Recruit, Train & Retain Child Care Staff

Episode 208 –  Recruiting and retaining staff in child care has become even more challenging during the pandemic. In this episode, we interview Dr. Thomasa Bond, author, consultant and early childhood advocate, about the realities of staffing in childcare during this time. She offers strategies on how to collaborate with other centers in your local community to take a proactive approach towards building your professional network and find the right people to work with on an ongoing basis. 

Resources: 

Dr. Thomasa BOND:

We’re all in this together. We all need to be looking out for centers that potentially are struggling so that we can lift them up. That’s the way we also lift up the field and make sure that all children are provided quality care.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Thomasa, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

BOND:

Thank you!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We’re delighted to have on the show today Dr. Thomasa Bond. She is an author, childcare licensing consultant and early-childhood advocate. And she has recently released a book called Build Your Dream Team [How To Build Your Dream Team by Recruit, Train and Retain Early Childhood Staff], which is all about recruiting, training and retaining your early-childhood staff.

So, [we are] really keen to talk to her today about this book on such an important topic and also how we can recruit, train and retain in this context of reopening amidst COVID-19. Dr. Thomasa, thank you for joining us. Let’s start off learning a little bit about you. How did you get to be involved in early-childhood education and decide to go so far as to even write a book about recruiting, training and retaining early-childhood [education] staff?

BOND:

Oh, well, that’s a very good question, Ron. It started many, many years ago when I decided that children were truly my passion. I started off in college. Initially, I wanted to be a social worker – I’ve always had a desire to give back to the community. And when I realized that working with families, doing social work, might not be the best forte for me I decided to turn to the early-childhood field and the rest is pretty much history.

I absolutely love working with children and working with families and being able to give back really on a broader level by working with staff and working with program directors to help them to be the best that they can be to provide the best quality care for children and families.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. It’s kind of like social workers reacting to a lot of the challenges that are happening. And as somebody working in early-childhood, you can be more proactive in working with children. So, I like that.

So, we’ve brought you on today to talk a little bit about staff. And right now a lot of childcare programs are in a little bit of an unusual position where maybe they have some of their staff in their centers, some not. Maybe they’re doing some part time. Everybody’s dealing with different challenges. So, what are you hearing right now? What are the conversations around retaining staff during COVID-19 if you may have some people on furlough and you’re dealing with different financial challenges? What are those conversations right now?

BOND:

Well, right now we’re in a lot of the unknown. This is a situation that we can’t look back in history and say, “This was the best way that this was handled based on how things turned out during that time.” So, this is really unprecedented time for us in so many ways.

So, we have to look at, what is really going to be the best thing for their center as a whole? Bringing the children back to the center has to be first and foremost in a safe environment for them. And what we have been learning through the times currently is that social distancing is a key. But that doesn’t always work when it comes to early-childhood because having children together, bringing them together, socializing is a big part of their development.

And so when we’re looking at staffing, it really has to be related to the number of children that you have at your facility. So, the problem that a lot of centers are experiencing currently is that they have laid off their staff. And a lot of the staff are afraid to come back, with good reason. They’re afraid for themselves, they’re afraid for their families and they’re afraid for the children and the families that they’re servicing.

So, we first have to address the actual fear that they have and look at ways to make them feel comfortable coming back to a situation of the unknown. Because we don’t have a vaccine, because we don’t have anything that will prevent the spread of COVID [19] or anything that is a telltale with the virus that’s going on it’s really hard to give someone that sense of comfort that everyone is looking for.

But the best thing we can do for our staff is to let them know that we are there to support them. And by letting them know that we’re there to support them, they will be able to provide that same support to their children and the families that are coming back to the center.

So, as centers are opening up currently they’re finding that they’re opening up with a much smaller staff because there aren’t as many children that are coming back. A lot of that has to do with parents: some of the parents are working from home; some of the parents have lost their jobs and haven’t started back working yet.

And whenever the economy is affected early-childhood is always affected first and foremost because the first thing parents will cut when their funds are affected is sending their child to childcare. They will find other avenues. If one parent is not working, they will keep the child at home with themselves. So, it’s really tricky in terms of keeping staff when you don’t have the surplus of children to really maintain the numbers that you had before.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, it’s a challenging time for programs out there in terms of retaining their staff. There’s lots of new rules and regulations that we need to follow. What’s your advice? I know you’ve talked a little bit about collaborating with other centers in communities. What are the things that you can do out there as an owner or director of a childcare program to get through this unprecedented time, as you say?

BOND:

Well, one way of collaborating is working with the other centers in your community. I feel that during these times – this is something that I do actually address in my book – is working with other centers. There’s never been a more important time for centers to work together.

