Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) offers Training Awards (TA) to pre-service students pursuing full-time early childhood courses at ITE, Polytechnics and SUSS. As they pursue their passion and
aspire to play an integral role in giving our children a good start, ECDA is committed to walking alongside and supporting our recipients in this meaningful journey.
When they graduate and enter the early childhood sector, our TA recipients would receive an induction booklet to help them assimilate into their new working environment. We want to take it one step further and partner you, the employers, to help these promising educators in their transition from school to work and make a strong start in their career. With your consistent guidance and support, they will grow professionally and this, in turn, will improve children’s learning and staff retention.
This e-resource guide is specially curated for Early Childhood employers and designed to complement your centre’s existing developmental plans and policies. Even if you do not employ a TA recipient, this guide can be used to support educators who are joining the sector for the first time.
We look forward to working together with you to help our aspiring early childhood educators succeed so that they can contribute more to the growth of their centres and the early childhood sector
Though our TA recipients come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, a large proportion share similar traits. For your new employees to assimilate into their roles within your centre, it is important for you to understand and acknowledge their unique characteristics. This will enable you to fulfil their career expectations and tap on their unique strengths at work, transforming them into long-term assets to your centre. To cultivate a strong working relationship with your new employees throughout their transition period, we encourage you to cross-reference the following suggestions with your centre’s current policies.
When working with new employees, it is important to acknowledge that they have different developmental needs and require support at different points of time. To start this journey, let us first understand how beginning educators develop over the course of their career. Like the children, our educators face transitions in their professional development. This process typically occurs in 4 stages and their training needs change as they gain experience over time.
Having a better idea of the needs and common challenges faced by the new employees at each stage will help us develop corresponding approaches to support them. Dr Chua Bee Leng, Associate-Dean of Professional Practice at the National Institute of Education3, has outlined supporting strategies and tips to help early childhood educators with their professional development transitions.
1 Brad Harrington et al., “How Millennials Navigate their Careers,” Boston College Center for Work & Family, 2015, https://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/centers/cwf/research/publications/researchreports/how-millennials-navigate-their-careers.pdf
2 Lilian G. Katz, “Developmental Stages of Preschool Teachers,” The Elementary School Journal, 1972 73:1, 50-54
3 Dr Chua is at the Office of Teacher Education in NIE, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She regularly shares her expertise in subject disciplines such as educational studies and instructional pedagogies with schools and educators from other organisations and countries. She is also a Senior Lecturer with the Psychological Studies Academic Group.
* Do note that timelines given are estimates. Individual educators may vary in the length of time spent in each stage.
In their first year, new educators, especially those with little to no prior experience, struggle to adapt to the assertive role of a teacher. Most of the time, their expectations or experiences from their internships/practicum vary greatly from the actual role they are about to step into in terms of age group or job duties. They may also experience difficulties applying theories learnt in school to practise at work. While they are excited to start their new role, the large influx of new information and responsibilities may overwhelm them, leaving them unprepared to handle aspects such as parent-teacher relationships and classroom management. This provokes teachers' anxieties and triggers their survival mode, where they simply hope to get through the day-to-day demands. Repeated failures or negative feedback from other teachers and parents also causes rising insecurity and low self-esteem.
Over time, some new educators may not be able to fit into their roles at work and choose to leave the centre or even the sector. While the centre may engage a replacement, this inevitably causes disruption to the children and centre, as there is a need to retrain new hires.
- Introducing a customized induction programme
Since many new employees come in unsure of their precise role, which differs from centre to centre, it is important to clearly communicate things like basic expectations and standard protocol, as well as to ensure that new educators get sufficient support, instead of being thrown into the “deep end”.
While most centres do have an induction programme, common problems such as insufficient manpower and joining at peak periods may affect the level and quality of support the centre can give.
It will be helpful if your centre can try to identify gaps in your induction programme and find ways to circumvent associated problems, including the following common pitfalls:
- Using non-specific, external resources to replace physical induction programmes: While lack of time or manpower may make it more practical to rely on existing resources such as onboarding booklets, such resources will likely not be specific enough to your centre’s culture. Especially for larger companies, delays in HR communications may prevent employees from receiving timely information. Consider complementing such handbooks with hands-on guidance from a mentor or buddy and encouraging newcomers to take an active approach to their learning.
- Not introducing information beyond that of the immediate teaching context: Common lapses include classroom set-up, where teaching materials are kept, and how to build professional relationships with parents. It is important to introduce your centre’s SOPs to new employees as different centres handle problems differently, and they may be unaware of what issues are urgent and how to respond.
- Mis-matching new employees during their introductory period: Many fresh entrants are assigned to assist classes in a different age group from that of the class they eventually take. Consider their strengths and interests when assigning them. If manpower is a concern, it might help to place them with long-time employees who have rich experience working with different age groups.
- Overloading new employees with information: Consider spacing out information over a period of weeks or placing them in a common and accessible resource folder. This is a useful workflow in planning a structured induction programme that provides bite-size information for fresh entrants over time:
When new employees enter the sector, they hope for their new employers to be able to cover the basic job expectations and duties of their role. Take a look at the sample checklist4 below to see a rough guide of what most employers should aim to provide for new employees in their first year.
Since mentors are both a source of professional feedback and a form of emotional support, building trust and rapport is critical to ensuring a mutually beneficial mentoring relationship. As different educators have different mentoring styles,
it is good to standardise a system that sets expectations for both the mentee and the mentor.
