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Program Staffing Schedule

Staffing your program with high-quality caregivers and having a clear scheduling plan is critical to the daily operation of your program. In this lesson, you will learn about the importance of planning and implementing a clear and consistent staff schedule. You will also learn about the key elements to consider as you develop staffing arrangements that support the relationships and well-being of children, families, and staff. 

  • Identify key factors to consider when planning and implementing staffing arrangements for the program. 
  • Examine organizational systems to support staffing arrangements. 
  • Describe the importance of monitoring the staffing plan for continuous improvement.  



As a program manager, what kind of work schedule helps you do your best work? Think about some of the elements that you embed within your daily work schedule to help you to feel successful, such as:

  • Keeping consistent work hours and shifts
  • Ensuring that you have planned, uninterrupted time daily to accomplish required tasks
  • Planning and scheduling meetings in advance
  • Connecting and collaborating with other members of the leadership team to ensure the program is running smoothly
  • Checking in and engaging with staff each day
  • Scheduling short breaks and lunch breaks to attend to your own well-being

It is important that as a program manager you look at all aspects of your program that promote high-quality care and staffing arrangements are one critical piece of this. Program staffing arrangements are your plans for scheduling and staffing your program with qualified professionals to enhance children’s learning and development. The staffing arrangement that you put into place will depend on the size of the program, the number of direct care and support staff in the program, family schedules, the number and needs of the children attending the program, and the additional services that you provide.

Developing a staffing plan that meets the needs of the program and the people within the program requires you to have strong organizational skills, interpersonal skills, and a deep knowledge of the program. As you consider staffing arrangements, it can be helpful to reflect upon the type of schedule that helps you perform your best, as well as a schedule that:

  • Adheres to state licensing and program regulations
  • Meets the needs of the children and families served within your program
  • Helps all staff members feel competent, autonomous, and connected
  • Provides consistency and continuity for children, families, and staff
  • Supports professional development and staff well-being

In this lesson, you will explore key elements to consider as you develop a staffing plan for your program, including ratios, continuity of care, staff competence, and planned and unplanned time out of the classroom. You will also explore the importance of systems to support the implementation of your staffing plan as well as systems for monitoring the program’s staffing arrangement.

Staffing to Support Ratios and Active Supervision

As a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that your program complies with staff-child ratio requirements. Adherence to staff-child ratios assists with the active supervision of children and youth, decreases the transmission of communicable disease, allows teachers to provide more individual attention to children, and provides consistency for children and youth so they feel emotionally secure, which supports their development and learning.

One of the most critical elements to consider as you develop a staffing plan for your program, is the minimum staff-child ratio requirements for each age group served in your program or for particular program spaces. It’s important to staff your program in a way that maintains appropriate ratios and active supervision while also ensuring that you do not schedule more staff than needed, which may result in a lack of coverage at other times of the day. Conducting regular ratio audits and reviewing classroom rosters to analyze over and under staffing can assist you in your efforts to schedule adequate staff to ensure coverage. You should analyze data from classroom attendance rosters to understand the arrival and departure habits of families. This will allow you to know how many children are present, when they are present, and where they are present so that you can schedule staff appropriately. Consider the following strategies to help determine staffing needs based on staff-child ratios so that your program is not understaffed or overstaffed for large portions of the day:

  • Document the arrival and departure patterns of each age group of children for at least one week.
  • Note the time the first child arrives and last child leaves.
  • Note the time that you need a second or third staff member to maintain ratio and the earliest that those staff members can leave.
  • Choose a week to document when the program is experiencing normal enrollment and attendance (e.g., not during a major holiday when attendance is lower than normal, testing, or other events that affect arrivals and departures).

Arrival and departure patterns can provide you with rich information to support long-term and short-term scheduling in your program. One thing you could consider is looking at this data over a longer period to determine trends for your program. For example, most child and youth programs document attendance or arrival and departure records for at least a year. Looking at this information over the course of a year could help you determine if there are consistent times when arrival and departure fluctuate (e.g., summer months, beginning or end of deployments) or attendance is lower than normal (e.g., summer, holidays, school breaks). The patterns or trends that you identify may allow you to strategically plan more time for team building, planning, professional development, or time-off requests.