As centers were closing down, I always suggested to the centers that were staying open to open their doors, not only for staff but for families that their center potentially closed but they were an essential worker, so they would still need some place to take their children to. And if their program was closed it would be easier for the program director to share with their families the other centers that were still open.

But oftentimes program directors aren’t as willing to do that because they feel like it’s an island that they’re on and they want to keep all of their families and their island. Well, we can’t be an island. We have to be more inclusive of all of the other centers that are around us. Yes, we want our business to thrive. But your business will thrive when others are working together.

Because you collaborate, you can share staff. If you don’t have a lot of staff at your center that are willing to come back to work, then you can share staff at other centers to make up the difference until your staff is willing to come back to work. That’s one way that you can collaborate.

Another way you can collaborate is if your center doesn’t have hours that are extended hours and you know of a center that has extended hours, you can have your families go to the centers that have extended hours if you’re not able to provide extended hours at the center.

Just to say that you’re not offering something without giving families an opportunity to know of other resources that are out there really isn’t providing for the families and for the community. And that’s really our ultimate goal, is to meet every family’s need and every child’s, providing them with quality care.

And that’s where the collaboration comes in, is working together. If we have a center that someone might think, “Well, they’re not providing the quality care that I think that they should for children,” and you see that, then you’re not helping the profession. You’re not helping the children if you just say, “Well, I’m not going to reach out to them.” Reach out to them and offer them some guidance, see what they might need help in in different areas.

We’re all in this together. We all need to be looking out for centers that potentially are struggling so that we can lift them up. That’s the way we also lift up the field and make sure that all children are provided quality care.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it’s interesting because you a lot of what you’re saying is kind of a little bit counterintuitive, I guess, in terms of offering your families to maybe go to a different center, if that makes sense. And then reaching out to other programs in your area who might be struggling with quality.

But it’s a very interesting conversation. And in fact, I was reading a book a few months ago. I think it was called “Give and Take” and it’s kind of all about this idea that leaders out there who end up being more on the giving side than the taking side end up being, quote unquote, “more successful”, even though they’re spending time and resources helping others.

And I guess it’s kind of like this idea that doing nice things comes back to serve you well. And I think it also is sort of around like like things like ethics. And if you’re always doing the right thing, then at the end of the day that serves you well. And if you’re not, it kind of goes the other way. And so I don’t know if you came across that at all, sort of like when you’re pulling this book together and doing the research and writing it. But I find it a very fascinating subject, actually, and something I’m quite passionate about.

BOND:

Actually, that sounds like a good book. No, I did not. I just feel in my heart of hearts that the more we are able to help others that are struggling, the better the children are. And we all say – it’s like a common saying in the early-childhood field – that quality is key. We want quality for all the children; we want quality centers; we want staff to provide quality care for the children.

But yet we will turn a blind eye if we see a center that’s struggling and sort of say, “That’s them.” But if we’re saying that to ourselves, we’re also turning a blind eye to the children that they’re servicing. And that is wrong in my eyes.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it’s interesting and it makes a lot of sense. And at HiMama, our company, we have three core values. And one of them is, “Own positive change.” And a lot of it is aligned to this point that unless we own the change ourselves, we can’t wait for somebody else to do it. And that’s a good example you give on the quality peace.

We’re all hoping that at some point we’re going to be back to the “regular normal” and the not “new normal”, as everybody’s talking about right now. If we kind of step back from today’s context and look at your book, Build Your Dream Team – which is all about staff in early-childhood education, such an important subject – what are some of the teasers you can give us about that book and what’s in there?

BOND:

Well, one of the teasers that I love to give out is related to recruiting your staff. Everyone talks about retention and training and hiring but no one really looks at the effort that has to go into recruiting your staff.

And one of the things that I’ve always seen – and that actually sort of catapulted me to writing this book – is, I was hearing a lot of people saying, “I’m having a hard time finding quality staff. I’m having a hard time keeping quality staff.” And the problem with that is that we look at hiring once we have an opening. And that’s really counterintuitive to maintaining your staff.

We want to look at recruiting as the true piece to hiring [and] retaining your staff, because if you’re not constantly recruiting and if you think of recruiting as just someone who’s giving you their two weeks notice and now it’s time to fill that slot, that is going to make it very difficult.

It’s almost like when your car dies on you on the side of the road and you realize, “Oh no, I need a new car. I haven’t planned for a new car; I haven’t saved for a new car.” So, now you sort of have to purchase a new car based on where you are in your life right at that time.

So, if you went out the week before and you went on vacation and now you’re back and your funds are limited, that’s going to dictate the type of car that you can afford at that moment. But if you recognize that your car was having issues a year and a half prior and you started looking around at cars and you started saving for cars, when your car actually dies on you, you’re in a better position.

