Focus Group Highlights

Themes from Spring & Fall 2021 ECESF Teacher, Administrative, & Pedagogical Leader Focus Groups

  • Burnout Prevention
  • Team Building
  • Belonging
  • Respect & Recognition
  • Compensation (Wages & Benefits)
  • Career ladders that uplift direct care and education
  • Recognizing Competencies: the importance of including multiple pathways
  • Most effective professional development
  • How do children 0-5 best learn?

Burnout prevention—educators most frequently cited lack of agency in decision making, feeling unheard when they do give input, unable to share their passion & perspectives—including different cultural viewpoints, negative work environments, forfeited vacation hours, unpaid work time at home, supplies purchased out of pocket, and inadequate support staff as their reasons for burnout.

What do we need to prevent staff burnout?

  • Ability (sufficient staffing) to take paid time off
  • Availability of subs (including sufficient pay to attract enough staff to attract subs)
  • Lower child-adult ratios and smaller class sizes
  • Time for direct interaction with children to be prioritized and respected
  • Trained on-site staff, including shadows, specially trained team members, extra staffing, and/or specialists for children with special needs and/or learning disabilities
  • Paid time for documentation, assessments, curriculum planning, team work, including hours that do not interrupt the flow of work with children during program hours. Educator input on identifying best times: end of day, flex hours to be used when best, ie scheduled for 7 per day w/ 5 hours flex for prep when you need it. Breaks during the day can feel more disruptive and add to burnout if the class is out of order on return, or the flow of an interaction with a child or group is interrupted.
  • Adequate paid time for PD and coaching for effective implementation of observations, documentation, and assessments
  • Room and respect for independent decision-making as educators
  • Funds for supplies

Team building—educators rely on relationships with other teachers and peer-to-peer support to effectively create learning environments

What do we need to support team building?

  • Time and coverage for staff meetings; time to get to know each other as individuals, educators, and co-workers off the floor
  • Support for resolving contentious issues particularly in work that depends on smooth flow of personal interactions. Option of a third party—sometimes the administrator is not the right person. Some administrative support can be okay if it’s clear they are not holding judgment, but educators shared a lack of HR competence, or existence at many sites. A safe sounding board discreet from administration—and/or time with the team as a group is helpful. Sometimes the issue is with a team member, and we just need more time.
  • With our recognition that effective work with young children requires a multilingual workforce we need work environments that both respect home languages in the workplace, as well as offer support and tools for communication across languages as multilingual staff so all are effective participants in staff communication, planning, as well as casual conversation which is important to building relationships.
  • With recognition that effective work with young children requires a multi-racial/ethnic/cultural workforce, we need work environments that recognize the effects  of bias and access in forming patterns of socializing, attaining or respecting job roles. Work environments should instead promote anti-racism, support staff as whole individuals, and focus on healthy casual and formal staff relationships to build effective work teams.
  • Need for team-identified professional development with teaching team and/or center staff as part of work hours.
  • Arbitrary hierarchies in wages and job positions detract from teamwork and sense of agency. Decrease hierarchies, include all in decision-making and make job positions and compensation clear, visible, and the steps to the increases clear and support for attaining them available to all.
  • Clear direction and explanation from administrators when they perceive that there is no choice (ie, someone needs to take the opening shift!),with a clear process to improve on the systems, even if perceived as unchangeable. If the explanation makes clear what the need is, teachers can work within the needs to meet the goal, as well as improve systems or make choices when it is possible.

Belonging—educators described ways they were able or not able to express themselves as whole persons in the workplace—from passions, to self-identity, to authentic participation in decision making, to being seen as a person with a recognized and valued cultural, racial, and/or language background.

  • First greeting as a new employee is important—be inclusive and welcoming intentionally, and provide thorough staff orientation
  • Setting time to allow staff to get to know each other and feel part of a group—make sure their are steps to include new teachers and avoid cliques
  • Support various ways to work through different styles of communication
  • Staff feel most supported when those in leadership roles “get it” and are vocal about anti-racist practices and promote an anti-discriminatory culture.
  • Make the racial, ethnic, gender-identity differences of educators as well as children evident and valued. Create cultures where it’s ok to talk about it.

Respect and recognition as educators (by site administrators)—educators need to see that they are heard and valued, no matter their job position or background.

  • Administrators should respect, and address the generational differences in schools–not only valuing seniority or new employees with higher degrees over other important qualities.
  • Recognize what we do as educators, authentically:
    • Support staff (admin, coaches, etc come to the room to observe in an informal and positive manner)
    • Implement teacher-generated ideas or, at the very least, acknowledgment/transparency about why it cannot be done (ie. funding limitations, etc)
  • Include coworkers as teammates–avoid hierarchy of teacher levels because teaching teams work best when everyone feels seen, heard, and valued.

