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Though exacerbated by the pandemic, turnover in early childhood education is not a new phenomenon. In 2012, the Institute of Medicine & National Research Council reported early childhood settings turnover rates averaging between 25-30 percent. Some pre-pandemic studies indicate it could be even higher, at a startling 26-50% turnover rate. The pandemic has compounded the already present challenge and has made the headlines as our country grapples with the realization that a healthy child care system is critical to our economic recovery.

We hear from administrators, directors, and owners across the country as they share why hiring and retaining quality early childhood educators is challenging. In fact, we talked at length about these workforce challenges in a recent episode of Impacting the Classroom. And one thing we are all in agreement about is this: the compensation provided to teachers in early childhood is not a reasonable living wage.

This one driving challenge is more openly talked about than ever before, something that is welcome as we all double our efforts to advocate for systemic change in our field. As one study shares, “...educator wage is the strongest predictor of center-level turnover across early childhood centers.

Beyond pay, what other factors are driving high turnover rates in our field? Often, survey data is targeted towards the people hiring, and the teachers’ voices aren’t always present. Studies that include input from the educators who leave the field are more balanced and provide the most insight beyond the focus on wages. Some states, such as Illinois and Colorado, are looking into workplace quality. At the same time, the data about early childhood teachers’ well-being is being considered, as many early childhood educators are experiencing depressive symptoms.

What we are learning is a call-to-action for early childhood leaders. Early childhood educators are under duress. Research shows that when teachers are feeling depressive symptoms, they are more likely to report child behavior problems in their classrooms. This is significant because behavior challenges are an additional reason teachers leave the classroom.

While systemic change is needed, we can, as leaders, consider what changes we can make within our circle of influence.

Using CLASS to Support Educators

A tangible culture shift we can make in our centers and classrooms is to embrace the CLASS Parallel Process. The CLASS interactions that we coach our teachers to adopt in their daily work can also apply to our adult-to-adult interactions between leaders and peers.

Early childhood teachers call out specific needs, and we can wrap those into our CLASS lens and make a culture shift in the process. In addition to financial rewards and compensation, Whitebook (2011) shared that early childhood teachers need:

      • A workplace that is a learning environment where teachers can reflect on and discuss their work. By creating a positive climate and engaging in sensitive interactions that build trust and feel safe, we can build a platform for our teachers to discuss their practices thoughtfully and bring questions and frustrations forward as they seek help and guidance.

      • A workplace where teachers feel empowered to make changes as they learn new strategies and skills. By practicing regard for teacher perspectives, we can build opportunities for autonomy and leadership, give teachers a feeling of choice and ownership, and show that we value teachers’ ideas and opinions.

      • A workplace that has the resources necessary for adult well-being. As leaders, we can be sensitive and tuned in to our teachers. We can step in and help hold an infant, show up as an extra hand during a chaotic lunch routine, and be present to give adequate breaks. We can provide resource information for mental-health support. Our physical environment and routines can include comfortable spaces for adults to relax for a bit and a place of their own to feel a sense of belonging.

Whitebook shares that the well-being of the adults in early childhood settings—their living and working conditions—is an essential determinant of how well children will do. And everything can mimic what we have learned about teacher and child interactions in our adult to adult interactions. Teachers report that despite the challenges in their daily work, they care deeply about children. Kwon, Malek, et al., (2020) state that many teachers go into the field knowing they are not well-paid or respected. But they want to stay because their work is rewarding and meaningful! That sentiment is inspiring, and we should find ways to honor our teachers each day.

 

Impacting the Classroom

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