Across the country, child care centers struggle to attract and retain the best teachers and other staff.
An industry leader gave her insights into how to do just that in a tip-filled Early Childhood Investigations webinar sponsored by Procare Solutions.
The “Staff Retention from Inception: Effective Interviews and Onboarding in Early Childhood Education” was led by Beth Cannon, an international speaker, educator and entrepreneur known for her passion for engaging leaders and inspiring teams.
For more than 20 years, she has trained owners of early education centers on running their businesses.
And what’s key on the minds of those owners these days is finding, and keeping, great staff.
In the webinar, Beth discussed:
- Defining your center’s core values
- Making a plan to find the best talent
- Asking the right questions
- Onboarding new hires
You can watch the webinar here.
Okay, now let’s jump into the recap.
Thinking about your core values
Your values create your center’s culture and defining them will help you find the staff best suited to your center, Beth said.
“It’s been a rough year, my friends,” she said of the struggles centers have endured during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That means now is the time to recalibrate and retool. And that process requires taking the time to think of values each center is trying to create.
To determine your values, ask yourself: As a leader, what do you love with all your heart and what are you willing to fight for? And what infuriates you?
Use Google to help start that process by searching for the phrase “core values.” Words that might pop up, or come to mind without prompt, include integrity, faith and teamwork.
That process also involves refining core values and identifying what’s hijacking your culture.
So think about your brand, which is much bigger than a center’s building or logo or fonts — it requires a strategy and being intentional.
“Your staff has a brand,” Beth said. Think about what sets your school apart from other schools.
Ask what is the talent you need your teachers to display so that when you sell your school, you’re selling an on-brand staff. Also ask whether your team brand is attracting your ideal customer — you can’t think about staff if you don’t think of your ideal customer.
“As providers, you’re delivering an experience,” Beth said. “Yes, it’s a service. But it’s also an experience.”
Beth also said it’s important to remember that child care centers have five generations in their workforce — employees who are boomers all the way to Gen Z. And that means finding a way to balance those age differences.
Culture is a combination of what you create and what you allow, Beth said. And in her experience, early childhood centers are not always intentional about what they create.
Finding the right candidates
Beth urged centers to develop a talent attraction strategy that is not reactive.
Think about where you’ll find your staff and what you will offer them. Beth said she’s seeing sign-on bonuses being offered to teachers, as well as increased benefits.
“The job market definitely is changing and you have to be in tune with what’s happening,” she said.
Paper applications are a waste of time, she said. Create one using Google forms, which is free and easy to use.
Be specific about job descriptions.
And she encouraged using the website Trello, a free project management site that allows directors to make online boards with associated notes to organize information such as tracking applicants and where you’ve posted job listings.
“This is life-changing,” Beth said of Trello. She said taking the time to set up boards, especially before a new school year starts, is invaluable and allows directors to be intentional while doing interviews and to easily share information with others in the hiring process.
Asking the right questions
Beth referred to the interview process as a discovery process.
“Who do you want to hire? I’m a firm believer it’s not anyone who can pass the background check,” Beth said.
She never does an initial face-to-face interview with a job candidate. Instead, she schedules a virtual meeting. If the candidate doesn’t show up on her screen, she hasn’t wasted much time and she can rule that person out from getting the job.
And rather than shy away from tough questions, she wants to open a can of worms during the interview. She stressed the importance of asking questions centered around a center’s core values.
Other questions she asks during that process, in which she wants to hear specific examples, include:
- What talents they will bring to the team
- Whether candidates have looked at her center’s website
- What they love and what drives them crazy
- About a time when they enjoyed a group of children, something she considers more important than their experience
- And about a time when they had a conflict with a coworker, a question she follows up with questions about what they could have done differently
“Don’t ask for strengths and weaknesses,” she said, citing the need for concrete examples. “Great employees are self aware.”
She said red flags to watch for during an interview include if the employee makes excuses why he or she can’t answer a question or keeps looking at a phone during the interview. She also said that if you sense a lingering “toxic boil” from the person’s last position, now might not be time to bring that candidate into your center.
And she wants to know how candidates will fit within the culture of your building. One way to do that is through what Beth calls a “discovery day.” That means observing the employee in a test-run situation that allows her to view the skills they have, as well as their skill gaps.
You’ve found a good fit! Now what?
When you’ve found a candidate that fits into the culture of your center, don’t shy away from technology during the onboarding process for new employees, Beth said.
She also said it’s vital that leaders of child care centers think carefully about their training procedures — and the new orientation process should not include a big stack of paperwork and a paper manual.
“To those of you who say you’re not hiring people with tech skills — well, COVID made us different,” she said. “There are very few people who don’t have a smartphone and very few people who don’t have a computer at home.”
Consider using Trello to create an onboarding board assigned to the employee with a list of forms and tasks to complete. Each list has cards beneath it, and once each task is completed, the new hire can click on the card and drag it to the done column. That can be done on the Trello app or website.
“If your school uses Procare, you are a school that can bring your staff into the technology age,” Beth said.
She said training manuals should be online, not paper copies, to speed up the training and make it simpler to use.
And Beth said centers must invest in new hires.
A mentorship program, even if informal, is a key part of retention.
Assign a mentor to new hires, such as a lead teacher or another “culture warrior” who has been there for a significant amount of time. Make sure to applaud the new hire for things you see him or her doing well, such as leading a great circle time or handling a playground scuffle. And make sure the mentor has questions to look for areas of growth.
Beth said to ask yourself if you are creating an environment where good employees want to stay. Ask new employees how you can help and serve them, and make sure they know you’re listening.
We invite you to watch the full webinar replay here to help you glean more of Beth’s tips on finding — and keeping! — the best employees for your center. She also will be one of several expert panelists speaking at Procare’s Business of Child Care Conference on July 21 and will host a session called Pouring Your Passion Into Your Staff. She’ll talk about the change that child care center leaders go through as they adapt from only pouring into the lives of young children, to also pouring into the people who pour into their teams. In this presentation, you’ll reflect on your leadership strengths and address where you’re not so strong … and you’ll walk away as a more confident and self-aware team-building boss.