Early Childhood Education (ECE) is widely linked to better outcomes for children as they grow into their K–12 years. Research shows that a robust early childhood (which begins at birth and runs through age 8) learning experience closes the school-readiness gap when that learning program focuses on the development of their emotional, social, physical, language and cognitive skills. Early childhood education is especially beneficial to students in low-income communities and to students who are dual-language learners.
The alignment of all stakeholders (researchers, parents and school leaders) on the importance of ECE means that there is a greater emphasis on employing qualified, educated early childhood leaders to direct the country’s preschools and childcare facilities. It is a job that requires not only a deep understanding of early childhood development, which can be learned through a college education, but also a passion for working with young minds.
There are many reasons why you might want to become an early childhood education director. Maybe you love working with children and want to help them succeed in school and in life. Maybe you’re passionate about education and want to make a difference in the lives of young children. Or maybe you want to share your love of working with young children with other educators in a leadership capacity. Whatever your reasons, if you are interested in becoming an early childhood education director, there are a few things you need to know. Read on for in-depth information on the skills and education you should have to pursue early childhood director jobs that are available.
What Does a Director of Early Childhood Education Do?
An early childhood education director is involved in the supervision and operation of a preschool or childcare facility. As a leader, the director is involved with all aspects of the center’s educational programming. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), directors typically:
- Supervise preschool teachers and childcare workers
- Hire and train new staff members
- Provide professional development opportunities for staff
- Establish policies and communicate them to staff and parents
- Develop educational programs and standards
- Maintain instructional excellence
- Assist staff in communicating with parents and children
- Meet with parents and staff to discuss students’ progress
- Prepare budgets and allocate program funds
- Ensure that facilities are maintained and cleaned according to state regulations
How to Become a Director of Early Childhood Education
An undergraduate degree in early childhood education is a great way to lay the foundation for working in this field. A Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education Leadership can launch you further into becoming a director of early childhood education. With a specialized degree in early childhood education, you will be prepared for roles in a variety of educational settings, where you are sure to gain strong skills and experiences that can lead to director positions. However, if you want to start a preschool of your own, you should be aware of the specific licensing and minimum work experience requirements in your state — which may be needed in addition to a degree.
If you are ready to embrace your future and start the journey toward becoming a leader in ECE, here are the steps to follow:
1. Earn your MA in early childhood education leadership
For those wondering how to become a leader in early childhood education, it all starts with your own education. A Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education Leadership can equip you with the not only the skills, but also the confidence needed to lead in an environment populated by children and adults.
A graduate degree in early childhood education leadership prepares you to use research-based practices to address the instructional needs of young children in a developmentally appropriate way that is rooted in ethical practices and reflective of innovative technology. You will develop skills as an early childhood education leader and administrator to connect with everything you will learn about early learners and their needs.
2. Master critical skills
According to Indeed, some of the most important qualities required to work in childcare include:
Early childhood education directors must monitor the progress of children in the classroom, analyze the data, and report the findings to parents and employees.
Classroom management skills
As a director, you will be responsible for maintaining order and developing the classroom culture. You will need to work on a variety of tasks, including the way you approach interpersonal relationships and how you manage the business side of things.
In childcare, you are working with kids, colleagues, and parents. As a director, you will need to know how to effectively deal with each group, with a strong foundation of written, verbal, and nonverbal communication techniques.
Compassion and empathy
You must be able to see things from a child’s perspective and recognize your responsibility as a caretaker with tremendous influence. It is important to come into the role with patience, understanding, and a genuine love for children.
Creativity is king when working with children, and this is where you can have a lot of fun as an ECE director. Just imagine all the ways you can plan activities, games, and curriculum to inspire young minds.
Any leadership position requires you to make difficult decisions, and that’s no different in childcare. You’ll need to refine your decision-making process and be able to explain your reasoning to employees, students, and their parents.
There is a difference between a manager and a leader, and you’ll learn that leading in a childcare facility is about much more than giving direction. You’ll need to find a leadership style that suits you and allows you to both supervise people and inspire them at the same time.
From inventory to student files, early childhood education directors have their hands full. You’ll need to come to the job with strong organizational skills and the ability to multitask when necessary.
Children keep you on your toes, there’s no question. Working in childcare, you’ll need to meet the physical demands of the job, which may involve carrying children, or carrying toys and equipment, on a daily basis.
Planning and instruction
Early childhood education directors set the agenda for their facilities. You’ll need to learn how to develop your curriculum and work with your staff to ensure lessons are delivered properly.
Any leadership role requires you to put out multiple fires at once. In childcare, however, you’ll need to strengthen your problem-solving skills, as you’ll be dealing with children and adults.
