Category Archives: My Head Start Research

Head Start Preschool Teacher Retention

I recently published an article in Early Childhood Research Quarterly (the best early childhood education journal) showing the factors that can predict Head Start preschool teachers quitting their employment across the first half of the school year (click here to read the published article).

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Study Design: Ten Head Start centers in one major Midwest city were recruited to participate (170 total preschool teachers). Head Start preschool teachers with two years or less of experience, were asked to complete a 16-item questionnaire, as well as a demographics questionnaire at the beginning of the school year (n = 65 participating preschool teachers).

In January, half-way through the school year, I learned from the Center Directors who had continued teaching and who had quit. I then compared the scores of those who stayed and those who quit for any differences.

Preschool teachers came from a variety of backgrounds, according to the demographic questionnaire–different races, ages, work experiences, education, etc. There were also some differences between lead and assistant preschool teachers (see full article). However, all but one of the participants were female.

Huge Turnover Rates:

  • 48% of all Head Start teachers were newly hired (within the last two years)!
  • 36% of newly hired teachers quit during the first half of the school year!

The preschool teachers’ salary was not a contributing factor to their quitting their job. In fact, on a one-to-seven scale, preschool teachers who stayed rated their salary as a 3.9, while those who quit rated theirs as a 3.7 (statistically identical)–and both are just above the middle (3.5 out of 7), suggesting that both stayers and quitters think their salary is adequate.

Five factors differed between those who stayed and those who quit:

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Preschool teachers were more likely to quit if they:

  1. did not want to stay teaching in the early childhood education (ECE) field
  2. were not happy
  3. had a bad relationship with their supervisor
  4. did not like their work environment
  5. had a lower education

In addition, the more factors that an individual teacher possessed the more likely they were to quit (e.g. if they did not want to stay in ECE AND were not happy AND did not like their supervisor AND did not like their work environment AND had a low education).

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While those preschool teachers who kept teaching, either did not have any or had only one of these five risk factors.

Conclusion: Preschool teacher turnover affects child outcomes, the quality of the preschool program, the teachers who continue teaching, and those who feel they need to quit their job.

Interventions should use this information to tailor their programs, so that fewer preschool teachers quit their job; yielding positive outcomes for children, parents, the school, and the teachers.

A Quantitative Look at Preschool Teachers’ Retention: A Study on Head Start Teachers


Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 10.39.13 AMI was just at the 23rd EECERA Conference: Values, Culture and Contexts hosted by the European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA) in Tallinn, Estonia where I gave a presentation entitled A Quantitative Look at Preschool Teachers’ Retention: A Study on Head Start Teachers. Click here to see my presentation.

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I presented in an oral session under the heading Leadership and Quality, which felt quite fitting, as this research was completed in an effort to improve the quality of classroom instruction by motivating the leadership to make

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 10.53.59 AMneeded changes in order to keep preschool teachers teaching. My research was on head start teacher retention, and comparing those preschool teachers who stayed versus those who quit working for Head Start. I found that the reasons preschool teachers quit are due to five main factors: the center director (their boss), their stress levels, their amount of paperwork, their wanting to stay in Early Childhood Education as a career and their level of higher education.

There were two other presenters in this session: Elina Fonsen from the University of Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 3.32.20 PMTampere (Finland) who gave a presentation called “Dimensions of pedagogical leadership in Early Childhood Education and Care” and Geraldine Davis from Anglia Ruskin University (UK) talked about “Graduate Leader Plus. Making a difference beyond education.”

Elina promoted her new book chapter, while Geraldine discussed teachers’ education levels and the benefits from those who participated in Leadership Plus.

Read about the overall aspects of the conference here.

To read more about Tallinn, Estonia (and the Old Town in Tallinn) click here.

41st Annual Nordic Educational Research Association Conference in Iceland: Preschool Teacher Retention

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 2.37.58 PMFrom March 7th to the 9th, I was at the 41st Annual Nordic Educational Research Association Conference in Iceland (click here to read about the overall conference and the keynote speakers). The 41st annual conference website is found here.

There were about 700 people, mostly Scandinavians, at this conference. In order to present at this conference, the research must be completed either in a Scandinavian country (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, or Denmark) or the presenter must be connected to a Scandinavian institution.

Since I am a PhD student at Uppsala University, I applied and was accepted to present in 20130309_160549a symposium. A symposium is where three or four different researchers give presentations about their own research, normally with the symposium having similar talks.

My research was completed on Head Start preschool teachers and their willingness to stay or leave their employment; therefore the other people who presented with me, also discussed similar themes.

I presented a preliminary analysis on the Lead teachers in 10 Head Start preschool programs in a talk entitled “Simple Requests to Maintain High Quality Teachers- A Qualitative Study on Preschool Teacher Retention.”

