How to Hire a Head Start Consultant: An Update for the Post-COVID era
Way back in 2013, we wrote a blog called “How to Hire a Head Start Consultant.” In it, we outlined some of the major reasons your program might consider hiring an outside consultant, including filling gaps in expertise amongst your staff, as well as the benefit of an outsider without preconceived notions that can help your agency gain perspective. Those reasons are definitely still valid. But as we emerge from this COVID-19 pandemic, agencies may need to evaluate how and for what reasons they hire outside consultants.
Head Start and Early Head Start programs create Training and Technical Assistance (T/TA) plans each year that align with their annual goals of improvement. The Office of Head Start suggests in their “Strategic Use of Consultants: A Guide for Head Start and Early Head Start Leaders,“ that these plans sometimes tend to rely too heavily on certain strategies while ignoring others, and as a result their outcomes come up short. They recommend considering new strategies to reach your program’s goals.
In my opinion, post-COVID is the perfect opportunity to hit a sort of reset button for your program’s training. Now is the time to reevaluate your past successes and failures and try new things. As part of that process, take a look at your current T/TA offerings and ask yourself, how can these be improved and how can consultants help?
For example, the Strategic Use of Consultants Guide says that adults benefit most from experiences that are problem-based and collaborative rather than instructional. It outlines several adult learning principles to consider while creating your T/TA, such as how adults draw upon their own life experiences and knowledge to learn, and adults are relevancy-oriented and practical.
I personally think that both staff and parents will have less tolerance for “fluff” trainings in the post-COVID era, and instead will want more practical trainings with a lot of real-life examples that are relevant to their professional goals. After such a whirlwind year, people’s priorities may have changed, and they may be more protective of their precious time.
A good consultant will understand these changes and adapt their trainings accordingly. It’s your job to uncover these skills in the interview and selection process.
For example, consultants will need to have the technical abilities to train remotely if necessary. In the last year, we’ve learned the value of flexibility when it comes to being available for online training. Some of your staff may be working remotely on a part-time or full-time basis, so the ability to allow people to both attend in-person or dial-in from home will be an important aspect of your consultant’s technical expertise.
In addition, talking to trusted advisors can help you make sure you’re addressing the right issues in the right way post-COVID. While navigating these uncharted territories, consultants can help Head Start agencies with some of their immediate needs, including onboarding new employees and recruiting new Head Start families.
Candid Learning, an on-demand training group for foundations and nonprofits, states that hiring a consultant is much like hiring an employee, it’s important to know why you need a consultant and what you want them to do. Outside experts aren’t smarter than you, but they have the advantage of repetition in seeing the same problems in many different scenarios, and therefore develop a specialization in that type of problem.
The 2021-2022 school year is going to have unique challenges that we may not have seen before. Remember that no matter the problem, others are likely going through the same thing, and many have found solutions that can be shared. And outside consultants can help in that process. There’s no shame in asking for help when needed.