And it’s the same concept with recruiting. If you’re always recruiting, if you’re always on the lookout for the best person to work at your center, if you keep a site on your social media where people can input their applications, where they can apply for jobs on an ongoing basis.

And even when you’re out and you’re mingling with individuals – whether it’s in your community or whether it’s parents – and you’re saying to them, “This is a great place for staff. We have an awesome staff. We have a great program. We provide quality care for children,” and explain what you do with the children and how your center is better and you’re a presence that’s known, then you will always have that base to pull from and hire people on a part time basis as floaters. And that way you sort of have your feeders that you can plug into roles as they become available.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

That’s an interesting point because if I think about a lot of industries and sectors, recruitment is a really huge component of the success of different companies. And my sense is that, in early-childhood education, it’s a little bit more what you said where it’s a little bit reactive to say, “Okay, we need to fill a role. So, we’re going to post a job and see who applies,” as opposed to going out more proactively and networking and building a list of early-childhood educators that you think are really high quality that you’d want in your program for whenever you might need to fill a role.

I do think that’s quite unusual. And so it’s interesting to hear that perspective. Have you worked with any clients that are starting to do that a little bit more and go more in that direction?

BOND:

I have. Actually that’s, again, one of the reasons why I started to write the book, is because, as a early-childhood consultant, when I’m out in the field and I’m speaking to people, it’s nice to be able to give them actual tools to work with to go forward.

I like to be able to provide answers to questions. And when I don’t have an answer, that is when I will do more research to try to find answers that will be in the best interest of the centers and other program directors going forward because I feel if I’m seeing them and I’m working with them, that if I can provide them with the resources that they need, then I am helping the field in so many ways, which is really my ultimate life goal.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, cool. No, that makes a ton of sense. And there’s a lot of stress and anxiety our listeners are dealing with right now, whether you’re a director, owner, early-childhood educator, maybe you’re a parent who’s got your children at home and you’re trying to do your work and also be an early-childhood educator, realizing now how hard that really is. Any advice that you can give to our listeners out there that are dealing with these tough times right now?

BOND:

Well, the one thing I would say to parents who are living through this hard time – as we all are – is to really just take a breather. If the day seems hard then find something fun to do. Take it one day at a time and know that at the end of the day that whatever you’re doing for your child is in your child’s best interest.

No one is providing anything for their child that is going to be harmful to them during this time. They’re all trying to find ways to get through this situation so they can get to the other side of it. So, the best advice I would give them is to know that it’s okay, that you were not planning on home-schooling your child during this time, and that’s okay.

But to take cues from your child: if your child wants to play and have a good time with their toys, but you’re thinking, “Oh my goodness, they’re not learning anything today,” know that they are still learning.

By providing them with opportunities, even if that opportunity is for them to go outside and take a walk or to go outside and play in the front yard or in the back yard, or if you’re living in an apartment and you don’t have a front yard or a back yard, if you are close to a park or even if you take your child for a ride…

Because of the social distancing, taking your child for a drive in the car, you can talk about the different things that are going on outside. You can talk about the things that you’re passing on the street. Having a conversation with your child during this time gives them a sense of comfort.

And for a lot of parents during this time it’s giving them an opportunity to really get to know their child. Because our lives were so busy before, we weren’t always having the opportunity to get to know our children in the way that we should, which the way those of us in early-childhood understand is so important and so vital in a child’s life.

And so where a lot of people think that this has been a bad time, I think of this as a time for healing and a time for coming together. And that time is very precious.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and I know speaking personally, we’ve really enjoyed spending more time with our kids at home and also have come to really appreciate all the hard work that their educators were providing. And [we] are looking forward to them going back into their childcare program soon but also definitely, like you said, trying to enjoy this time together because it’s quite a unique opportunity, actually. So, [we] appreciate that wisdom there.

And if our listeners want to get in touch with you or maybe get your book – Build Your Dream Team – where can they go to get more information?

BOND:

To get in touch with me, I have a blog that I run and I’m on all social media. My blog is www.DrThomasa.com. I have Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and Instagram, and they are all either Dr. Thomasa Bond or Thomasa Bond. And you can purchase my book through my publisher at www.GryphonHouse.com. It’s also available at your local bookstores as well, that you could also purchase it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, wherever your great books are sold.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. So again, to our audience, Dr. Thomas’s book is called Build Your Dream Team: How to Recruit, Train and Retain Early-childhood Staff. It’s been wonderful, wonderful having you on the show today. Thank you for joining us. It’s been great learning from your wisdom and experience over the years!

BOND:

And thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure!

Carmen Choi

Carmen is the Marketing Coordinator and Preschool Podcast Manager on the HiMama team. She's been working with childcare business owners and consultants for 3 years. She is passionate making connections that empower the ECE Community through knowledge-sharing to support better outcomes for children, their families, and society!

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