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Teaching the Teachers

After Suzanne Schneider’s first son started attending child care, it dawned on her that she might like working there. She had a degree in education, and, it turned out, an undiscovered passion for teaching little ones. She quickly became the center’s director.

“Early childhood education is so important, and I have a real love for the age group,” she said. “This is where I’m meant to be.”

As she worked in the field longer, Suzanne discovered another passion: developing the teachers.

“Transforming and molding teachers, and helping them grow, ends up impacting the kids. I find that incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Prioritizing Staff Development

As the Director of Westminster Preschool in Lincoln since January 2010, Suzanne has used accreditation and rating programs like Step Up to Quality to not only improve the child development resources of the school but also to help the teachers grow professionally.

“We invest in quality initiatives, and it makes a big difference for everyone,” she said.

When Westminster Preschool initially enrolled in the Step Up to Quality program, they were rated a Step 3. Suzanne’s team worked through the process and made improvements, like updating their curriculum. They made it to the top, a Step 5, the first center to make it to that level in Nebraska.

“Our Step Up to Quality coach was great about understanding who I was and what our program needed. She helped us see areas where we could grow, and find really good staff trainings for us,” Suzanne said.

Step Up to Quality’s program taps into Nebraska’s Early Learning Connection, which is a system that supports the career and professional development of all who provide programs and services for young children, from birth through age eight. It includes:

  • Professional development for early childhood and school-age teachers
  • Support for implementation utilizing early childhood coaches
  • Program quality assessments — Environment Rating Scale (ERS) assessments for early learning
  • Strategic planning with higher education (2-yr and 4-yr) and other adult learning organizations
  • Community engagement and outreach

Strength Training

More than 8,500 people work in child care in Nebraska. And, the state has the highest concentration of child care workers per 1,000 people employed in the entire country.

Westminster Preschool devotes a lot of resources to teacher training and development, even though Suzanne is well aware of the high turnover rate in the industry (the average turnover rate at child care facilities is 30 percent).

“I’m good when they leave, because I see it as one more well-trained teacher out there,” she said. “We need more quality early childhood educators in our state.”