COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

Supporting a Strong Education Workforce

The pandemic has created unprecedented staff shortages in communities across the country. There are also concerns that many children will be entering the program after a year and a half of reduced or no services. It is more important than ever to provide a strong workforce for young children and their families.

Recruiting and retaining qualified staff is a critical component of Head Start program planning. Teachers, family child care providers, and home visitors are essential to delivering high-quality comprehensive services to children and families. Many programs benefit from developing training and education programs for parents and community members. Over 20% of Head Start staff are former parents, and they are an incredible asset. Use the following ideas to recruit, train, and retain staff who are qualified and dedicated to working with our youngest learners and their families.

Consider staffing schedules and other benefits to support education staff, such as:

  • Time away from children and families to plan, reflect, and refuel during the workday.
  • Paid time for sick leave, vacation, mental health days, and professional development opportunities. Allow staff to visit other classrooms or observe colleagues to inspire teaching practices and build a networking community.
  • A team of full-time floater staff who can be extra support during transitions or mealtimes, when not serving as a substitute.
  • Health insurance and benefits, including access to mental health services and self-care support.

Create a culture of belonging for staff so they feel part of the Head Start mission and the early childhood education (ECE) community. To do this:

  • Welcome staff into your program and the Head Start family. Acknowledge our celebrated history, including services for infants and toddlers within Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs even before Early Head Start began in 1995.
  • Foster peer connections through coaching, mentoring, or a buddy system. These methods can provide a safe place to ask questions, observe, and learn practical tips. This may be particularly helpful to staff who are new to the program.
  • Encourage staff to join MyPeers and follow the Head Start page and Head Start Teacher Support group on Facebook to network, share, and learn with Head Start and ECE colleagues around the country.

Learn what drives staff motivation. You can offer appropriate and meaningful supports by understanding what inspires them. To do this:

  • Listen to their personal and professional perspectives. Ensure staff insights, efforts, and roles are respected within the program and community.
  • Spend time observing staff in action. Send a note to follow up and describe how their actions supported a child and family.
  • Let staff know you value them by sharing their important contributions to the program. Document and recognize the moments when children and families are engaged and enjoying the experiences staff created.
  • Cultivate joy. Remind yourself and others to pause and reflect on why we do what we do. Encourage staff to play with children and notice their awe and laughter. Highlight the positive interactions staff have with children.
  • Offer as much autonomy as possible to foster self-efficacy. Even a small budget for staff to select and purchase materials and supplies can make an impact. Allow them to try a new approach and then reflect on its impact.
  • Shine a light on what’s going well — with an eye on continuous improvement.
  • Promote mindfulness, particularly during stressful times. Acknowledge everyone is doing their best on behalf of children and families every day. Frame challenges as growth opportunities for the program and staff.

Develop collaborative efforts and initiatives with community partners to enrich the local ECE workforce. To do this:

  • Consider ways to offer paid internships for students in credential and degree programs, including from high schools and institutes of higher education.
  • Talk with higher education liaisons to understand through which ECE and related degree programs their graduates may have challenges finding employment. The Head Start program could become an entry point if the college or university added a Child Development Associate® (CDA) credential or ECE coursework.
  • Ensure courses and curricula delivered by Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, technical high schools, and local colleges include ECE content that meets program and community needs. For example, the content focuses on children’s development and learning from birth to 5, supports Head Start and licensing regulations, and aligns with CDA® and other credentialing subject areas.
  • Consider ways to link professional development and training opportunities to credentialing or degree programs. Encourage staff to access and use continuing education units or certificates of attendance to document educational clock hours for annual professional development, CDA® credentials, or other licensures.
  • Seek local experts who could become child development specialists for the CDA® program to help expedite the credentialing process.

Explore additional resources to recruit, hire, and onboard a strong education workforce.