9 Ways to Improve Teacher Retention at Your Preschool

Early childhood education provides an important service for our youth and the world at large. Not only do these programs and teachers educate children and help them develop, but they allow parents and caregivers to contribute to society in a way that benefits whole communities. Improving teacher retention in preschools and early childhood education centers positively impacts all of us.  

Male preschool teacher sitting on floor and helping a child build with colorful blocks.

Teacher attrition rates are central to the educational reform conversation. Teaching is an arduous, all-encompassing career, and early childhood educators are leaving the profession at a greater rate than in previous years.  

A 2023 study shows “even in the highly resourced early childhood programs…staff turnover was 30% annually and the average duration of lead teachers and assistants/aides was a little more than two years.” The battle to retain good educators is profoundly multifaceted, requiring systemic and policy changes at every level.  

However, there are things every program director can do today to enhance and improve teacher retention at their respective preschools and early childhood education centers. Here are 9 of them.   

Include Teachers in Decision-making   

There are few things more frustrating than administrators micromanaging every aspect of the classroom. When educators are not included in decisions that impact their day-to-day routines, they do not feel valued. An employee who does not feel valued will not stick around. Surefire ways to ensure teachers feel heard are inviting their input, giving them options, and including them in the decisions that affect their ability to do their job.  

Trust Your Teachers  

Once a teacher has been hired and trained, they need time and space to establish themselves. Trust them enough to allow for that time and space. No two days are alike in teaching, with new scenarios and complications arising all the time. Believing your teachers can handle themselves professionally and appropriately helps build confidence and trust, two key elements to any successful working relationship.   

Express Appreciation  

Pennsylvania early childhood educator Jan Hoculock believes one of the most important steps of improving teacher retention is for “administration to actually appreciate us.” Hoculock doesn’t suggest expensive gifts or elaborate Teacher Appreciation Week celebrations; words of affirmation go a long way. A simple thank you or acknowledgement of a job well done are two easy (free!) ideas. Other ideas for expressing gratitude to hardworking teachers are celebrating teaching milestones, recognizing a professional achievement, and simply being available when needed. 

Pay Teachers Well  

Paying teachers a competitive living wage is a no-brainer approach to addressing the high turnover rate. UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) Senior Research Scientist Donna Bryant, PhD agrees and notes: “Recruiting and retaining a diverse, well-qualified, and stable workforce to support children and their families requires that we address the fact that teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated.” Bryant’s reference to the many moving parts of a comprehensive educational overhaul speaks to the breadth and depth of the issue; however, offering adequate compensation is certainly a great place to start!  

 Respect Their Work  

Teaching little ones is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. Administrators who respect their staff acknowledge these demands by actively listening to concerns and ideas, asking how they can help, and not making a habit of regularly interrupting instructional time.   

Show Teachers Support   

It certainly takes a village to raise and educate a child, but conflict within the village is inevitable. When faced with a challenge, be it a concerned parent or a curriculum issue, administrators who support their teachers send a very clear message: I’ve got your back. Conflict can also occur in the form of stress, and when that happens, advocating for their healthy work/life balance is another fantastic way to support teachers.   

Offer Training Opportunities  

Quality training is an investment in teachers and students. The key to ensuring a return on that investment is providing relevant, valuable training that strengthens teacher competency and/or provides opportunities for professional growth.   

Cultivate a Collaborative Work Environment  

Feeling a sense of belonging is a basic human need. It is also a powerful motivator for employees to remain at their jobs. According to a 2023 Work in America Survey, “connection and community, including belonging, is one of five workplace essentials identified by the U.S. surgeon general for workers' psychological health and well-being.” Workplaces that encourage collaboration among staff generally have employees with higher job satisfaction rates. Those who are content tend to stay put. 

Conduct Stay Interviews   

Considered the opposite of the exit interview, stay interviews focus on teachers who want to stay. Education Week’s article The Stay Interview: How It Can Help Schools Hold Onto Valued Staff explains:  

“A stay interview takes place during the school year, not at year’s end, and it’s conducted primarily with employees that you don’t want to lose—rather than those who’ve already decided to leave. An effective stay interview…can elicit powerful information from employees considered ‘enthusiastic stayers.’ In turn, you can use this input to ensure their continued job engagement and retention.” 

Low-income Phoenix Elementary School District has found much success with stay interviews. In the first three years of conducting them, the district experienced teacher retention of more than 90%! Compared to similar districts’ 20% retention rate, stay interviews are proof it pays to focus on the positives.  

 

About the Author:

 

Stephanie Jankowski is an educator and author who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When she's not teaching or writing, she's spending time with her children, Brady, Ella, and Lyla, and marveling at just how short the years really are.