Category Archives: National Head Start Association Conference

Presenting at the 39th Annual Head Start Association Conference: Preschool Teacher Turnover Rates

At the 39th Annual Head Start Association Conference I presented on some preliminary research findings on the issue of teacher retention in a presentation called Relationships Matter: Qualitative Interviews with Head Start Preschool Teachers on Turnover Rates.

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To see the actual presentation powerpoint, click Teacher Retention Research Results NHSA.

Many, in fact, most or nearly all preschools have a problem retaining qualified teachers. Many teachers leave after a short period of time, for a number of reasons. This impacts the young child’s learning, since 1) they are constantly bombarded with new teachers and new personalities and new styles of teaching and 2) they are being taught by less experienced teachers.

Teacher retention also affects the parents. In fact, I had several parents tell me that their child had between 3-8 different preschool teachers all within a school year (depending on the parent–of course these are more extreme cases, but it does happen). And parents find it difficult to form relationships with teachers and in turn may not always be the most up-to-date on their child’s learning and what they need to work on at home.

This also greatly impacts the quality of a preschool program: 1) it’s financially costly. Hiring and training new employees is not easy and takes a lot of man hours and therefore money (not to mention all of the benefits associated with that organization, like health care, which isn’t cheap). 2) New teachers typically means less quality, as they are trying to learn how that organization operates, how the children learn and what their needs are, etc. 3) Old employees become fed-up with having to do a greater share of the workload while new employees are being hired and trained (which can take a long time to find qualified teachers)–which can create a snowball effect of having promising, qualified, experienced teachers leave due to (what some term) “workplace abuse”–where they become agitated by not being fully staffed, which impacts them in multiple ways (such as their work load or trying to take vacation).

In other words, the aim of the study was to learn why Head Start teachers would leave and what changes they want to happen in order to continue working for Head Start

So I sought out what makes preschool teachers at our 10 Head Start centers stay or leave the organization. I conducted qualitative interviews using a clustered randomized designed, where I went to each preschool and interviewed one lead and one assistant preschool teacher (all of which were chosen at random from each school) leading to a total of 10 lead and 10 assistant preschool teacher interviews.

The preliminary results showed 4 themes:

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 7.33.03 PMIn relationships matter, the more influence an individual had with a person, the more important they were towards determining if that person would stay or leave the agency, based on their relationship with that person. So for example, if they were the lead preschool teacher, their relationship with their assistant was the most important relationship in determining if they would stay or leave the agency since they spent the most time together (40+ hours per week). Their supervisor became the next important relationship, as they would typically see their supervisor daily. If they had strong relationships with these people, they typically wanted to stay (and some even stated that the only reason they are still here is because of those relationships–despite any other issues that they may have).

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 7.37.09 PM Another theme on why teachers would stay or leave the agency revolved around paperwork. Preschool teachers have a lot of paperwork to do. And Head Start teachers have more paperwork than other preschool teachers because of all of the federal guidelines. Not surprisingly then, the preschool teachers were stressed about the paperwork. However, not in the way many imagine. The teachers weren’t stressed that they had to do the paperwork. In fact many of them even thought that most or all of the paperwork was necessary and important. However, the teachers stated that they lacked the time to complete the paperwork. And it was not having built-in reflection time that made them stressed about the paperwork, as the teachers either had to do all of their paperwork while the children were in the classroom, while the children napped (which was often confounded by at least one child not sleeping and therefore needing attention, or they had to bring the paperwork home in order to complete it, which wasn’t ideal for their work or home life). Teachers suggested having a half an hour to an hour either before school or after school each day that was built in for paperwork, where children were not allowed to be there (i.e. starting school at 8am, but having teachers start work at 7:30) or to have half or all day Friday to complete their paperwork). In fact, those who had part-day classrooms had Fridays to complete their paperwork, and those in part-day classrooms were much more likely to be satisfied with the paperwork aspect and therefore stay with the company, while those in full-day classrooms never had a break to do their paperwork and were more likely to leave due to not having time to complete their paperwork.

Teachers working with children in a Head Start program are often aware of child behavior problems. There has been a lot of research to support the idea that young children have behavior problems but that those from poor/impoverished families have about three times more behavior problems than the middle-of-the-road preschool does. Teachers often complained about the severity of the behaviors, alluding to acceptable behavior problems and other problems that should be beyond the reach of any preschool teacher who is trying to teach 19 other children with only one other supporting teacher. Therefore, many teachers suggested that not every child be allowed into the program, as they simply couldn’t serve everyone’s particular needs and that some children might be better served in classrooms or schools that deal with severe behavioral problems.

