Expands Understanding of Behavioral and Developmental Issues with New Technology
Staff attrition in early education centers has reached an all-time high, with recent studies estimating annual turnover rates ranging from 26-40 percent for early childhood educators in licensed facilities. In the United States, 44% of new teachers leave the profession within five years of entry. Among centers with average wages below $10 per hour, 23.1% of staff working with children ages zero to five years leave over the course of a year.
Attrition is not only disruptive in the day-to-day operations of early education centers – it also has an adverse impact on the K-12 learning environment. High teacher turnover—or churn—undermines student achievement and consumes valuable staff time and resources. Turnover rates vary by school and district, with those in rural and urban settings that serve high percentages of students in poverty experiencing the highest rates.
So, what can early education center directors do to recruit and retain talented teachers? In order to implement an effective strategy, we need to first understand the reasons that teachers are leaving.
On the Front Lines of the Mental Health Crisis
If you investigate the reasons behind the sharp increase in early education staffing attrition, you are bound to find a correlation with the increase in behavioral and developmental concerns in children.
Clay is an early identification platform that provides a comprehensive suite of behavioral and developmental tools for school communities that serve children ages 0-5. The company recently analyzed more than 250,000 anonymized data points on 2,726 children ages 3-5, collected via well-validated standardized screening tools recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Of this sample of participants, nearly one third (778 children, or 30.8%) showed some indication of a behavioral concern. Within this subset, 40% showed an indicator for anxiety.
Clay’s data also indicates that there may be a strong correlation between parental anxiety and child anxiety, with up to 65% of the children flagged for behavioral issues displaying signs of anxiety when a parent also showed signs of anxiety. It also signals a strong correlation between behavioral issues and developmental issues, with 51% of the children who were flagged for behavioral issues showing indications of developmental delays.
“As this data indicates, behavioral issues often correlate with other types of mental health concerns that can and should be addressed as early as possible,” said Lee Rotenberg, Co-founder and CEO, Clay. “Early education centers are increasingly on the front lines of the mental health crisis. In order to better support children and set them up for success, early education centers need tools to identify potential risk factors such as behavioral and developmental delays.”
Upskilling early educators
Founded in 1989, Bells Ferry Learning Centers are an award-winning accredited network of child care centers that have served more than 4,000 families in Georgia. The owner of Bells Ferry, Sharon Foster, found her passion for children at the age of 13, working at her own local daycare facility. Foster is also the co-founder of the Georgia After School Program (GASP!) and President of the Georgia Child Care Association.
“Following the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve found that a higher proportion of children are lagging behind in the developmental milestones,” said Foster. “For example, prior to the pandemic, we would rarely see a 4 year-old who wasn’t potty-trained. After the pandemic, we are seeing a full 10% of our kids who aren’t potty-trained, and aren’t prepared for school in many other ways, as well.”
Behavioral and developmental issues place additional stress on early educators, particularly those with less training and experience. Many teachers are experiencing chronic anxiety due to the increase in challenging behaviors, accompanied by high staffing shortages. This has a significant impact on the retention, performance, innovation, and overall work culture for early education centers.
“In many ways, our teachers are facing a more difficult situation than they were before the pandemic,” explains Foster. “Parenting styles are changing, and issues were already on the rise prior to COVID, but now they have become more acute. This has definitely contributed to the retention issue.”
This complicated dynamic has placed even more emphasis on teacher upskilling and professional development in early education centers. At Bell’s Ferry, this effort has included the implementation of Clay to help teachers manage challenging behaviors in the classroom. Clay provides access to a range of professional development sessions, from managing teacher burnout to dealing with biting in the classroom. By providing targeted and meaningful professional development, it helps teachers grow and develop in their roles while also enhancing the overall quality of education.
“We are doing everything we can right now to attract and retain high quality staff, but many of the applicants we see are starting at ground zero, and some of them don’t have a realistic picture of what this job is about,” Foster says. “It’s a labor of love to work as an early educator – none of us are in it for the fame and fortune. But these days, the challenges are greater, the level of stress is higher, and it requires more training to be successful. That’s why we’ve looked for new tools and approaches that can help our staff get up to speed and do their best work.”
In early education, the importance of better training and professional development opportunities cannot be overestimated. With a comprehensive suite of best-in-class tools, Clay empowers early education centers to create a better classroom environment by identifying potential behavioral and developmental health concerns, and provides training and strategic support to help teachers address them more effectively. Clay also provides personalized information for families, with the goal of aligning parents and educators on how best to support the child and ensure they are on the same page.
“Clay has been a blessing for us,” says Foster. “We think of it as a Kindergarten readiness tool. Our teachers love using it because it provides validation that what they are seeing is real, and it provides them with a better understanding of what’s happening, along with strategies to manage the behavior or resources for additional support.”
“Clay has been a blessing for us. We think of it as a kindergarten readiness tool.”
-Sharon Foster, Owner, Bells Ferry Learning Centers