From Teacher to Leader: How to Become a Childcare Director
By Hope Rothenberg on 11/09/2023
You love your work with children, but sometimes you find yourself wondering what it would be like to move up the ladder and become a childcare director. What if you could apply some of your ideas and teaching experience to the organization as a whole? What if you could make positive changes?
While the role of a childcare director comes with a lot of responsibility—and a lot of personalities to manage (adult ones this time!)—it can also provide opportunities to make program-wide changes that impact every child.
If you love giving kids quality early childhood education (ECE) experiences, becoming a childcare director can help you expand that influence.
But what does it take to become a childcare director? Even if you have an idea of where to start, there’s are some important things to consider.
We’re here to answer your questions about what can help you make your way into the ECE leadership position. Read on to discover what you’ll likely need to become a childcare director, and how you might best position yourself to make the move.
What does a childcare director do?
You probably have a childcare center director in your current ECE setting, but you may not know exactly what they do. In short, childcare center directors oversee their ECE programs, whether they're small, independent preschools or well-known child care centers with numerous locations.
Childcare directors take on an administrative leadership role, spending significantly less time with children than teachers do. A childcare director's overall responsibility is to create a physically and emotionally safe educational environment, where learning and care can flourish for children, staff and families.
In addition to providing a safe and healthy environment, childcare directors must hire and retain a qualified and diverse staff, have a solid business plan, understand child development and best practices in early childhood education, establish collaborative relationships with families and program stakeholders, market the program and help out in the classroom as needed.
Being able to remain calm under pressure and prioritize immediate tasks is important—all while continuing to strategize for the long term.1
Calm under pressure, you say? As a teacher to the youngest learners and a liaison to their families—you probably have some experience in that arena.
But the daily job duties of a childcare director are quite a bit different from those of a teacher or childcare worker. If you’re interested in changing things up and shaping the future of your organization, read on.
How to become a childcare director: 6 ways to bolster your resume
Now that you have a better idea of what a child care director does, you may want to think about how to become one. Here are a few different ways to prepare your resume and improve your credentials.
1. Gain experience
You may already have some relevant childcare experience. Whether that's as a teacher, a child development associate or even as a babysitter. If you’re aspiring to be a childcare director, you'll need to make sure your experience lends itself to the type of program you’d like to work in.
The exact experience requirements vary by state and employer, according to Cynthia Dow, director of in-home childcare advancement for TOOTRiS. A common recommendation is to gain at least one to four years of ECE experience before applying.
“It is important for a director to not only understand the development of each group they intend to work with, but also have hands-on teaching experience with each age group as well,” Dow says.
If you’re working in an infant room but would like to be the director of a preschool center, now is the time to seek out experience with the correlating age groups across similar childcare facilities.
2. Join relevant ECE organizations
Knowledge of child development and best practices is constantly evolving. Joining industry-leading ECE associations can help you stay on top of these trends, as well as prove your commitment to strong leadership in the field.
Consider joining organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC®) or Zero to Three.1 Organizations like these offer opportunities for continuing education and connections to other early childhood educators through conferences, webinars, books and training materials.
3. Read up on child development approaches
You probably already have some solid foundational knowledge of child development and psychology. But it’s important to stay on top of new research in child development, as well as the latest trends with child care providers and centers regarding topics like outdoor play and STEM learning.
Many early childcare centers are moving away from teacher-led crafts and activities so that children can explore learning through independent play in teaching models like Montessori,2 Waldorf® and the Reggio Emilia Approach®.
Even care centers that don’t use these models are recognizing the power of child-led learning in ECE and encourage their teachers to learn more about child development.
“Nature preschools” are springing up across the country in an effort to prioritize outdoor playtime. You may want to consider working or shadowing at programs with different approaches to broaden your knowledge base.
“It would be great to gain experience or educate yourself on the different approaches and philosophies of learning that different programs utilize, so you can decide where your passion lies,” says Dow. There’s room for all types in ECE. If you know what you are passionate about, you can showcase that when you seek childcare director positions.