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Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 2.55.10 PMThere were two Finnish researchers who also presented within the same symposium as Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 2.55.57 PMme: Sanna Honkimäki and Anne Martin. They are from the Finnish Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä. Their research was entitled “Teachers moving to other jobs? Interviews of former teachers in Finland. Much to my surprise, they found very similar results as I did on why teachers would leave the teaching profession–where teachers are stressed, overworked, underpaid, and even in Finland, feel under-appreciated.

Another presenter, a PhD student named Anna-Carin BredmarScreen Shot 2013-03-13 at 3.00.03 PM, in our symposium was from the Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies at the University of Göteborg (Gothenburg). Her presentation was called “Teachers’ experiences of work enjoyment as an atmosphere–An empirical lifeworld phenomenological analysis.” Her talk was very interesting, as the Finns and I spoke about the negative aspects of the teaching profession, Anna-Carin Bredmar discussed the positive (enjoyment) side of teaching–aka–what motivates teachers to get up and show up for work every day.

See my other posts on Iceland by checking out Reykjavik IcelandThe Blue LagoonThe Golden CircleThe National Museum of Iceland, and Accommodations in Reykjavik (Boholt Apartments mainly).

I attended a conference called the Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA). See the Keynote Speakers or my research on Preschool Teacher Retention.

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.

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).

Head Start Preschool Teachers: Jobs or Professions

Head Start Preschool Teachers: Jobs vs. Professions

Head Start preschool teachers defined a profession as a place where you go to earn money, but that you enjoy what you are doing, while defining a job as just a place to go where you earn money.

When asked if Head Start preschool teachers saw their positions as a job or a profession, many of the teachers, both lead and assistant, stated that they viewed their position as a profession.

Some preschool teachers stated that they had days where they viewed their position as a job and other days where they viewed it as a profession. In other words, keeping preschool teachers happy by supporting them, asking about their needs, and trying to fulfill those needs should help to retain preschool teachers.

Preliminary Analysis: Preschool Teachers Need Support


Head Start preschool teachers felt like they lack administrative support. Namely, they lack support from their immediate supervisor, the Center Director. Nearly all preschool teachers interviewed from the ten centers stated that they could use more support from their Center Directors. Many preschool teachers stated that they had only seen their Center Director in passing, the Center Director stopping by for a quick ‘hello’, and some stated that they had never spoken with their Center Director.

When preschool teachers did see the Center Director for any length of time, most of the preschool teachers stated this was because the Center Director had come into their classroom to conduct an observational assessment. Preschool teachers would like their Center Director to mentor/coach/advise them on a routine basis, as opposed to simply monitoring/observing them and then leaving the classroom. Most of the Classroom Assistants stated if the Center Director did talk to a teacher, they spoke with only the Lead Teacher, the Family Child Educator, and neglected speaking with the Classroom Assistant.

Preschool teachers emphasized that they didn’t receive quality support from people from administration. Preschool teachers stated that the education specialists visited their rooms the most, followed by the resource specialists (special needs team). However, they stated that the education specialist either just observed or they reviewed the classroom set-up and portfolios and then spoke with the teachers about those issues. All of the preschool teachers stated that they had not received any feedback regarding their curriculum/lesson plan and how it pertains to the Reggio-Emilia philosophy that was employed at the beginning of the school year. Preschool teachers stated that they are basing their lesson plans off of their one week of training or other trainings that they have received from non-Head Start staff. Most of the preschool teachers stated that they had no idea how to exactly implement Reggio, since no one, including education specialists and Center Directors had informed them beyond the 1 week of training prior to the school year starting. Many of the preschool teachers also stated that the resource specialists only monitored if children with individualized education plans (IEPs) had their goals on the Lesson Plans. They also stated that the resource specialists mainly only asked them if they needed any support. Most of the preschool teachers stated that although the resource specialists were friendly and offered help, they didn’t fully know if they were executing the IEPs correctly. Preschool teachers further emphasized that they did not receive enough behavioral management support.

Preschool teachers stated that if they felt close to their Center Director and felt supported by other administrative departments, they would be more likely to stay working for the company. However, at present, teachers are saying that they are not supported to the extent that they would like to be.

Preliminary Analysis: Child Behavior

Child Behavior

Head Start preschool teachers deal with multiple behavior problems in nearly every classroom. This is attributed to being from low-income households where parents may not know how to discipline their children. Subsequently, at least one child misbehaves in most classrooms (to varying degrees), and some classrooms are dealing with multiple behavior problems. The preschool teachers have stated that it has been very difficult to have someone help them work through the behavioral issues.

Many of the teachers stated they filled out behavior incident forms and turned them into their Center Director, but in most cases, no one from Mental Health has come into their classroom to assist with the behavior problems. Teachers then fell into two camps—either blaming the Center Directors or blaming the Mental Health staff for not supporting them to a greater extent.

Although many of the preschool teachers understood that they would have children with behavior problems, they stated that the lack of support they receive would be a reason for leaving working for the agency.