Lastly, teachers required support. The teachers who stated they either received or did not need support said they would like to stay with the agency while those who needed support, requested support, but didn’t feel they had received support were more likely to state that they would leave the agency.

In addition to these four themes, all of the teachers discussed if they viewed their position as a job or a profession. As it turns out, preschool teachers in the Head Start program very much see their position as a career, albeit with some hurdles to overcome. However, they want to stay in early childcare, especially with disadvantaged children, like those in Head Start, for their whole career.

This means that if teachers leave, it’s because their needs aren’t being met, not because they didn’t want to be in this particular field. Therefore each agency should look at what needs the teachers require and then try to satisfy those needs in order to retain valuable qualified competent preschool teachers.

In this case, making sure they are paired up with leads/assistants that they communicate and get along with well, provide teachers time to complete their paperwork, reconsidering child behavior problems, and providing enough support to teachers who request it, taking their requests seriously and providing valuable, applicable feedback to their issues.

Presenting at the 39th Annual National Head Start Association Conference: Enhancing Program Quality

I was working for a Head Start organization at the time of the 39th Annual National Head Start Association Conference in Quality Assurance. One of my job duties was to research problems within the organization and provide feedback on how to correct those problems so that the program would be of higher quality. My boss and I quickly realized that communication between our centers was a problem, since we were completely spread out over 11 locations and two counties within a major metropolitan city.

Trying to drive to all the centers wasted too much time. Conference calls were hard to coordinate and even if everyone could be on the conference call, many of them felt it hard to participate since they couldn’t see the presentations and sometimes had difficulty hearing. Plus we were in the field (i.e. at preschools) a lot and needed to update data on-site in real time.

We (my boss and I) developed a talk that helped to correct these issues, presenting a talk entitled Enhancing Program Quality: Using Technology to Assess Data and Communicate Efficiently. 

We discussed various technology tools that helped made our lives easier, figuring that other agencies may be running into a similar predicament.

We started simple, discussing Google (and Google for Non-profits).

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Some of the Google products we discussed were the Google Calendar, Google Documents (now called Google Drive), and Blogger (while simultaneously showing WordPress).

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When we used our calendars at work, we realized that we had to be on a work computer in order to update and to check them. This was nearly impossible though if we were out in the field visiting a preschool. So Google Calendar was a great solution. Since many people have smart phones today, we could easily log on using our smart phones and update the calendar as to where we are and what we’re doing, as well as see what other colleagues are doing so we know how to reach them. Everything can be color coded as well, so if you want to put different people in different colors, have a particular color for meetings or specific school locations or vacations–it’s all possible and is rather intuitive.

Google Drive is a place where you can go and upload documents. This was extremely important for us, because it allows the users to update data in real time. Moreover, you can check to see who the last person was who updated data and when they did that, so it was easy to determine how new/relevant/complete the data was. Moreover  it’s secure, as a password is required in order to log in and the person running the drive can determine who has access to the drive (and can add or remove people whenever they choose to do so).

Then we described how using blogs (through Blogger or WordPress) could be beneficial for the agency to self-promote itself to the parents, teachers, and the world about the great work that they’re doing. We also described how we used it as another medium, much like Facebook or Twitter, to inform parents about school closings or delays.

In addition to Google products, we also introduced the audience to Ustream, which is like Youtube, except that you can record for however many minutes you need to (while Youtube limits you to under 15 minutes of recording time per clip). We used this in trainings, so that if someone missed a training, it would be recorded live and they could go back and view it whenever they wanted. However, we also used it on conference calls, so people that were in another location could see us live, as we presented the material and therefore be more of a participant. This is tremendous, because now audience members could participate with us, watching us actually give the presentation rather than just hearing it on the phone. Naturally we had to grant them access, but that is easy to do once you read a little about Ustream and how it works.

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We also realized that with conference calls, people often felt leftout. That they weren’t getting the same experience as being in the room, and let’s be honest, often did other tasks (i.e. playing with email) while on the conference call. Well now we had a solution. Since our centers were so spread out and not everyone could make it to the meeting place, we actually saved the company money (in not having to pay for people to waste gas), while saving the employees time (on not having to commute back and forth and therefore stay at their center in case they were urgently needed), while making them feel like a participant by introducing them to join me. is a free site that allows you to do two things: screen share and conference call. So by signing up, they send you a “phone number” that you then pass along to anyone that you want to join the meeting (i.e. email the phone number to the participants). Then they click on the link and they are a part of join me, where you can talk to them and they can see your screen–so as you move through your presentation, they can follow along, seeing all the visuals, and hearing everything you (and others) say during the conference call.

