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4 Ways to Maintain Motivation with Your Childcare Staff—Without Spending a Dime

4 Ways to Maintain Motivation with Your Childcare Staff—Without Spending a Dime

This post was contributed by Lauren Jordan, director of Big Adventures Academy in Minnesota. 

How do we motivate staff within the child care industry? And, more importantly, how do we keep them motivated? 

There’s no doubt that childcare work is challenging, and burnout can be a real risk for teachers. As directors, it’s our job to keep staff motivation high so teachers can bring their best selves to work every day. 

That being said, there are many different things that staff look for in their careers in early childhood education, and it can be hard for busy directors to find the time to provide those things. Plus, many staff appreciation and development activities cost money—which can be a barrier for programs that run on a tight budget. We can’t all buy everyone Starbucks every day, no matter how much we’d love to!

Below, I’ve outlined four things directors can do to keep our staff motivated and keep their ambition alive—without breaking the bank.

1. Recognition and praise

Simply recognizing the hard work your teachers do can go a long way toward motivating your childcare staff. As a director, whenever I arrive in the morning, I walk around to every classroom just to say good morning and see how everything is going. By just taking 15 minutes out of your day to walk around and chat with everyone, you can make sure your staff feel valued as human beings (and, as a bonus, get a feeling for how the day is going). 

Find ways to squeeze in some praise into your morning check-ins. Oftentimes, we have no idea what our staff are going through in their home life, and we need to remember that it is our job to make sure they do their job well. It costs nothing to throw a positive vibe or two in there! Even a comment as simple as, “When did you guys make these art projects on the wall? I love them!” can help your staff feel like their efforts are being seen.

But what about then we feel like praise isn’t 100% deserved? 

Well, we sandwich negative news to our parents with a positive, so why not do this with our staff as well? You can still deliver praise and keep staff feeling positive while pointing out something that needs to be fixed. Here’s an example:

“Hey Kate, I noticed you were late today, which was a bummer. What happened there?… Well, I am glad you are here, so let’s just work on that timing! I just wanted you to know that you are doing an awesome job and I really value having you as a teacher.”

Think about this. We are setting the tone of the work environment when we constantly come into a classroom and correct, micromanage, and nag the staff who are already at the end of their rope. How discouraging is that? But in our example above, the teacher’s perception of the conversation just went from “There’s another thing I did wrong” to “Wow, we are a team and she sees value in me.” 

Ever heard the phrase, “Throw compliments like kindness”? Do it!

2. Respect and follow through

The second thing you can do to help with motivation is be a fair and respectable leader. That means keeping confidential conversations confidential, following through on what you say you’ll do, and making sure teachers don’t have a reason to distrust you. When Teacher A talks to you about something, and twenty minutes later they overhear you whispering to Teacher B, it’s easy to make assumptions. That does not feel good for the teachers involved, and it is NOT the way to retain staff! 

When you are somebody your teachers can respect, and somebody they can depend on, you bring that motivating factor to the table. They want to follow through because you always do. They know they can come to you and talk about what is going on instead of just quitting without notice because they don’t think you care about them anyways. This is a people job, and you cannot run a child care center efficiently if you cannot be somebody people can respect. 

3. Positive leadership

How many of you have a role model? Well, if you’re in a leadership position, then it’s time to be a role model. Whenever I go to work, I show up and try to be the best person I can be. I always smile and leave whatever is bothering me personally at home. If you’re carrying around stress and negativity, your staff can feel your stress. Being a positive leader is one of the most beneficial things you can do for them. 

The best leaders lead by example. When a classroom is out of ratio because a staff member called in, step up and work in the classroom! I have seen so many directors try so hard to rearrange everything so they don’t have to be in the classroom for 2 hours of their day. Even when you have office work to be done, it needs to be second priority to the actual classrooms. Of course, there are limitations to that—if you are in the classroom 10 hours a day and not getting anything done in the office, that can pose a big problem for your center. The goal is that your staff see that you are willing to make sacrifices to make sure the children, the staff, and the parents come first. After all, isn’t that who we are here for?

4. Daily communication

The final way to keep your teachers motivated is to communicate with them frequently. You don’t have to have a weekly teacher meeting to know what your staff need. Honestly, I think I have learned more from my staff by communicating in the moment than I ever did in a formal one-on-one meeting! 

When you catch them on the fly and say, “Oh hey, I know you were having an issue with your shift, which is why we changed your hours. How is that going?” then you’ll get an honest and natural answer. 

That being said, I always have one-on-ones available for teachers who want them! I just usually do them monthly or even upon request. However, when you connect with your staff on a daily basis, they feel noticed by you, and it eliminates some of their immediate stress so they can bring more to the table at work. 

Keep the motivation going

The running theme here is making your teachers feel like they’re being noticed. Teachers work their butts off, and I think it is very important to recognize them! Nothing is worse than working hard at a job that feels thankless, so don’t forget to appreciate the work your teachers do. Gifts are nice sometimes, but let’s be real—most of us in the child care industry are “acts of service” people, and we are here because we care. When we give love by caring, most of the time it’s because that is how we want to receive it. Taking care of your staff community will be noticed and appreciated.

Keep showing your teachers that you appreciate the hard work they’re doing, and they’ll be more motivated to keep showing up and doing their best!

About the author

Lauren Jordan is the director of Big Adventures Academy in Minnesota.

Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at

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