3. Gain relevant experience
Before you move into a leadership role in the early childhood field, you will need some hands-on experience in the field of early childhood education. According to the BLS, “Most positions for preschool and childcare center directors require several years of experience in early childhood education. The length of experience required varies by job.”
Though working your way up the professional ladder while also completing your degree can be a challenge, an online master’s degree program, such as the one offered at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) can give you the flexibility needed to meet your goals. As an online graduate student, you will take one course at a time for six weeks at a time, and can still complete your degree within two years.
4. Look into licensure
Though the rules vary by state, childcare facilities must meet a number of safety and licensing requirements, and staff members may have to pass a background check before they are hired. If you plan to become a director of a childcare facility, you will want to investigate the license or credential process before you begin your job search.
5. Find the right opportunities, which are plentiful
If you want to become an early childhood director, now is the right time to start your job search. Early childhood director jobs are plentiful, and more opportunities are coming, according to the BLS. The agency projects employment of preschool and childcare center directors will grow 11% — faster than average — through 2030, with about 5,300 new openings each year.
Preschool and childcare center director salaries will vary, but the BLS found the median wage was $47,310 in May 2021, with the highest 10% of directors earning more than $78,350.
What You will Learn in Your Early Childhood Education Leadership Degree Program
Your master’s degree program in early childhood education leadership will help you develop and refine those skills so that upon graduation, you are fully prepared to tackle the challenges of ECE administration. For example, when you complete your degree online at UAGC, you will be able to:
- Evaluate evidence-based theories and strategies aligned with early development and learning needs to support high-quality learning environments
- Assess effective communication and collaboration strategies to positively influence partnerships with community agencies and families with young children
- Evaluate early childhood curricula designed to promote development and learning across all domains of development
- Evaluate effective assessment and evaluation strategies, tools, and procedures designed to improve outcomes for young children, families, and programs
- Design discipline-specific action research based on relevant theory and research methodology
- Propose ethical solutions that promote educational transformation in the field of early childhood education
- Construct a personal definition of leadership as an early childhood education professional
- Courses You will Take in Your Early Childhood Education Leadership Degree Program
A two-year master’s degree program can lay the groundwork for the next stage of your career, increasing your knowledge of the foundations, functions, and current challenges in the field of early childhood education. For example, the online master’s in ECE leadership program from UAGC includes courses such as:
Quality Curriculum in Early Childhood Education
In this course, students examine the relationship between theory, research, and practice in creating quality curriculum for the early childhood classroom. In addition, students evaluate a wide array of approaches, instructional strategies, and tools utilized to positively influence each child’s learning and development. Students also analyze their roles as leaders in evaluating curriculum materials and models that align with state and national standards. Utilizing this information, students design challenging curriculum that promotes comprehensive development and learning outcomes for all young children and across all domains of development.
Management and Administration of Early Childhood Programs
This course provides students with an overview of the knowledge and skills necessary to develop and administrate an early childhood facility. Students will create a personal definition of leadership and evaluate high-quality early childhood programs that meet the needs of diverse children, families, and communities. In addition, students will develop a strategic plan that meets high-quality and developmentally appropriate aspects of early childhood programs. Students will also examine how early childhood administrators evaluate faculty and staff.
Action Research and Inquiry in Education
Students enrolled in this course are introduced to action research and are provided with an explanation of the goals, rationale, and value of action research in the early childhood environment. Students will demonstrate effective use of research sources using digital tools and evaluative methods. They will apply methodologies and use ethics to evaluate various educational theories and research and acquire skills that support best practices. During this course, students will identify a problem, construct an action research proposal, collect, and analyze data, and identify implications for future action research while considering their professional and leadership capabilities.
Personnel Management & Staff Development for Early Childhood Administrators
In this course, students evaluate professional early childhood learning resources that target learning outcomes, program needs, and support family and community partnerships. Students also develop a strategic plan to foster professional learning and development for early childhood staff and teachers that includes professional learning models. In addition, students create a system that supports the development of effective personnel management practices and promotes high-quality programs. Throughout the course, students analyze ethical and professionally sound decision-making and leadership practices used in early childhood education.
Advocacy, Policy, and Social Justice in Early Childhood Education
In this course, students will learn about public policy and law as it relates to early childhood education. Students will leverage leadership skills, advocacy skills, and professional knowledge to promote educational transformation, social justice, and positive change in early childhood education.
Ready to Become a Director of Early Childhood Education?
The path to any fulfilling career begins with your education. If you are ready to follow the aforementioned steps to achieve your goal of becoming an early childhood education director, talk to an advisor about your master’s degree in early childhood education leadership today.
An online degree from the University of Arizona Global Campus does not lead to immediate teacher licensure in any state. If you want to become a classroom teacher, contact your state’s education authorities prior to enrolling at the University of Arizona Global Campus to determine what state-specific requirements you must complete before obtaining your teacher’s license.
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.