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 7.00.25 PMAll of these products discussed are free! All saved time, money, and resources! It’s worth looking into to see if they meet the needs of your agency.

The 39th Annual National Head Start Association Conference: The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

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In mid-April 2012 I presented two different research projects at the 39th Annual National Head Start Association Conference, hosted of course by the National Head Start Association in Nashville, TN at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center (pictures taken from their websites photo gallery).

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The Gaylord Opryland was truly a spectacular venue for a conference. It wasn’t just a hotel with large rooms to accommodate a conference. There was a whole world inside the hotel. The hotel opens up with rooms surrounding the interior, much like a castle wall (although there is no resemblance to a castle wall). However, these rooms are protecting the middle of the hotel, which is filled with shops, dining, exotic looking trees, and even a lazy river, where you can rent a boat and go for a little ride (more made for families with small children than a romantic couple date, but still pretty cool. Plus there was plenty of courteous staff who were able to help you maneuver through the hotel.

The negatives to the hotel though were that you could (and will) easily become lost in the labyrinth within the hotel. After acclimating myself, I ended up having to shift between three different rooms during my stay. The first room hadn’t been cleaned and there were pizza boxes and other food and drink leftovers from the previous occupants. The second room had an amazing view of this (maybe 20 ft) waterfall.  This was great to look at from the balcony, but unfortunately  I could still hear the water crashing down even with the balcony door closed and therefore transfered to yet a third room.

However, overall, the hotel/resort is truly a nice gift to the Nashville area and worth visiting and staying at. Moreover, there are loads of shopping (and an IMAX theater) to be had within walking distance of the hotel, if you’re not satisfied with all of the shopping within the hotel.

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Head Start Data Collection: Writing Anecdotals

Collecting data on the child’s growth and development is important. It’s required by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), for accreditation purposes, for individualization, and for the performance of the (Head Start) program.

At the 2010 National Head Start Association Conference, Kathy Freismuth and I presented on data collection and focused specifically on writing anecdotals. See the attached PowerPoint for more details on writing quality anecdotals and forms that could be used to better inform employees about writing quality anecdotals.

There are lots of different forms of documentation:

  • Portfolios
  • Growth and Development Books
  • Journals
  • Checklists
  • Running Records
  • Tallies
  • Photographs
  • Audio/Video
  • Rating Scales
  • Matrices
  • Work Samples
  • Written Anecdotals

Objectivity is crucial when writing anecdotals. Writing exactly what that child does–describing only the behavior. Ask the child open-ended questions to better understand what they are working on and so they can explain in their own words.

A Good Observation involves the following:

  • Objective/Factual Language
  • Write only what you see/hear
  • Complete at “point of service”–when the activity happens
  • Observe a skill over a period of time–this is important to see the growth and development of the child
  • Observe the child in different settings–this is important because if you always watch the child completing one activity, you will only know how they perform at that activity (i.e. all anecdotals written at block area tells you little about how the child draws/paints/socializes/eats/plays/etc).

What Makes Head Start Parents Involved in Head Start?

In 2010 I conducted a study on Head Start parents in order to see why they were or weren’t involved in the Head Start classrooms or at Head Start parent group meetings.

I randomly chose 4 Head Start preschools and handed out a Parent Involvement Questionnaire (and also had the questionnaire inSpanish) to the parents as they dropped off their children. Over a week period, I managed to collect 239 questionnaires from parents (they appreciated that the questionnaire only took about 5 minutes to complete, since they are often rushing to drop their child off and head to work in the mornings). Click Here to see the PowerPoint that was presented at the National Head Start Association Conference in 2010.

Most of the parent’s filling out the survey were mothers, and about 50% were African American, 25% White and 22% Hispanic. Most parents were between 26-30 or 31 and over. Parents were likely to visit the classrooms and to receive fliers from teachers on upcoming parent involvement activities, like parent school days and parent group meetings. Parents also admitted that the teachers did encourage them to come into the classroom.

Parents however expressed barriers to participating in the classroom at Head Start such as having a busy schedule and work/school conflicts. Parents stated that they would be more likely to participate in the classroom if they were instructed what to do when in the classroom, if they could complete a project that they were knowledgeable about, and if teachers encouraged and praised parents often about their participation.

Parents stated that they would be more likely to attend parent group meetings at Head Start if the parent group meetings met on different days and times, if their children presented their work (i.e. art projects, singing, ‘prom’ nights).