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Staff Retention in ECE Programs: Why it Matters & Key Practices

Jun 11, 2024    |   Leadership & Team-Building

Staff retention is an important consideration in quality early learning programs…for educators, families, and children. Because so much of early learning happens through caring relationships, maintaining a consistent team of care and learning providers is foundational to setting everyone up for success. 

While early learning program directors, administrators, and leaders face limitations to the financial incentives they can offer their staff, they can encourage educators to stay on board by fostering a culture that prioritizes team member support, guidance, and appreciation.  

The Importance of Consistency

Importance for Children

Predictability is a critical component of learning for young children. Seeing the same educators and care providers each day allows them to form meaningful relationships through which they can feel a sense of trust, safety, and belonging. When little ones arrive at school knowing what to expect, they feel safe enough to explore, play, learn, and try new things. This ultimately supports their academic development and skill-building.

Predictability is a particularly vital source of support for young children who have experienced trauma or other difficulties, and consistent, predictable care is a key element of trauma-sensitive early learning environments.  Frequent educator turnover can be especially challenging for children who struggle with unplanned transitions or who find it difficult to warm up to new people.

Importance for Families

As early childhood care & learning providers, we know that the relationships we build with parents and family members become an important source of support for the children in our care.  These relationships take time to develop, which is why staff retention is so important for maintaining open communication and a sense of collaboration. High rates of turnover can make it difficult for families to feel comfortable opening up and sharing their needs and preferences for their child’s care.  

Importance for Staff Members

Although working in the early childhood field is rewarding, teaching can also be demanding and tiring.  Being part of a consistent, reliable team enables staff members to build ongoing, supportive relationships with one another. The resulting sense of community generates positive energy that early learning team members can tap into throughout the day. 

Tips for Staff Retention in Early Learning Programs 

Some of the barriers to staff retention are systemic to the field of early childhood care and education, and therefore largely beyond the control of ECE program administrators.  ECE leaders can, however, take steps to help team members feel encouraged, nurtured, and valued. Below, you will find examples of investments you can make in your ECE team that will help you retain strong staff members in your program. 

  • Make sure new team members feel welcomed and appreciated from the start. Remember that staff retention starts on day one! Beginning with each employee’s first day, create a schedule of regular check-ins that you can adhere to, so you can find out how things are going and how they are settling in. If possible, take some time to have an orientation day in which you show new team members around the program, introduce them to other staff members, and share key policies and practices of your program. This is also a great opportunity for your staff members to ask questions and share feedback on their initial impressions and ideas about the program. 
  • Be available for feedback. One of the simplest ways to ensure that team members feel valued is to provide regular, ongoing opportunities to provide input. You might request feedback through conversations during team meetings, or through brief surveys that include open-ended questions. Ensure that each of your team members feels comfortable sharing feedback about what is working well and what could use some additional support. These conversations create an opportunity to address challenges that team members are facing as soon as possible, so that they feel heard, supported, and valued.  
  • Maintain open communication. Team members like to know what’s going on in their organization with as much notice as possible. If there will be changes to school-wide policies, child transitions, or scheduling, ensure that you share these updates with staff as soon as you can. And, when possible, give them an opportunity to provide feedback on changes before they are made official. Open communication is especially important to younger staff members, such as Gen Z educators, who value transparency and open lines of communication.
  • Offer professional development opportunities. Opportunities for learning and continued growth are an important part of every career. In early childhood settings, we can offer our staff members professional development opportunities by asking them to share topics that they are interested in learning more about and helping them find opportunities to attend workshops or webinars. When possible, you might also consider bringing in a speaker or coach at a staff meeting to talk about topics of interest. You might also offer opportunities for staff members to learn and practice new skills through various projects, such as managing your center’s social media accounts, doing graphic design for flyers for your program, or playing an instrument for the children in your program.
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