Tips for Minimizing the Impact of Staff Change

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by Cathy Abraham

What are the main things parents want to know when there is a teacher change at the center?

  1. That their child will still be well taken care of, and...
  2. That the management team is capable and competent and will select and train the best candidate(s) for the job.

Since some staff turnover is inevitable, what can we do to minimize the impact on the children, families and the center?

  • Try to end things on a positive note with staff who are leaving. It is much better to have someone quit - for many reasons - than to be fired.
  • If you only get one thing from an exiting staff, make it a nice goodbye letter to the parents. Regardless of the circumstances, this is the professional, appropriate way to leave a center and the families. Offer your help, if necessary, with the letter. Have them give you a copy to look at prior to them handing it out to parents.
  • Make sure new staff members are properly introduced to staff and parents immediately. Send out a letter and put up some background information on your new employees so parents know a little about them and will feel more comfortable. Stress their related experience and education.
  • Make sure staff wear name badges and that the Parent Boards (or Bulletin Boards with staff info) have a name by a picture. (It's embarrassing to not know a teacher's name after they've been with the center a while.)
  • Don't announce new hires in advance. If they make other choices and don't start, you have to explain this. No matter why they choose to not join us, you end up looking bad and lose credibility. Unfortunately, this happens.
  • No matter why a staff member leaves, the Director needs to remain professional and 'take the high road'. If you imply anything negative, parents wonder why that person was allowed to work there. In addition to losing your credibility, you risk breaching confidentiality. Don't get baited into a discussion - develop a neutral, positive standard line. Example - "We wish her well" and move on to what pro-active things you're doing to address this situation.
  • Let new employees know it is their responsibility for the first few weeks to introduce themselves to every parent &/or person they do not know (if no one else is available to do so).
  • Invest in orienting, training and checking in with new staff. They will feel more comfortable and this will show. It never looks good when a parent asks about where medicine is stored or about the 'lost and found' and a staff member says "I don't know"
  • Children should be able to say goodbye. If there is a situation in which they can not do this, this should be explained and processed with them. Goodbyes due to happy life events should be celebrated and recognized. Children should be able to express their feelings on an on-going basis. Missing someone and talking about them should be okay.
  • If you think an exiting staff member will attempt to cause problems and say negative things, be mindful of leaving them alone with parents. This kind of employee can cause many, many problems.
  • Do not have the negative exiting employee train his/her replacement. Put your new employee(s) with a positive, knowledgeable mentor.
  • If you have a gap in staffing due to an employee leaving, and are asked about it, inform parents that you are going to select only the best candidate for the job and assure them that your priority is getting the best Teacher possible, not just a 'quick fix'. Let them know that you don't want to hire just anyone, that you will take the time necessary to get someone really good. Give the impression that you are in control of the situation. Make sure curriculum, lesson planning, accountability, the routine, and overall quality do not lapse in this classroom. Have a designated contact person for in the interim (the Teacher's Assistant?) to minimize confusion and foster the day-to-day communication.
  • Remain calm about being short staffed. It happens. You will get through it. Your attitude - calm or hysterical - will permeate the center.
  • Do not always try to talk people into staying. If they have truly made the decision to leave for valid reasons, they will eventually leave anyway. If you feel that it is a situation in which the employee is feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, and the situation can be resolved, probe and problem-solve with the employee. Ideally situations can be addressed prior to escalating to this point.
  • Don't refer to classrooms by teachers' names - i.e. "Miss Lisa's Room." You're in trouble when Miss Lisa leaves if that is how this room is identified.
  • Create a warm and friendly, inviting environment. All staff should be greeting and interacting with parents and children. This helps when teachers are moved into different classrooms or when children are combined.
  • If possible, when a valued staff member is leaving, offer them a 'Substitute' position. This conveys to parents that this person is not leaving because the center is a bad place or because of management. Leave the door open for good staff - many people will return at some point in the future if they know it's an option.
  • When you are short staffed or going through staff changes, let your current staff know that they are appreciated. This is when they really need a boost.

Prepare for and accept change. It's inevitable. Your attitude and your actions will determine how the center fares during these times.