Chengetai Sharif

Manager, LEYF Bessborough Nursery

What was a typical work day like before the corona crisis?
My typical day would have me spending time in the room with the staff and children, talking to parents and generally overseeing the running of the nursery.

When the outbreak started, what was your initial reaction?
I had parents  at the nursery who originated from China, and from January we had started to have conversations about the virus. The parents had expressed to me their concerns that the government were not taking it seriously. At that time I very much believed this to be a sort of fear mongering, not so much on their part but there was a lot of hype around it and it felt unsubstantiated. How wrong was I…?

What impact did this have on your day job and how did you adapt
Once the impact of the virus was evident it became very difficult to manage everyone’s expectations. Parents were very anxious and I also had to manage people’s perceptions. I found that communication was key. When you are a manager you have to develop the skill of diplomacy when managing difficult situations. The parents ultimate concern was “are the children safe?”. I quickly found that I had to reassure them that their children were safe. Having a diverse team meant that everyone was reflecting differently on how the virus had taken hold in their home countries, this included parents as well. I remember having two sets of parents from Italy who decided to give notice because the situation was getting bad and they feared for their families.

What are the big challenges you have faced / are facing as the pandemic continues?
As the situation has continued, I have found some of the challenges to be around staff feeling safe and putting procedures into practice. As we know, Early Years practice has changed and a lot of the fun has kind of been taken out, so it’s about making the most of what you’ve got.

 Not being able to take the children out into the community has been challenging for everyone, especially as we used to have daily trips. This has meant that we have had to find different ways to deliver certain aspects of our pedagogy. I am very grateful to have such a large outdoor space.

How have you kept going through the tough times?
I have really found solace in speaking to other managers and friends from the Early Years sector, who remind me that I am not alone. My passion has continued to grow and I’ve needed this to keep myself and my team going.

We have had to find humour and to be silly. A few weeks ago we had a ‘Fancy Friday’ and dressed up. I found great pleasure greeting children in the morning dressed as Jack Sparrow.

What acts of kindness have you seen or shown that have made you smile recently?
My friend sent me some coffee in the post as a surprise accompanied with a note to encourage me to keep going. The parents at the nursery have also rallied around to show support. This has really given a much needed injection of morale.

What has this crisis taught you – both professionally and on a personal level?
The crisis has taught me that I have doubted myself a lot as a manager and I’m not actually that bad. Personally it has taught me to appreciate and communicate with those I love.

How are you trying to stay happy and healthy?
Make life fun for the staff and children, having virtual parties and taking each day as it comes.


Chenge is Manager at LEYF Bessborough Nursery & Pre-School