1.6: Create a culture of support and collaboration among staff

Supportive staff culture icon

Teaching young children can be joyful and rewarding. However it can also be physically and emotionally demanding, as well as socially isolating. Research supports that teaching is a stressful occupation, and that stress can affect the quality of the education and care early childhood educators provide. One study found that teachers who feel more stress at work are more likely to expel at least one child annually. In addition, children who present persistent or unique behavior problems can quickly exhaust the strategies an individual provider/teacher knows. To address feelings of stress and isolation, research has highlighted the importance of working in a program/school with a positive atmosphere of social support.

Social relationships and opportunities for staff to collaborate and solve problems as a team play a crucial role in reducing provider/teacher stress and supporting teachers in managing child behavior. Fellow teachers can offer support by brainstorming ideas, sharing guidance and advice based on their own experience, and providing encouragement. In addition, research suggests that in schools in which teachers have trusting relationships with their peers, teachers are more willing to learn and try new practices.

How do I do this?

Provide time and structures for collaborative teams to meet. Build collaborative weekly or biweekly team meetings into providers’/teachers’ schedules. These meetings should be led by a team member without another leadership role. Instruct providers/teachers to develop action-oriented agendas for these meetings. These should include discussion of challenging behaviors they are facing, intervention strategies to cope with challenges, and relevant resources that can help. Encourage providers/teachers to reserve time at the end of each meeting to evaluate the meeting and talk about ideas for improving the collaborative process.

  • For more ideas on promoting a collaborative culture, view this case study on one school’s approach to using teacher collaboration to foster a supportive professional culture, lessen teacher conflict, and promote school-wide best practices.

Identify provider/teacher leaders. Teacher leadership roles offer educators the chance to work with adults outside of their classroom. Teacher leaders can help build a culture of collaboration in which educators can share experiences, provide mentorship, gather resources, and work together to solve classroom problems. During meetings or professional development, some providers/teachers may stand out as having strong interpersonal skills, teaching experience, and knowledge. These providers/teachers may be effective provider/teacher leaders. They could serve as a liaison between providers/teachers and program leaders, facilitate collaborative team meetings, or mentor other teachers. Provide teacher leaders with the time, resources, and training needed to develop their skills and take on such roles.

Build trusting relationships with staff. As an administrator, you need to be clear about expectations and enforce policies, but to build a culture of social support and collaboration, you also need to make sure teachers feel comfortable bringing up problems and discussing solutions.

  • Visit with teachers before and after program hours to informally check-in, or volunteer to help out in their classroom.
  • Maintain an ‘open door policy’ that lets teachers voice concerns or alternative viewpoints and have productive conversations with program leaders.
  • Program leaders and providers/teachers should refer to children as “ours” as opposed to “yours/mine” and focus on mutual growth and improvement.
  • For more tips for leaders on promoting a more open school culture, see the Edutopia blog post Cultivating a New Leadership Archetype.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: It is hard to find the time for collaboration.
Solution: Early childhood educators have full schedules and are likely to be already working additional hours outside of the classroom. They also may be concerned that time spent in team meetings will take away from instruction, or that meetings are a “waste of time” because of past experience with meetings that are spent talking about logistical information or updates.

  • To address this barrier, you can attempt to build time for collaborative team meetings into the master schedule at the beginning of the year, so that meetings do not need to be held after work hours. Look for chances during the school day in which volunteers or aides can cover for providers/teachers for a short time so that providers/teachers can spend this time collaborating.
  • Alternatively, you may be able to better use meetings that are already being held by sending out general updates before the meetings and devoting more time to collaboration.
  • You can also use technology to create virtual meeting opportunities, as well as enhance communication and sharing among staff through email, discussion boards, resource banks, and forums.

Where do I go for more resources?

  • For additional information on developing peer leaders, Building a School Culture that Supports Teacher Leadership offers advice from teachers and principals in Massachusetts elementary and secondary schools.
  • The blog post Caring for Teachers Supports SEL for Students on Edutopia includes even more ideas for effectively supporting staff.
  • If you are interested in forming professional learning communities (PLCs), or small groups of educators with shared interests who work together to expand their knowledge and improve their craft, check out this PLC facilitators guide.
  • If your program is small or educators have limited experience, online PLCs can offer support from many educators and experts. Edweb.net offers a Classroom Management for Early Learning online PLC that includes webinars, a resource library, and a discussion forum.
  • Need more strategies for building trust among educators and between educators and the administration? The booklet Building Trusting Relationships for School Improvement offers lots of strategies for program leaders to build and maintain trust with and among educators.
  • Experiencing deeply disturbing events or situations (i.e., trauma) can affect the way a person learns, plans, and interacts with others. This can have profound implications for how providers/teachers interact with children, families, and each other. This resource guide from the Department of Health and Human Services provides an overview and a range of resources on trauma-informed care.


Bryk, A. S., & Schneider, B. (2003). Trust in schools: A core resource for school reform. Educational leadership, 60(6), 40-45.

Cook, L., & Friend, M. (1991). Principles for the practice of collaboration in schools. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 35(4), 6-9.

Gilliam, W. S., & Shahar, G. (2006). Preschool and child care expulsion and suspension: Rates and predictors in one state. Infants & Young Children, 19(3), 228-245.

Imel, S. (1991). Collaborative learning in adult education. ERIC Clearinghouse.

Kelly, A. L., & Berthelsen, D. C. (1995). Preschool teachers’ experiences of stress. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11(4), 345-357.

Kyriacou, C. (1987). Teacher stress and burnout: An international review. Educational Research, 29(2), 146-152.

Laycock, V. K., Gable, R. A., & Korinek, L. (1991). Alternative structures for collaboration in the delivery of special services. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 35(4), 15-18.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2015). Building a School Culture that Supports Teacher Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.doe.mass.edu/edeval/leadership/BuildingSchoolCulture.pdf

Punch, K. F., & Tuetteman, E. (1996). Reducing teacher stress: The effects of support in the work environment. Research in Education, (56), 63.

Sheffield, D., Dobbie, D., & Carroll, D. (1994). Stress, social support, and psychological and physical wellbeing in secondary school teachers. Work & Stress, 8(3), 235-243.

York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255-316.

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