How do we deal with employee retention in early education?

Recruiting and retaining talented educators is a real issue, but there are specific strategies and wider undertakings that can help us to take on this challenge.

About this time last year we released our report on Documentation in the Early Childhood Setting that investigated the issue of documentation processes. As a result of our research study, we designed and released a solution that helps early education programs to document child development observations and child care daily reports and communicate this information in a way that works for today’s busy, working parent.

However, ahead of documentation, the universal issue that was top-of-mind for those that we interviewed for our research, was staff recruitment and retention. This is a much more complex issue than documentation processes, but on the one year anniversary of our research report, we thought we would at least provide some of our thoughts on this seemingly pervasive and perpetual challenge in early education.

How big of a problem is retention in early education?

Turnover rates in the early education workforce have been analyzed and documented quite thoroughly. In the United States, for example, a study by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), reported that the average annual turnover rate in early education was more than 30%, while other sources report the number to be as high as 40%. An underlying ramification of this high turnover rate is that children aren’t able to develop secure bonds with their constantly changing teachers, a factor that has been found to notably impair a child’s social and emotional development.

How can directors and administrators improve retention in their programs?

A seemingly obvious answer to improving retention is to increase compensation levels and provide more benefits. This, of course, costs money and with funding being another challenge high on the list of those we interviewed, this answer usually isn’t feasible.

Owners and directors then need to get more creative. For example, start with recruitment. One of the best strategies for improving retention is hiring people who are a better fit for your organization in the first place. Think carefully about where you’re posting your jobs, how candidates are asked to apply and how applicants are selected.

There are non-monetary perks that you can offer as well, such as more time for personal development and giving your teachers more autonomy to manage their programs. A positive work atmosphere, including a collegial and supportive culture, recognition for achievements and opportunities for development, will also go a long way in retaining good educators.

What can we do in the field of early education more widely to deal with this issue?

In addition to strategies for your specific programs, there are also some actions that you can take in support of prevailing trends that can help alleviate this issue over the long term.

There is an increasing understanding among academia, economists and politicians about the importance of early education and also that investment in the sector does not align to the weight of its importance. The more we get this message out there by supporting organizations such as ZERO TO THREE, the more likely our local, state/provincial and federal governments will make early education a priority in their budgets (see President Obama’s Plan for Early Education for all Americans). More funding means that we can better compensate our early childhood educators and provide them with improved working environments.

Growing evidence about the importance of early education is also helping to improve public perceptions. But there is still a ways to go and as constituents in the field of early education, our actions can help to close this gap. Also, having a clear understanding of what Early Childhood Education is. By creating an environment where early childhood educators perceive their work as a profession where they’re making a difference in children’s lives because of their knowledge and expertise, you will not only make them more likely to remain with your organization but will also be enhancing the public image of early education more widely.

Download the complete guide to hiring & retaining early childhood educators ebook.

Ron Spreeuwenberg

Ron is the Co-Founder & CEO of HiMama, where he leads all aspects of a social purpose business that helps early childhood educators improve learning outcomes for children.

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