I recently resigned from a school I love. This school is one of best progressive education, play-based, Reggio-inspired schools I have ever had the pleasure of being affiliated with—much less leading as its director. I leave behind a highly qualified staff who created a stunningly beautiful environment that, as Reggio encourages educators, had become its “third teacher.” True to the Reggio philosophy, the
community were co-creators of the learning that happened each day.
In July, several weeks before my last day, we hosted more than 50 educators from around the world. Our visitors had an opportunity to see how an intentionally planned environment, and the activities therein, encourage children to learn.
I have mixed feelings about moving on to my next adventure. On the one hand, I will become the executive director of a school that is just as amazing as the one I left. On the other hand, I leave a school that has given me the opportunity to create, in collaboration with some superb educators, a personification of everything I know to be core, early childhood values.
The incoming interim director of my old school and I spent a bit of time discussing why there seems to be a high turnover among early childhood administrators. Some studies suggest the average tenure is less than 4 years. While there are many studies to explain the factors that drive administrators out of the field, I can not find any that offer meaningful suggestions for how to keep them.
I have a few ideas:
● Boards and supervisors need to trust their directors. Boards should define indicators of quality, and evaluate their directors based on these indicators. Obviously, the director also should be given the space to carry out responsibilities outside of these predetermined indicators.
● The director and his/her staff should collaborate on creating a visionary plan for the future of the school. The day-to-day minutia can be mind-numbing for a director. It is the larger, big-picture projects—the innovation, if you will—that keeps the intellectual juices flowing and the job interesting.
● The director needs time off. I know many programs close for some winter, spring or summer breaks. That’s fine, but, I promise you that even if the director is not physically in the building during those breaks, she or he is always thinking about the program. Even if the doors are locked, a conscientious director is keeping the plates spinning, from scheduling fire inspections and cleaning crews to ordering and repairs. All the while, this director will be thinking about future initiatives that need to be started.
Time off for a director means time away. This could look like a short-term sabbatical or a half day off per week, as my new job provides. Everyone needs time away. I would argue that someone charged with caring for so many people (children, teachers, staff, parents and vendors), desperately needs this time.
At the moment, I am taking the time between the end of my current job and start of my new one as “time off.” If only I had known just how much I needed this time earlier! If you are an administrator, let me encourage you to ask for the things you need to remain in your job. If you are someone who is in a role supporting your school’s administrator, I hope you take these suggestions to heart. They will help ensure that your director remains with your school for a long time to come.
Have your own ideas about retaining directors? Please share them below.