Your childcare center is only as good as your staff. If your employees are engaged and connected to their work, it will show in the care and education your center provides.
Employee engagement is not always easy to achieve; however, it should be one of your top priorities as a childcare program. Working in early education is extremely rewarding, but it can also be challenging and lead to burnout for many teachers. It is essential to provide support and resources to keep your staff motivated, engaged and happy at your center.
Below we explore various ideas that will help you devise processes, activities, and events to keep your employees engaged and invested in their work.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement measures how motivated and invested employees are in their work. Engaged employees are enthusiastic about their job and committed to the organization.
In your preschool, engaged employees will go above and beyond to provide high-quality care and education for your children. They will also be more likely to stay with your organization longer.
Why is employee engagement important?
It is not enough that your employees show up and do their jobs. If you want to provide the best possible care for your children, you need engaged and highly-motivated employees.
Engaged employees are more productive and creative and are, overall, better at their jobs. Below are more specific benefits of employee engagement.
Improves the quality of care at your center
When your employees are engaged in their work, they will provide high-quality care for your children. This is because engaged employees are motivated to do their best and are invested in providing the best care possible. Engaged employees also help create a positive work environment that promotes trust and collaboration among staff, which in turn benefits the children and families they work with daily.
Boosts employee retention and reduces turnover
It is costly and time consuming to hire and train new employees constantly. High employee turnover can also disrupt the care and education your children receive. When you have engaged employees, they are more likely to stay with your organization longer, ultimately saving you time and money and ensuring continuity of care for your children and families.
Helps you achieve business goals
Engaged employees are more likely to be committed to their own professional development and the success of your center. Happy and motivated employees understand how their goals impact the overall business and will most likely work hard to achieve them. Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool, and engaged employees are more likely to spread positive word-of-mouth about your organization. This can help you attract new families and grow your business.
Employee engagement ideas
Your employee engagement efforts should be tailored to your center’s specific needs and culture. Once you understand what engagement looks like at your childcare center, you can start devising processes, activities, and events to keep your staff engaged.
Invest in your staff's career development
Your employees will be more engaged if they feel their job has future growth. Investing in your staff's professional development shows that you are committed to your staff’s long term growth.
Take the time to identify each employee's career goals. Once you know what your employees want to achieve, outline a plan to get there and offer relevant support and resources.
Whichever career development opportunities you offer, ensure you are clear about your expectations and the employees' roles in achieving their goals.
Here are more ways to invest in your staff’s career development:
Have regular 1:1 check-ins so staff can share their highlights, challenges, and any areas they need more training or support
Hold staff evaluations at least once a year and offer thoughtful, growth-focused feedback
- Encourage your staff members to self-reflect on their own career goals throughout the year
- Delegate small leadership tasks to your teachers, such as being a health and safety coordinator or a hall monitor
- Introduce leadership programs, such as “Directors in Training,” so staff have opportunities to grow and advance at your center
- Offer tuition assistance or reimbursement for staff furthering their early childhood education
- Ask your staff what they want to learn about and organize trainings accordingly
- Subscribe to a training program for your whole team, such as the Childcare Education Institute, so that they can pick and choose what they want to learn
- Watch early childhood education trainings together as a team, such as webinars from NAEYC and brightwheel
- Organize a book or article club focused on early childhood education for your staff
- Establish a mentor program or "buddy system" at your center and pair more experienced staff with new teachers
- Regularly offer advice from your own experience as a director or administrator
- Invite other local experts, such as child psychologists or occupational therapists, to lead trainings at your center
- Subscribe to an early education publication for your staff, such as NAEYC's Teaching Young Children
Dedicate time during staff meetings to discuss current events and trends in the early childhood education field
Hold regular professional development days that go beyond state-mandated trainings
Reviewing performance on a regular basis creates a workplace culture that prioritizes feedback and professional development. Check out our staff evaluation form template to support your staff in their career development.
Show appreciation and recognition regularly
It's essential to show your appreciation for your employees' hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, many employees don't feel appreciated by their employers. In fact, a lack of appreciation is one of the leading causes of employee disengagement.
One way to show your appreciation is by giving employees regular feedback. This can be done through formal performance reviews or more informal conversations. It’s important to let your employees know what they are doing well and what areas need improvement.
In addition, give employees recognition. This can be in the form of awards, bonuses, or simply a handwritten note expressing gratitude. Public recognition is also a great way to show your appreciation. For example, announce an employee of the month or give a shout-out to someone who has gone above and beyond.
Recognition and appreciation show your employees that you value their contributions and hard work. It's a simple way to boost morale and keep your staff engaged.
Here are more ways to show appreciation and recognition to your staff:
- Plan pop-up coffee days to treat each staff member to coffee and a snack
- Offer surprise lunches from staff members’ favorite restaurants
- Plan staff outings and offsite events, such as hikes or visits to local parks and museums
- Practice active listening and implement an open door policy
- Work with staff members’ individual needs to offer flexible scheduling if possible
- Schedule a happy hour at the end of a busy week (that also includes non-alcoholic drink options)
- Express your gratitude to your team during staff meetings and highlight specific examples of great work
- Provide catered lunches once a month or every quarter
- Acknowledge staff members for their unique strengths and contributions
- Celebrate staff anniversaries as a team
- Give written cards and gift cards
- Set up a coffee/tea/hot cocoa bar in the kitchen
- Create a space for “Positivity Post-Its” in staff break rooms
- Provide fruit platters for snack time
- Host Taco Fridays, Bagel Wednesdays, and Donut Days
- Give chocolate and other sweet treats as "just because" gifts
- Highlight individual and team achievements during staff meetings
- Send thank you emails to individual staff members—for both big and little things
- Ask families to share messages of appreciation with staff members
- Organize monthly activity calendars with themed days
- Give your staff birthday goodie bags
- Have Teacher of the Week/Month awards where the winner gets extra time off work
- Have students make cards for your team
- Organize a scavenger hunt where staff can find notes of appreciation throughout your center
- Host quarterly staff dinners
- Organize a staff potluck
- Give positive verbal feedback
- Send your staff e-cards of appreciation
- Walk to every classroom in the morning to say hello and see how your staff are doing
- Ask families to donate $5 coffee gift cards for teachers
- Ask families and children to respond to the prompt “why my teacher is a superhero” through notes and drawings
- Record appreciation videos from children and families
- Organize a rotation where families can volunteer to bring coffee, baked goods, or lunch for your staff
Provide team building opportunities
Team building activities are a great way to engage your employees and promote collaboration. They can also help build trust and foster communication among team members.
