We know that early childhood education is hugely beneficial for children.
And just last week the Conference Board of Canada released a study showing that for each dollar spent on early childhood education, the economy gains $6 worth of economic benefits later on.
But expanding programming nationally would be challenging, especially when 50 per cent of educators leave the profession within five years.
It’s this statistic that drives Dr. Laura Doan’s research, pushing her to find ways to support early childhood educators, and to reduce that turnover.
“You can become credentialed in three semesters. We need to support our professionals beyond that,” said Doan, Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education.
Doan has embarked on a research project that focuses on providing professional development and peer mentoring for new early childhood educators, many of whom report feeling isolated in their careers.
Supported by a $10,000 research grant from Make Children First Kamloops, this is an expansion of Doan’s earlier research, which involved a pilot project consisting of professional development and peer mentoring opportunities.
“I wanted to understand what their experiences and needs were, and I found out that they were overwhelmed in the profession, yet deeply satisfied,” she said.
While a solution to lowering attrition in the ECE field must come from many directions — wages being the obvious — professional development and better support is often overlooked.
“There really isn’t a structured way to offer professional development in early childhood education. It’s up to each individual workplace, and there’s such a high turnover meaning educators are promoted to leadership roles really quickly, without some of the skills they might need,” she said.
“It’s not that centre directors don’t want to support their staff, it’s just very difficult to set aside the time.”
Professional development in the pilot project was offered based on areas of interest expressed by the project participants, who were further supported by a website and weekly emails, as well as access to TRU ECE faculty.
It became clear to Doan that what early childhood educators want is to learn from, and be inspired by, one another. They also need to feel valued for their expertise.
“They want to visit other programs and feel connected to their community, and having a peer mentor also made them more confident to ask their employer for support.”
This new grant allows Doan to expand the research — making the peer mentoring component more structured — and develop an online community. She also hopes to create an exchange program that allows early childhood educators to switch places with a colleague in a different centre for a day.
“It’s not just the early-career ECEs who have these needs — there are a lot of experienced educators who need professional development as well,” she said.
Dr. Laura Doan, assistant professor