4. Go the extra mile in your current childcare setting
Once you’ve done some self-study of ECE best practices and learning theories, you can apply some of what you’ve learned to your current childcare setting.
Seek out a meeting with your co-teachers and director to talk about what you’ve learned and how you can implement these ideas in your classroom. Working with your colleagues and sharing new ideas will show initiative and help you gain real-world experience in applying child development theories.
Some childcare providers might also gain a degree or enroll in an ECE certificate program2 to learn more and also show their commitment to the field.
Dow also suggests working your way up into an assistant director position if possible. This will give you relevant experience as well as an idea of the day-to-day operations of the role, which can help you decide if it's the right fit.
5. Earn a Bachelor’s degree2
Child development and education is so crucial to understand when you are guiding a program. There’s a lot to learn about best practices and research. Experience working with children can only take you so far.
Even if your state’s guidelines don’t require an ECE degree, topping off your high school diploma with a bachelor's degree in the field could make you more appealing to employers, parents and teachers. If you dream of opening your own daycare center someday, a degree will signify your commitment and professionalism.
A formal education ensures that you have the knowledge and skills it takes to keep up with child care regulation and lead an entire early childhood program. And this doesn’t just mean understanding child development. Childcare directors also need the ability to supervise teachers, set program policies that align with licensing regulations and provide strong leadership—all training that a degree program can help provide.
If you're worried about the financial burden of higher education, look into tuition assistance programs. Some larger daycare organizations offer employer assistance with tuition to encourage their employees to go back to school.
Even if you don't already work at one of these organizations, it could be a pathway to consider.
6. Consider earning additional certifications
Some employers may prefer to hire childcare directors that hold additional certifications. Though this isn’t technically required, it can be a nice way to bolster your resume and help you stand out from other applicants.
If you haven’t pursued it already, the nationally recognized Child Development Associate (CDA)® credential is great way to prove your child development knowledge—and it's just one of many educational programs, certifications and licenses that may be available to you. As you begin to narrow down the age groups you'd like to work with as a childcare director, look into certification options that may fit your niche.
Take the lead
Making the step up to lead a child care center is no small feat—but that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach. Now that you know more about what you can do to bolster your qualifications, it’s just a matter of following through.
Don’t let a lack of educational qualifications be what holds you back from your goal. The online Rasmussen University Early Childhood Education Bachelor’s degree2 program may help you develop the leadership and administration skills you need to become a childcare director.
Reggio Emilia Approach is a registered trademark of SCUOLE E NIDI D'INFANZIA
Waldorf is a registered trademark of Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
Child Development Associate (CDA) is a registered trademark of the Council for Professional Recognition, Inc.
NAEYC is a registered trademark of the National Association for the Education of Young Children non-profit corporation.
1NAEYC, What Does It Mean to Be a Director?, [accessed November 2023] https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/pubs/chapter-1-from-survive-to-thrive.pdf. The Early Childhood Education programs at Rasmussen University are not accredited by the NAEYC Commission on Early Childhood Associate Degree Accreditation. Rasmussen University is not a partner of NAEYC and our programs are not sponsored or endorsed by NAEYC.
2Graduates of Early Childhood Education programs at Rasmussen University are not eligible for licensure as a teacher in an elementary or secondary school. A Bachelor’s degree and a state teaching license are typically required to work as a teacher in a public school and some private school settings. States, municipalities, districts or individual schools may have more stringent licensing requirements. Students must determine the licensure requirements in the state and school in which they intend to work.
Childcare facilities and the states in which they are located establish qualifications for staff who work with children and often implement guidelines regarding age, education, experience and professional development. Students must determine the licensure requirements for the state and facilities in which they work.
This program has not been approved by any state professional licensing body, and this program is not intended to lead to any state-issued professional license. For further information on professional licensing requirements, please contact the appropriate board or agency in your state of residence.
This article was originally written by Ashley Brooks and published in 2021. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2023.