While most centres do implement a certain probationary period and mentorship or buddy system, non-regulated systems may be affected by problems like heavy workload or a constant change of full-time employees. To cultivate a strong and beneficial mentormentee relationship, you can refer to the following tips:
- Choose the right mentor – Consider whether mentors have the time and mentorship ability. An experienced teacher is not necessarily a suitable mentor. Besides their ability to commit long-term, interpersonal skills, personal obligations such as maternity leave, and experience in the sector all play an important role. A relatively fresh teacher who is similar in age and competency might also be better able to empathize with the fresh entrants' needs and to inspire them.
- Encourage your mentors to be attentive to the needs of each mentee. New employees come from varied backgrounds and possess different communication styles. For mentees who are excited to explore and develop their own teaching style, having space to try new things and present new ideas can build a more trusting relationship, while those who lack confidence may require more guidance.
- Mentors commonly have their own classes and responsibilities, making it difficult to allocate time for proper mentorship. We encourage centres to set aside non-contact time or fixed regular meeting times, such as weekly reviews, for mentors to check in with mentees. You may also get mentors to schedule unplanned visits to their mentees’ classroom during lesson time to observe and provide constructive feedback.
- Have a proper exit plan. At the end of the typical mentorship cycle, consider possible plans that mentor and mentee may have, and how they can integrate this experience into their own growth, including further mentorship if necessary.
Between the first and third year, educators are ready to consolidate their learning from the first year. They become more proficient in classroom management and relationship building, and increasingly focused on their mastery of skills.
Without proper guidance, new educators may lose out on the valuable chance to grow and discover their strengths in these crucial developmental years, which later define their role in the sector. Similarly, it is also easy for employers to miss out on educators with potential, if they are not nurtured.
- Enhancing HR practices
For many new employees, their curiosity and passion for their new role drive them to actively seek improvement, especially in teaching and learning. To fully tap into their potential, you should work with each employee in actively growing their strengths to prepare them to take on specific roles that will benefit the centre in the future.
The following are some common tips, shared with us by various centres, that employers may consider implementing to manage potential talent:
- Conduct regular performance reviews with your employees and use a benchmarking system to objectively differentiate employee capabilities for future developmental programmes and larger roles. You can take this time to plan activities to work on known strengths and areas of improvements, based on their current duties or aspirations, giving them a stake in their own progress. If they are unaware of their strengths and weaknesses in the classroom, consider recording their teaching so they can better understand themselves from a third person’s perspective.
- Consider implementing a system to promote and track active professional development. Find avenues for experienced teachers in your centres to regularly share useful developmental courses with new employees and encourage them to take charge of their own professional development.
- Start early in preparing employees to take on future roles. Identify and develop employees’ readiness to take on larger roles whenever possible.
ECDA conducts Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses for early childhood educators to learn new skills or enhance existing strengths. However, not all educators may be aware of the range or relevance of CPD. As employers, you are in the best position to identify developmental areas and discuss plans with your educators, catering to the needs of the centre. We strongly recommend that educators attend at least 20 hours of CPD a year. Here are some programmes that educators can participate in
In their third to fourth year, educators become interested in exploring new pedagogies and putting research or newly learned strategies into practice. Although some may be keen to move up the career ladder, promotions may be limited especially in smaller centres.
Without appropriate intervention, these educators may get restless and tired of the routine nature of work. Many, especially TA recipients who have just finished their bond, may be considering a change of centre or career. Employers could risk losing these experienced educators after a heavy investment of your time and resources.
- Enabling educators to take charge of their learning and broaden their sources of information to satisfy their need for growth
By giving educators the space to explore what they are truly interested in and take charge of their own growth, they gain greater fulfilment and pride in what they do, promoting continued interest in this sector. ECDA’s resources like the GROW ME map, a planning sheet for personal reflection, and the Individual Professional Development Map may be useful as guidance in this aspect.
At this point, educators may also be keen to network with fellow educators, not just to learn but also to share their ideas with one another to improve centre practices. This helps to build a fraternity of educators and expose them to fresh perspectives, thereby promoting greater exploration of their own career plans. Employers should continue to encourage your educators to participate in ECDA programmes, such as CPD and ECC, or collaborative projects that allow them to connect with their peers in the sector.
- Encourage long-term planning for the future
The Skills Framework for Early Childhood is a guide for individuals, employers, and training providers to promote skills mastery and lifelong learning. The career pathways and skills maps allow educators to envision their aspirations and set realistic goals to accomplish them. Seeing their roles in the context of the sector promotes greater employee retention. For employers, you can use this framework to plan for your educators’ long-term professional growth.
High-performing educators might be seeking opportunities to learn and do more. They can acquire new skillsets or deepen existing ones by undertaking professional programmes in preparation for larger job roles. Here, you can nominate them for ECDA Professional Programmes. For a start, these are a range of programmes which they can consider:
After the fourth year, educators become more mature and reflective of their inner self, teaching philosophy, practices and identity.
As employers, you can best measure how ready each educator is to take on leadership roles and should cultivate their interest in this direction. Give them the time, space and trust to do so.
You can consider nominating them for other ECDA Professional Programmes in Stage 4 which require more experience and are targeted towards those interested in the leadership track. Programmes for Stage 3 are also relevant if educators have not undergone them.
By giving your educators the chance to develop professionally, you enable them to take on more senior roles to support the centre. They also gain a greater sense of fulfilment and achievement in their careers, qualities which are increasingly important to most employees.
Our early childhood educators are at the heart of quality care and education. ECDA is committed to supporting them at every stage of their career. This e-Resource Guide aims to provide strategies and tips to help our new educators with their professional
We hope to partner you – the employers and mentors – as our Training Award recipients embark on this journey in the sector. With a supportive working environment and professional development opportunities, we hope to see them grow into confident and respected early childhood professionals.
Let’s work together to nurture and support our educators so that they will enjoy a long and fulfilling career in the early childhood sector. This will ultimately benefit our children.