There are a variety of team building activities you can try, depending on your budget and the size of your team. Some popular options include escape rooms, scavenger hunts, and group cooking classes. You can also try something more low-key, like having a potluck lunch or playing team building games.
Whatever activity you choose, make sure it's something that everyone can participate in and that there is a clear goal or objective. Team engagement activities should be fun and challenging, but they should also have a purpose.
You can help your employees build relationships and work together more effectively by providing team building opportunities. This can lead to a more engaged workforce and a more productive workplace.
Here are more team building ideas:
- Start every staff meeting with a fun icebreaker that helps your staff get to know each other better
- Play fun games on your next training day, such as Fact Bingo or Telephone Pictionary
- Implement a “staff buddy system” by assigning staff in pairs to check up on each other (switch the pairs every month or so)
- Implement “walk and talk” sessions by pairing teachers up to go on quick walks together during breaks
- Encourage your staff members to give each other recognition or “high-fives” for their hard work during team meetings
- Celebrate special holidays, milestones, and birthdays as a team
- Organize family-friendly outings for your team after work, such as free outdoor concerts or picnics at the park
- Create an optional “just-for-fun” book club or movie club that your staff can join
- Create an optional exercise club for teammates who want to walk, run, or jog together consistently
- Host orientation days if you have multiple new hires joining at the same time and include fun icebreaker activities
- Create a “Cheers for Peers” board in the staff break room
- Have your staff members take the Meyers Briggs test and share their results with the team
- Host virtual Zoom “happy hours” while your center is closed for the summer
- Have Fun Friday meetings where everyone shares a reflection or hobby
- Organize a volunteer day for your staff once or twice a year
- Host a virtual game night that staff members can invite their families to
- Create a “memory wall” in the break room so staff members can post shared team memories
- Host a clothing or household items swap
- Throw a hot dog party, pizza party, or Taco Tuesday party for your team
- Plan a show-and-tell during a staff meeting where each person shares about an object that’s meaningful to them
- Create a shared playlist of your staff’s favorite songs and play it in the morning and during break times
- Organize teacher talent shows
- Host a surprise party for your staff after a challenging or tiring week
Support your staff's well-being and mental health
The well-being of your employees should be a top priority. After all, a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. There are various ways you can support your staff's well-being, from offering health insurance to providing mental health resources.
If you can't afford to offer health insurance, there are other options you can consider, like providing stipends for gym memberships or offering healthy food. You can also provide resources like workshops on stress management or how to combat burnout, that create a culture of open communication where employees are encouraged to prioritize their mental health.
Here are more ways you can support your staff’s well-being:
- Model healthy behavior in the workplace and remember to take care of yourself
- Create space during team meetings to share self-care ideas
- Host group yoga classes after children leave for the day
- Give small gifts that emphasize self-care, like face masks, gift cards, and healthy snacks
- Plan quick mindfulness sessions throughout the day
- Let staff take dance breaks
- Host morning meditation and/or prayer
- Play relaxing music to start the day
- Implement Teacher Wellness Days so staff can have time to recharge
- Plan 5-minute meetings to check in and laugh with each other before children arrive
- Post a list of community mental health resources in your staff break room
- Set healthy boundaries with family communications for each staff member (for example, establishing times to officially “sign off”)
- Decorate your center with fresh flowers and indoor plants
- Allow staff to go on walks and get fresh air during the day
- Implement a “tap-in/ tap-out” rule so staff who feel overwhelmed can ask another staff member to step in for them while they take a quick break
- Create a comfortable room or space that’s separate from work areas where staff can unwind and relax
- Protect staff break times from interruptions, such as family communications
- Make sure staff are staying hydrated by using water bottles that measure daily water intake
- Provide workout equipment in break areas
- Lead guided box breathing at the beginning of meetings
- Give a small stipend every month for coffee or snack breaks
- Do personal check-in’s during staff meetings
- Establish strong two-way communication in 1:1 check-ins
- Watch self-care webinars together as a team
- Create an ongoing list of free mental health resources, such as apps that help with sleep and stress management
- Invite an expert to come to your center and lead a mindfulness training
- Give additional time off, or let staff leave earlier on select days of the week
- Create “coupons” where you offer to take on your staff’s less desirable day-to-day responsibilities, such as changing diapers
The importance of boosting staff engagement at your childcare center or preschool cannot be overstated. By implementing the above strategies, you can create a more engaged and productive workplace. In turn, this will lead to higher morale, increased productivity, and improved overall job satisfaction.
It's important to keep in mind that employee engagement is not a one-time event. It's an ongoing process that requires continuous effort. But the rewards are well worth the investment. By engaging your employees, you can create a more positive and productive work environment for everyone.