Staff retention is challenging for many childcare providers and preschools—studies estimate that the annual turnover rate for early educators is 26-40% in licensed facilities. The Harvard Business Review also states that one-third of staff turnover is due to unsupportive management and a lack of development opportunities. This means that investing more heavily in your staff’s career development can make a major impact on your retention rates!
Staff evaluations are one of the best tools you have to help your teachers with their professional development. Unfortunately, many evaluations feel like a dreaded chore for both the director and the employee. However, when done with the right amount of planning and thoughtfulness, staff evaluations can actually be a valuable tool for building genuine relationships with your staff and helping them achieve their career goals.
In this article, you’ll learn how to turn staff evaluations into positive experiences that help you develop happier, more productive, and more skilled teachers.
Step 1: Schedule the evaluation and set expectations
For consistency and accountability, it’s best to hold staff evaluations at least once a year at your center. Choose a cadence that works best for your program’s operating schedule, such as yearly performance reviews or quarterly informal check-ins with one formal annual review. Whichever format you choose, remember to schedule your evaluations well in advance (a minimum of two weeks is best) so both you and your team have ample time to prepare for the meeting.
Ideally, you should also schedule all your staff evaluations for similar times of the year, so you can be as efficient as possible with your time and energy. You might find that preparing for evaluations requires a different mindset than other parts of your job do, so holding your meetings close to one another can certainly help keep you focused. By scheduling your evaluations at set times every year, you’ll also help your staff remember when they occur so they’re not caught off guard when it’s time for their next review.
Regardless of how often you have staff evaluations, remember that you should also provide feedback for your teachers regularly, such as during weekly check-ins. Don’t save all your feedback to give once or twice a year, which could be overwhelming for your staff and unhelpful for their professional growth! Instead, consistently share your input and advice with teachers as it comes up so they can learn from you and improve in real-time.
Step 2: Give each staff member plenty of time for self-reflection
One of the most useful tools for staff evaluations is the self-evaluation form, which each teacher should use to reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement. By filling out the form before they meet with you, your staff will be better prepared to have a productive, thoughtful conversation about what they’ve accomplished and how they hope to grow as an early educator.
Whichever self-evaluation form you use, make sure it includes both quantitative (measured using numbers) and qualitative (open-ended) questions. Quantitative feedback will help your teachers think about their performance based on a set scale and provides a big-picture view of what they’re doing well and how they could improve. On the other hand, qualitative questions will help you and your teachers delve deeper into areas that numbers alone can’t fully explain, such as obstacles they’re encountering or any assistance they need to meet their goals. Including both types of questions will help your teachers think more holistically about their work and how they can continue to get better.
Remember to share the self-evaluation form with your teachers at least a week in advance so they have enough time to complete it and send it back to you ahead of the evaluation. This way, you can read their responses and check for any misalignments between their assessments and your own before the meeting.
Step 3: Prepare thoughtful and growth-focused feedback
While your teachers work on their self-evaluation forms, you should independently fill out the same evaluation forms for each staff member before reading what they write about themselves. When you have their form in hand, compare the responses. Are there any areas that aren’t aligned? If so, what’s causing that? If you observe a lack of awareness in your teacher’s responses—for example, if they believe they’re worse or better in a certain skill than you find them to be—make note of this so you can explore this area more in person during the evaluation. Remember to prepare any relevant observations you can share that might help them grow in their awareness as well.
For any areas of improvement that you see, you should also make a note of how severe it is. Is it something that they need to improve on as quickly as possible to keep their job? Or is it something that you would like to see them work on to advance to the next level of their career or become a more effective educator? What will happen if they don’t make progress in this area? Decide if the area of improvement is a serious concern or an inspiring challenge they can grow in, and prepare for your conversation accordingly.
Step 4 (optional, but encouraged): Gather feedback from peers
Depending on your team and your bandwidth, another great way to prepare for staff evaluations is to gather feedback from other teachers. Invite 2-3 other staff members to share one thing they think the teacher is doing well, and one thing they would like to challenge the teacher to work toward. Oftentimes, your staff team may have insights into each other’s work that you don’t have at the director level, so this can be a helpful way to gather more holistic information about your teachers’ performance. Remember to keep these responses anonymous, and feel free to filter out any irrelevant or unhelpful feedback as well.
Step 5: Host a positive and productive conversation
The staff evaluation is an opportunity to genuinely connect with each of your teachers and have an honest back-and-forth dialogue. Use the time to talk through the teacher’s self-evaluation, and dig into any areas where your responses weren’t aligned by asking open-ended questions to learn more. Here are some areas of discussion you should cover:
- Share genuine appreciation for your teacher’s strengths and any areas where they’re exceeding expectations. Highlight specific examples that demonstrate to your teacher that you notice their good work. Celebrating your staff’s accomplishments is just as important as helping them improve and grow, so don’t gloss over the good things! Here’s an example: “You have been doing a fantastic job of communicating with parents when there’s a behavioral issue in the classroom. I know it’s not the most fun part of the job, but I can always count on you to be clear, helpful, and professional. Please keep up the gentle but direct approach you take with these challenging conversations!”
- For serious concerns, as uncomfortable as it may be, don’t sugarcoat any issues that could result in termination (such as inappropriate workplace behavior or safety violations). It’s important to set clear expectations and a timeline for when you want to see the issue improved. Make it abundantly clear that if the teacher doesn’t meet those expectations, they’ll be asked to leave your program. Here’s an example: “I’ve noticed that the way you speak to your fellow teachers has become disrespectful and inappropriate lately. Can you share with me why this may be going on? We need to fix this as soon as possible in order for you to continue working here. Starting today, I am expecting to hear zero complaints from teachers about your behavior within the next week. Let’s meet in one week to discuss progress on this. Do you have any questions?”
- For inspiring challenges, share why you believe the teacher can step up in this area, and offer actionable coaching tips and ongoing support. Here’s an example: “Your lesson plans are always so strong and organized. I think the rest of our team could really benefit from learning your methods. I’d like to challenge you to stretch your leadership skills by sharing a 5-minute presentation on how you plan your weekly lessons in next month’s all-staff meeting. Since I know you want to become a lead teacher someday, getting outside of your comfort zone and practicing public speaking will help you build those leadership muscles. I’m here to help if you’d like feedback or if you’d like to practice your presentation ahead of time!”
- Ask the teacher about their career goals and how you can support them. If they didn’t already cover this in their self-evaluation form, make sure to ask your staff member how they hope to grow as an early educator between now and their next evaluation. If they have a long-term goal, such as becoming a director themselves someday, help them break it down into smaller, more achievable steps that they can work on in the next coming months.
- Set clear expectations and next steps. Once you’ve discussed the teacher’s areas for growth and improvement, write down the next steps and agree to check in on progress after a set amount of time. By doing this, you’ll create a sense of accountability and remind your teachers that you have an agreed-upon goal that they should be working toward until the next time you meet.
At brightwheel, we acknowledge that supporting your teachers’ professional development takes a lot of work, but it’s well worth the time and energy. By using staff evaluations to invest in their growth, you’ll be well on your way to building a team of happier, more capable teachers who will be motivated to stay at your program longer.
To learn more about how to help your teachers grow, check out our blog post, How to Support Your Early Education Teachers in Their Career Development!
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at mybrightwheel.com.