Originally published in the Spring 2022 Issue of Kansas Child Magazine.
Recruiting and Retaining Culturally Responsive Staff in Early Childhood Education Settings
For the first time in history, we as a nation are focused on ensuring that our organizations, including our schools, establish intentional diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts. That applies to early childhood education (ECE) programs, as well. It’s more important than ever to promote diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environments for our youngest children.
To ensure that all children in ECE programs are receiving the best possible start in life, it’s imperative to recruit and retain staff who are culturally responsive and willing to engage diverse learners by building strategies to design and deliver lessons in learning spaces that promote success for all children.
Every student brings unique cultural strengths to the classroom, as does every ECE professional. When cultural backgrounds are not intentionally considered, programs suffer from disparities like language barriers, systemic discrimination, and lack of representation. These disparities can cause unnecessary turnover in a field that already struggles with retention due to historically low pay, minimal benefits, and lack of support.
When recruiting providers and educators, employers would benefit from thinking of their program as an extension of the larger structural and social issues of a variety of communities and cultures. Staff should be able to demonstrate sensitivity and inclusivity and truly respect the differences of others. Not only should employees be able to recognize their own biases, but they should also be interested in the similarities and differences of others.
Furthermore, program leadership should be willing to do the same, affirming and encouraging a welcoming environment. When all staff members feel a sense of belonging — and that their diverse cultural backgrounds are celebrated — they are more apt to stay put in their jobs, despite low pay. Employees who feel that they have a voice where they work are more likely to be highly productive, creative, and willing to encourage others to join the team.
For healthy developmental growth, young children require consistency from the providers that care for them. Poor retention in ECE programs can be detrimental to the children, who must constantly rebuild relationships and adjust to new environments and routines.
Recruiting and retaining staff who understand the importance of culturally responsive teaching — and who recognize that the children are not the only learners in the classroom — will help nurture an environment that engages with diverse learners, builds trust, improves communication, and creates an atmosphere where staff, children, and their families feel valued and are able to thrive.