So find a way to pick yourself up – small things, like a smile on the face of a child, or a staff member telling you they appreciated something. Use that. And take a break!

What would you like to ask other nursery managers?

How do you reflect on your own practice? Do you like to do it collaboratively or do you do it alone? We’re not perfect and we still have things to learn – so how do you continue your own growth as a manager?

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