High teacher turnover and teacher shortages are problematic at all grade levels, but the effects are even more problematic in the early childhood workforce, especially in Head Start programs.
The cross-campus Happy Teacher Project team led by Kyong-Ah Kwon, Ph.D., associate professor and Drusa B. Cable Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Education, Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, hopes to work toward a solution with a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The funds support “Unpacking the Complex Story of Head Start Teacher Turnover: Patterns, Factors, Mechanisms and Outcomes,” an 18-month project that will focus on analyzing data to determine what causes turnover and instability in the workforce and what can be done to recruit and retain qualified teachers in Head Start programs.
The proposal was developed by the OU Happy Teacher Project team led by Kwon. The Happy Teacher Project is an interdisciplinary collaboration that takes a holistic and comprehensive approach to studying whole teacher well-being that consists of physical, psychological and professional well-being and how workplace conditions support these three areas.
The team includes a new childhood well-being cluster hire in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education: Wonkyung Jang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum; Tim Ford, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and director of the Leadership and Policy Center for Thriving Schools and Communities; and Diane Horm, Ph.D., George Kaiser Family Foundation Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, founding director of the Early Childhood Education Institute and an associate research director of OU’s Institute for Community and Society Transformation. Also on the team are Noreen Yazejian, Ph.D., and researchers at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina, along with collaborators at Educare Learning Network.
“The purpose of the proposed project is to investigate patterns, factors, mechanisms and outcomes of Head Start teacher turnover, including both Early Head Start and Head Start teachers,” Kwon said. “We suspect that although all Head Start teachers are well trained and committed, given the high job demand of working with children from disadvantaged households who are more likely to experience many hardships, these teachers would have some unique challenges at work which may contribute to turnover.”
Horm said this research is especially important because teacher turnover is potentially more harmful for younger children.