Five tips for building strong staff morale this back-to-school season

If you’ve been in the childcare industry for any length of time, you know that there are hills and valleys when it comes to team morale. It is an exhausting job, and it requires our best quality and best practices at all times. There is no room for error when it comes to the safety of children, and if we are being honest, morale can dip down sometimes. Here are some ways to assure that your team keeps their morale up, even when the day-to-day grind is hard:

  1. Know their favorites ❤️

You don’t have to wait for Teacher Appreciation Week to show your teachers that you care. Have each staff member fill out a “favorite things” profile each new school year, and surprise them with their favorite snack, a written card, favorite drink, etc. throughout the year. Everyone likes to be recognized and affirmed. 

  1. Visit with no agenda 📅

How often do you visit your teachers in their classrooms? Do you only visit when you have a message or need to do an observation? The more often we are popping in to say hi, visit with the kids, and “catch” teachers doing awesome things, the more normal and welcoming it will be. Teachers want to feel seen and appreciated, and visiting them with no agenda as often as you can, is one way you can do  that.  You can comment on their new poster, compliment how well an activity is going, ask questions about a project orshow your interest in the hard work they do each day by just simply showing up. Logistically, as director, I always made sure to make my rounds first thing in the morning and at least once more in the afternoon. I would stay for maybe five minutes in each classroom. Then depending on the staff in each room, there may be one or two rooms that I would stay a bit longer to develop those relationships more. 

  1. Celebrate wins often 🎉

Be sure to build in celebrations for big and little wins into every gathering you have with your staff .It’s easy to pack agendas for staff meetings with all the tasks that need to get done and with all of the information that needs to be shared. Find a moment to reflect and celebrate key staff members publicly as well as allow staff members to share some wins they’ve experienced.

At our center, we give out the “Jackson award.” It is called that because we simply give a $20 bill, which has President Jackson’s face on it. This “award” goes to a staff member who has gone above and beyond that month, and we want to celebrate that. I also give a certificate to that person. This is a fun and silly way to acknowledge someone’s hard work.

For the staff team sharing time, allow for at least 10 minutes at the beginning of a staff meeting for your team to share stories of recent wins. This can be something like “Little Joey is fully potty trained” to “I just finished my Masters degree in education!” Having this time not only gives others a chance to hear what is happening in their colleagues’ lives, but it also creates a positive morale of celebrating each other. 

  1. Allow breaks 😴

It’s important to create and foster a culture of vulnerability when it comes to taking breaks. Let’s face it, working with these adorable little humans is hard work, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Just like we expect parents to take breaks when needed, this should be offered to our amazing teachers as well. When teachers are feeling like they just need a moment to regroup and breathe, they should feel empowered to ask for that. At our center, when one of our teachers is having one of those moments, they can go on the walkie talkie and ask for one of the directors to come to their room for a moment. Then we just have this little signal that when one of the directors enters the room, they know immediately that this is just for a little mental health break. 

We also encourage our teachers to take mental health days as needed. This can be a half day, full day, or full vacation, depending on if they are part time or full time. For our full time employees, we actually require that they take at least five days off consecutively so they can experience a full break rather than just a day here or there. 

We often have free snacks, drinks, coffee, and tea available daily for the staff to enjoy on their breaks, and we provide a nice space for them to do so. 

  1. Do a temp check 🌡️

As our task lists get long and as our school year gets started, it’s easy to forget to check in on how our teachers are doing. Besides popping in daily to the classrooms, and in addition to observing for evaluations, I try to do at least quarterly “temperature readings” with staff. This consists of one-on-one time where the staff member has the opportunity to share how things are going personally and professionally. They share any new information, any concerns, and their wishes and goals. I take notes during this time and try hard to follow up on their needs for accountability and care. It’s so important to make sure the staff can speak freely and openly, and not feel threatened or apprehensive about sharing their honest thoughts. Creating a safe space for that is vital.

These are just some ways to give your center a boost in morale. All of these five suggestions can be summed up with one word: relationship. When someone knows they are needed, cared for, and loved, they show up and do well. Let’s make sure we are always assessing how we care for staff and make sure they feel empowered to share. Of course a good paycheck is important and one of the main reasons teachers stay. But even more than that, teachers stay on board for the long haul with a happy heart when they are appreciated and loved. 

What are some ways you boost morale at your center? Comment below!

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Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 18 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 8, 9, 12 and 13 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.