Retaining teachers in ECE

27 March 2020, by Jitbug

How to retain ECE teachers during a teacher shortage

Edit: In light of the recent lockdown, it’s more important than ever before to look out for our teachers, and take care of one another.

We are now all experiencing what it can be like when centres are forced to shut down. There are feelings of uncertainty, financial loss and confusion. We are in this together as a sector, as always, however now we truly are a part of a shared experience.

Before this pandemic began, we saw our teachers leave this profession in droves; this will continue to happen after this lockdown if nothing is done to change our sector. We are all part of the solution for NZ ECE.

A small, simple gesture to say thank you goes a long way. Now, more than ever. Stay safe everyone and take care. - Caleb

How to retain ECE teachers during a teacher shortage

Teacher retention. It’s a bit of a hot topic these days, with the well documented teachers shortage and with ECE teachers leaving the profession left, right and centre.

It makes sense then that, as a manager, when you find a good team you want to hold onto them; tightly.

Rightly so, teachers themselves are also keen to stay working for a good centre. They want job security and to work for management that appreciate their efforts.

The third and final piece of the teacher retention puzzle is the effect a solid, consistent teaching team has on tamariki. We know from experience (and we’re sure you know too), that an inconsistent teaching team can have dire effects for the tamariki in our care. Of course the opposite is also true, which is what we’d like to focus on!


When tamariki are met each day with teachers they know, trust and love, they have a much better experience and their centre becomes a home-away-from-home.

So what’s keeping teachers at centres long-term? How do we retain our fantastic teaching teams and passionate teachers, when teachers (any teachers!) are such a hot commodity?

The answer is delightfully more simple than you might think.

What teachers are saying

We asked a small number of different ECE teachers from around the country what they love about their centres and have heard, straight from them, what makes them stay long-term in a committed contract.

Unsurprisingly, we think due to the large amount of passionate educators in Aotearoa, wages weren’t the top factor in our small sample.

Here are the commonalities we found:

Family and Whanau support

“Close to home. Kids came with me when they were under 5.” 

“Great supportive family friendly boss! It seriously makes it all worthwhile”

“Centre manager is really approachable”

“They care about me not just as a kaiako, also as a person/parent.”


“The most wonderful children [and] awesome whanau”

“We have a wonderful sense of community”

The vibe of the team

“The team knows how to have a laugh. I like that we all have different strengths that compliment each other.”

“Staffing wise a good mix of ages and cultures as well as different strengths.”

“The staff I work with are like family.”

“They are family. We all are on the same page.”

“Our team is tight, we are a work family.”

“We communicate well and listen to each other, practise kindness, growth mindset and ‘can do’ attitude.”

“It is like a family, we always work things out.”

“The tamariki and kaiako are like my second family.”

They love making a difference


“In the end I like my job.”

“I got into ECE for the children. I’m staying for the teachers and making a difference to the whole sector.”

“We share a common goal of rowing the waka in the same direction, for the betterment of our children’s learning.”

“I am able to help people that need it most.“

“I have a passionate team who work extra hard to cater for the needs of our tamariki.”

“I also stay in the profession for the tamariki and their whanau.”

Pay, Sick Days, Collective Agreement/NZEI

“Pay is also a bit better than I expected so that’s a bonus, plus the equivalent of 10 days sick leave a year.”

“Good pay- I feel valued as a result, good amount of sick days.”


“The pay and fair conditions I get under a collective contract.”

Implementing teacher retention strategies

What can you start today? Consider creating a Teacher Retention Strategy in your Strategic Plan. Put implementation ideas into your annual plan and show your team with measurable actions thatthey are worth it! They should 100% be a part of this process.

Another idea we love is the implementation of a Well Being Policy, making sure to include and highlight the Well Being of all kaiako. Again, all members of your teaching team should be included in this policy process.

Opening these up to your centre community and whanau to contribute to will also highlight, we think, the support families have for teachers. Hearing how highly parents think your teachers should be valued can be an incredible mood boost in what sometimes feels like a thankless job.


Budget Concerns

Surprisingly (or not!), wages wasn’t the top factor in our small survey. Kaiako in NZ deserve fair and equal pay, however the lack of this isn’t the reason passionate teachers are staying in ECE, and at certain centres. It helps, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be the defining motivation.

There is more that you can do, as a centre manager, or as an owner, to encourage teacher retention – regardless of the money that you have to spend.

Your team completely understands the dire funding situation and a lot are still in the ECE profession to help fight it. They understand the money might not be there for a pay rise, however, they still expect (and deserve) to feel valued in other ways.

Easy tips for centre managers

Sometimes we all need a reminder of how we can appreciate our teams and show kindness in action. There may be an idea in here that you haven’t thought of before, or something you want to try again.

It’s also helpful to know (especially if you’re a small privately owned centre), that in order to retain your fantastic team, or entice a wonderful passionate teacher to join you over another centre, that you don’t have to offer an extreme wage that you can’t afford. It’s simply not top priority for many. And we think that’s excellent news, because we know the funding often doesn’t quite stretch far enough.


This sounds simple but sometimes in the chaos of managing rosters and budgets it gets lost.  Treat everyone with respect; they are mothers and fathers, friends, aunties, daughters…people. The respect and autonomy you desire from upper governance is the same as their desire from you.

Roster flexibility

Life throws curve balls and adding the guilt and burden of a roster onto staff will send them packing! Even if you can’t give them exactly what they need, try. Consider whether having a reliever in your centre for a week will be more inconsistent and upsetting for children than an entire new teacher (hint, it won’t be!). Teacher’s appreciate a genuine effort to accommodate sudden time off. Life happens, how can you make it easier for them?


We are all about treats. Chocolates, vouchers, flowers on birthdays. Bake cakes for birthdays, buy coffees on a Friday. If you’re on a strict budget from a larger company, pop $20 in a week for staffroom treats on a Monday, pick flowers from your garden and bring them in each week, ask community businesses if they can contribute a small donation in exchange for some advertising space on your newsletter. Get creative!

Collective agreement 

Can you meet the stipulations of NZEI? Perhaps it’s not something you’ve really had the time to look into, but doing so could create a world of change for your team, and the flow on effect for you could be solid teacher retention.


The vibe of your team is so, so important. What is the missing piece of the puzzle? Who will add something new and at the same time complement the existing team?

National lock-down period

Now is the time to show how much you care. Consider your teams mental, spiritual and emotional well-being. Everyone is at home, with children, trying to find a sense of normalcy and rhythm (including you!). 

- Keep up communication about wages and government payments, even if you don’t know the answer. “We’re still waiting on an answer for this,” is better than radio silence.

- Check in on your team if they are open to that. Consider a group chat on Facebook just to talk about the day and how everyone is going! 

- It can be a good time to work on Professional Development, catch up on learning stories, plan the programme and do paperwork. However, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. At this point in time it all depends on the day and everyone’s individual circumstances. Don’t be ‘that’ boss!

If you were to take this quick look into teacher retention in NZ and summarize it, it comes down to one, simple idea: Ask your team what they’d like, and make an effort to provide it. 

Support them to make a difference, to give to the community and whanau, and to grow professionally. Listen to them. Hear them - and put it into action.