From Teacher to Leader: How to Become a Childcare Director

illustration of a early childhood classroom with the childcare director working in an office

You love working with children every day, but sometimes you find yourself wondering what it would be like to move up the ladder and become a childcare director. While the role comes with a lot of responsibility—and personalities to manage—it can also provide opportunities to lead the way on making program-wide changes that can have lasting positive impacts on every child that comes through the door.

If you have a passion for providing quality early childhood education (ECE) experiences to families and want to expand your influence, becoming a childcare director can be a natural career move. But what does it take to become a childcare director? You might have an idea of where to start, but there’s still more you might want to consider.

We’re answering all your burning questions about how to make your way into this ECE leadership position. Read on to discover what you’ll need to become a childcare director—and how you can position yourself to help make the move.

What does a childcare director do?

You probably have a director at your current ECE setting, but you may not know what exactly they do in this role. In short, a childcare director oversees their ECE program, whether it’s a small, independent preschool or one of many well-known childcare centers with numerous locations.

Childcare directors take on an administrative leadership role, spending significantly less time with children than teachers do. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), childcare directors’ tasks may include managing the program budget, hiring teachers and staff, developing curriculum and other educational standards, and ensuring that their program complies with local regulations and licensing requirements.1

These daily job duties are quite a bit different from those of a teacher or childcare worker. However, childcare directors have the benefit of influencing large-scale changes and guiding the general direction of their programs—a task that’s probably appealing to you if you’ve ever dreamed of making the world of early childhood education even better for children and families.

How to become a childcare director: 6 ways to bolster your resume

1. Gain experience

You may already have some childcare experience under your belt. If you’re aspiring to be a childcare director, however, you need to make sure your experience lends itself to the type of program you’d like to work in.

Cynthia Dow, director of in-home childcare advancement for TOOTRiS, shares that exact experience requirements will vary by state and employer but having at least one to four years of ECE experience would be a common recommendation. She also advises that this experience should span the age groups of the children you intend to work with as a director.

“It is important for a director to not only understand the development of each group they intend to work with but also have that hands-on teaching experience with each age group as well,” Dow says. So if you’re working in an infant room but would like to be the director of a preschool center, this is the time to seek out experience working with other age groups.

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. Organizations like these offer opportunities for continuous education and connection with other early childhood educators through conferences, webinars, books and other 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 in childcare centers regarding topics like outdoor play and STEM learning.

For example, 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, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia. “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 the different programs utilize so you can decide where your passion lies,” Dow says.

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 on ideas like these will show initiative and help you gain real-world experience in applying child development theories.

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 operation of the role to decide if that would be a good fit for you,” Dow says.

5. Earn a Bachelor’s degree

Experience working with children can only take you so far in the ECE field. The BLS reports that in most states, childcare directors are required to have a Bachelor’s degree.1 Even if your state’s guidelines don’t require an ECE degree, having this achievement can make you more appealing to employers as well as parents and teachers at the program.

A formal education ensures that you have the knowledge and skills it takes to lead an entire early childhood program. 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 provide.

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 potentially stand apart from other applicants

If you haven’t pursued it already, the nationally recognized Child Development Associate (CDA)® credential is one commonly used in the field to prove your knowledge of child development. First, you’ll choose the type of program and age range of children you plan to work with, then you’ll create a special portfolio of your work with children based on classroom experiences and industry best practices.

Take the lead

Making the step up to lead an entire childcare center is no small feat—but that doesn’t mean it’s out of your 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 flexible online Rasmussen University Early Childhood Education Bachelor’s degree program can help you develop your leadership and administration skills.2

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed May, 2021] Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
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.

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.

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.

About the author

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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