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Dear ELI

November/December 2019
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Dear ELI,

Recognizing that benefits go beyond health insurance and pay, we have been offering mindfulness, self-care and self-compassion training to our teachers, in addition to complimentary copies of books we find inspiring. What are other examples of good non-compensation retention strategies?


We love our staff
and want them to know it!



Dear Staff Supporter,

Good for you! Low wages are a consistent challenge in our field, and if you are looking for other meaningful ways to reward and celebrate your staff, you are already ahead of the curve.

As a starting point, I will see your staff trainings and raise you a dose of staff empowerment! Encourage educators to share their knowledge during monthly meetings with mini-trainings or Q & A sessions in which they can share their own expertise with their peers. This gives them a chance to shine in a comfortable environment, and to expand their repertoire of skills to include public speaking and conducting trainings.

You can also promote commitment and loyalty by strengthening your staff’s sense of connection to the school/center community. Recognize annual work anniversaries through monthly announcements at staff meetings, share “shout-outs” on a whiteboard in the staff lounge, and leave thoughtful, personal notes in teachers’ mailboxes. (My grandmother, may she rest in peace, was a stalwart believer in the value of a good thank you note. Her instincts were spot-on.) Recognizing educators frequently and visibly for their accomplishments and successes does a great deal for morale and the sense that “we are all one big family.” From buying a house to welcoming a new baby to passing a college course, we all need opportunities for validation and sharing our happiness. On the flip side, be sure to show up for staff during times of crisis. Organize meal deliveries, attend funerals, offer babysitting or gift cards when they could be helpful. These are the tiny little details that take relationships from professional to deeply invested.

Finally, if your teachers are like most (ahem, all?) teachers, they can also use a break—even at its most rewarding, full-time work with young children delivers exhaustion alongside enjoyment. Provide relief from the classroom so that your staff can participate in a career-advancing webinar while on the clock, or pay for staff to attend optional, advanced trainings and conferences. If you can find ways to save your employees money in the community, go for it! Local stores may be willing to give a small discount to your employees. Purchase or negotiate free access to museums, cinemas, or theatre productions. Provide lunch for everyone once a month—or even just once a quarter if that feels more affordable. It does not have to be beef wellington and baked Alaska; it’s the thought that counts and almost everyone likes pizza. 

One last thought—pop into the classroom and send a staff person outside to walk or meditate for 15 minutes every now and then, in addition to their regular breaks. These occasional “breathers” mean a lot to teachers and keep administrators in touch with classroom dynamics.

Mary Muhs, Lori Harris and Alexandra Green contributed to this column.



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