Teaching Careers and Professional Development

Preschool Director: Education, Salary, and Outlook

By The SHARE Team

Preschool directors have an important role in early childhood education. In general, they’re responsible for supervising the daily programs and schedules, staff, and budgets at childcare centers or preschools.

Preschool directors can work for private childcare centers or within public school district preschool programs. Many preschool directors begin their careers as early childhood education teachers and grow into the role of director over time and with experience.

At-a-glance: preschool director

Preschool directors are essential to the smooth operation of a preschool or early childhood center. While not directly in charge of planning lessons or implementing curriculum, they are responsible for ensuring educational standards are being met and that the staff follows established policies and procedures for early childhood education.

Individual states typically regulate early childhood education standards, so requirements for student to teacher ratios, staff education levels, and other developmental standards differ depending on where a preschool director works.

Preschool directors generally work in one of three types of early childhood schools:

  • Independently owned and operated centers and schools
  • National chain or franchise schools
  • Federally funded early childhood centers, such as public school districts and Head Start

Preschool director job description

Regardless of the type of early childhood center they work in, all preschool directors have a general set of responsibilities and duties. These might include:

  • Leading and supervising staff, including early childhood teachers and assistants
  • Designing program plans to ensure they meet developmental and state standards
  • Overseeing daily activities in each classroom
  • Preparing budgets, sometimes with the help of an assistant director or owner
  • Reviewing teacher-created lesson plans
  • Training and hiring new staff as enrollments increase to maintain state-mandated teacher-to-student ratios
  • Assisting staff members in resolving conflicts among children and communicating with parents and families
  • Ensuring facilities within the childcare center are maintained, cleaned, and meet minimum state regulations
  • Ensuring that all state and federal guidelines are met, so a state or federally funded facility does not risk losing funding

Who makes a good preschool director

A preschool director should have significant experience in early childhood education. Many preschool directors begin their careers in the classroom, which provides them with a unique perspective as they serve in their director role. They may have a better understanding of what it is like to be a teacher, which helps them relate better to their staff, especially when they’re encountering problems.

A preschool director must be an excellent communicator, as this is necessary for forming relationships with families, parents, and staff members.

Preschool directors generally have a sense of responsibility, as the well-being of little children depends on their expertise and knowledge. They also must train adult staff to have that same sense of responsibility in the classroom. Preschool directors must lead by example, enforce necessary rules, and complete day-to-day tasks.

An Individual with natural leadership abilities may make a good preschool director, as they are responsible for guiding, training, and leading staff members.

Preschool director in-depth

Education requirements for preschool directors

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the typical entry-level education for preschool directors is a bachelor’s degree, many childcare center and preschool directors have master’s degrees in early childhood education or a related management field.

While a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education might be suitable for a preschool director position, having an advanced degree may help you become more marketable during your job search.

Certification requirements for preschool directors

Licensing and certification requirements for preschool directors vary widely by state, so the requirements you should follow depend on the state you live in or plan to work in.

In Oregon, for instance, aspiring teachers can obtain an initial teacher license, which is valid for three years until the first renewal (the license is renewed every five years after that). Usually, prerequisites for obtaining this license include:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited school
  • Completion of an approved early childhood teacher program
  • Passing two types of tests, the Civil Rights Exam and Subject Mastery Exam, which for preschool directors, is likely to be the early childhood education test

Most childcare centers and preschools will require aspiring preschool directors to have worked as an early childhood teacher for a certain number of years as well.

Preschool director salary

Below are some average annual salaries for preschool directors from a few sources. Note that salary often varies by job location, experience, and other factors. The figures listed are national averages.

Preschool director employment projections

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects positive growth for preschool director positions during the next 10 years. Its job outlook for 2018-2028 points to a 7% growth, which is considered faster than average. Those who are interested in pursuing a preschool director career may find plenty of available opportunities, especially in states where early childhood education needs are more acute.

Challenges and opportunities for preschool directors

Pros

  • One notable positive aspect of becoming a preschool director is the satisfaction of working directly with children and their families. Those who work in education environments know the impact of what they teach and how they teach it are seen in tangible results, as a child learns and grows physically, emotionally, and intellectually.
  • The job of a preschool director can also be an easy, natural transition from an early childhood teaching job. Many directors grow into their roles after working as a teacher in the classroom for many years. This can give them a unique perspective on the classroom environment and may help them better understand staff members’ perspectives.
  • While the average salary for a preschool director isn’t incredibly high, it’s around $40,000, which can be a comfortable amount for a single individual, depending on where you live.

Cons

  • Some challenges a preschool director may face are working in a fast-paced environment — those who have worked as an early childhood teacher previously are likely familiar with this. Teaching often requires you to think on your feet, make split-second decisions, and improvise frequently. The same is true for preschool directors, except the decisions you make also may affect the staff you’re leading, in addition to children and their families.
  • A preschool director’s job can also be quite demanding, as you are responsible for leading adult staff and implementing educational programs that help young children learn, grow, and become prepared for kindergarten.

Preschool director professional development

Professional development for preschool directors is ongoing. States have different rules when it comes to the number of professional development hours a preschool director has to complete each year. There are many professional development opportunities available from organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and there may be local affiliates of this organization depending on where you live and work. In Oregon, for example, the NAEYC affiliate is located in Gladstone and is called the Oregon Association for the Education of Young Children.

Continuing education

To maintain their preschool director status, many professionals must complete a required number of continuing education classes. Specific annual requirements vary by state.

In Oregon, for example, preschool directors must complete 15 hours of professional development, and eight of those hours must be in any of eight core knowledge categories, which include:

  • Diversity
  • Family and Community Systems
  • Health Safety and Nutrition
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Learning Environments and Curriculum
  • Observation and Assessment
  • Special Needs
  • Understanding and Guiding Behavior

The Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division offers several self-study training options for preschool directors as well.

Professional associations for preschool directors

Professional organizations in early childhood education can help you connect with others in your field, find volunteer opportunities, and provide discounts for conferences. Among preschool directors, a few professional organizations to check out include:

There may also be local affiliates for these organizations, or your state may have their own divisions of early childhood education, which may provide resources, training, and other professional development opportunities.

Best of the web

In this digital age, the internet offers many opportunities for preschool directors to connect with others in the field. The blog posts below let you share ideas for lessons, collaborate with other directors, and stay on top of what’s new and changing in early childhood education.

Blogs

  • Teacher Tom: This blog provides unique reflections on teaching and learning from preschoolers from the perspective of Tom Hobson, a preschool teacher, blogger, artist, and author. His stories are funny and memorable.
  • Pre-K Pages: Run by Vanessa Levin, an early childhood teacher, speaker, consultant, and author, this site offers plenty of resources for preschool teachers and directors, including hands-on lessons, themes, activities, and printables for preschool, PreK, and kindergarten programs.
  • Hands On As We Grow: This is a great resource for parents and preschool directors, as it provides plenty of hands-on activities and learning opportunities for preschoolers.

Twitter handles

First Five Years Fund: @firstfiveyears

Leadership in Early Childhood Special Education: @DEC_L_SIG

Teaching Strategies: @TeachStrategies

National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER): @PreschoolToday

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