Compensation (Wages & Benefits)—while much of the daily stress and impulse to quit comes from the day to day frustrations of bad working conditions, long term commitment including the ability to fully focus on developing knowledge and competencies of the work, such as higher education, rely  on the ability to survive and thrive, support oneself and family, and feel truly valued which ultimately depend on secure and worthy wages and benefits.

  • A majority of teachers expressed a preference for increased wages and benefits, but a mistrust that funds to sites would actually get to them—many changed their “vote” to stipends until this issue is resolved.
  • Solutions offered to address the mistrust include making the use of funds and expected wage and benefit levels more visible.
    • A repeated strategy was clear wage scales communicated directly with the teaching workforce.
    • Other strategies suggested were making administrative decisions around budgets more transparent, including expectations for overall expenditure percentages to go toward wages and benefits.
    • The culture of secrecy around wages and benefits contributes to the inability of staff to make informed decisions. A culture of visibility should be promoted city-wide, including clear and posted wage scales as sites, and San Francisco expectations and goals.
    • Teachers also expressed interest in more robust and authentic input and selection of options for types of benefits and benefits versus wage levels.
  • While many teachers thought it was important that none of their colleagues were paid less than a living wage (measured at $28/hour) they expressed a strong need for clear strategies to move beyond this to wages and benefits at least on par with SFUSD (San Francisco’s stated goal) wage & benefit scales, including expected annual wage increases for years of experience, and clear raises for advances in education, responsibilities held, and obtaining identified needed skills sets.
  • The $28/hr is low, just the basics. Outside of the compensation funds, we need to make sure teachers are getting enough to eat—shared food at the worksite, as well as additional funds or free access to education to take further education, and healthcare for the whole family.
  • Teachers expressed frustration at feeling they had to negotiate, and that they weren’t comfortable with this. When pay is so low for such important work, there should not be a need or expectation to negotiate—there should instead be visibility, clear steps to get to the highest that can be afforded, and visible and vocal promotion from city and departments of the 2015 San Francisco Citywide Plan for Early Care and Education policy commitment to the ECE workforce for compensation parity with the TK-3 workforce.

Career ladders that uplift direct care and education

The education and care work directly in relationship with the children sometimes seems the least valued. You are recognized when you do something in addition to this most important role, not the role itself.

  • Teachers expressed being spread so thin that what they wanted to focus on most, the children, got sidelined.
  • Teachers shared job shifts where they moved to a site with a culture that honored the time and commitment to the direct child/adult relationship, and felt the difference.
  • Staffing and attitude both had an influence in undervaluing the caregiving role: not enough staff for other tasks such as inventory, grant work, ensuring licensing compliance, calling substitutes, paperwork and assessments. There also was a feeling that if you didn’t do more, you weren’t doing enough.
  • After obtaining a degree, educators felt pressure to move out of the classroom—or the need to earn more by moving “up” the ladder and out of direct relationship with children.
  • Many administrators shared that they would still be in the classroom if wages were better—“it was totally compensation”—though physical difficulty of continuing to move with children and seeking to support other teachers with their accumulated knowledge were also raised
  • Children deserve the wealth of knowledge held by coaches, mentors—but they’ve left due to compensation and accountability requirements. More ways to incentivize staying with children are needed.

Recognizing Competencies: the importance of including multiple pathways

Educators in community-based programs are leaders of classrooms and recognized as competent, but within SFUSD were not able to take the required CBEST tests due to anxiety. Are we blocking able and competent educators with required tests, instead of looking at multiple entry points as we would for supporting children in their development? We need strategies that fit the role and skill needs of early care educators. Shift to:

  • Competency basis
  • Onsite education
  • Full coverage of tuition fees and release time, and loan forgiveness
  • Eliminate barriers such as tests or passing math and English General Ed requirements if what we need is skills to embedded pre-math in rich environments, diverse home languages, understanding of child development, early intervention, and good communication across diverse family cultures

Most effective professional development: what works, what’s missing

  • Hands on is the best way to learn
  • Recognizing that love and caring is part of the job. Children need to feel loved. Include that in teacher training.
  • Reframe how we view children, assess for strengths
  • Learned and implemented together with teaching teams
  • Decided by educator with possible advice/input from coach or administrator

How do children 0-5 best learn?

The emphasis on kindergarten readiness, STEAM, and content-teaching is overshadowing fundamental areas of learning and development.

  • Exploring small parts, nature, feeling loved, music, movement, all feel overshadowed by phonics, writing, and reading.
  • A culture of understanding learning through and entwined with caring relationships needs to be made more visible, not just on teachers to prove, it’s on the leaders—directors, and administrators. ECE is more than just kindergarten readiness.