The staffing plan that you develop will be one of the most important methods for ensuring a high-quality and safe environment for children and youth. As with all plans, this plan should not be static, but rather should be adaptable based on the current needs of the program. As you develop staffing arrangements, you should support staff members well-being when you can, however, it is also important to articulate that you will not always be able to schedule staff members their preferred shifts and that your priority is to schedule staff to meet the needs and supervision of children.

The schedules of direct care staff are critical to maintaining ratio and supporting children’s learning and development, but you also need to plan and implement appropriate schedules for the support staff in your program, as they are critical to the daily operation and success of the program. Make sure that you understand the key roles and responsibilities of the front desk staff, custodians, and maintenance staff and the times of day that they are needed the most. This will help you as you develop schedules for staff that support other functions within the program.

Continuity of Care for Children, Families, and Staff

As you develop the staffing arrangements for your program, consider ways the schedule promotes continuity of care for children, families, and the staff in your program. There are several ways that programs implement the practice of continuity of care. Continuity of care is generally thought of as limiting the number of transitions children experience between caregivers and classrooms, such as keeping children and caregivers together for a year or sometimes multiple years. Continuity of care increases the amount of time that caregivers and children spend together and therefore increases the opportunity for them to develop meaningful, trusting relationships that support optimal development. Children and youth benefit greatly from receiving consistent care from trusted adults and this consistency of care is dependent on your staffing schedule. Caregivers also benefit from having extended time to get to know children and are more likely to respond sensitively to children’s needs. Caregivers, particularly new staff and floating staff, benefit from time to build relationships with their teaching team. Continuity also strengthens the family-caregiver partnership as families are able to build a trusting relationship with caregivers over time.

While continuity of care tends to be a larger programmatic practice, it can also be considered as you think about daily staffing schedules. Your program may implement larger transitions with children relatively frequently (for example, every 6 or 12 months), but you can still think about staffing your program in a way that provides as much consistency and continuity as possible each day. Consider the following staffing arrangements and practices:

  • Schedule your staff so that all classrooms are open when children typically arrive or depart from the classroom that they are enrolled in rather than having multiple transitions at the beginning and end of the day. This practice is especially helpful for young children, where a lack of consistent routines can be a catalyst for challenging behavior.
  • Schedule staff so that a consistent caregiver is present at arrival and departure. While the same caregiver does not always have to open and close the classroom, stagger caregivers’ schedules so that a consistent member of the teaching team is present at these key times.
  • Overlap staff schedules to make sure that staff members have opportunities to share information about the children and day with one another. For example, if a floating staff member is covering a classroom while a lead teacher is released for training, schedule the floater to join the room 5-10 minutes before the lead teacher must leave so important information can be shared.
  • Strategically and intentionally build classroom teams that work well together and limit staffing transitions—disrupting teaching teams can be difficult for children, staff, and families.
  • Intentionally schedule floating staff in the same classrooms as much as possible. Having the same floater consistently assigned to classrooms allows the floater to build stronger relationships with children and caregivers and helps them feel like they are part of a classroom team.

Although you may not be able to meet all these suggestions at once, knowing about these evidence-informed practices can help you work toward a program schedule that is supportive of relationships and quality care. For example, although you may have to combine classrooms during early morning drop-off or evening pick-up times, keeping consistent with the program spaces, staff members involved, and times in which you combine consistent can create better continuity for children and families.

Scheduling to Support Staff Competence and Well-Being

As you develop staffing arrangements for your program, it is important to think about the current level of training and experience of your staff and their future professional development needs. To support staff competence and high-quality care, there should be a well-trained staff member for every group of children. Intentionally pairing a new staff member working through foundational training with a more seasoned staff member who has completed foundational training and is familiar with the program helps support the competence of both staff members. This model provides the new staff member with an experienced peer to rely on for support and allows the more seasoned staff member to engage in mentoring and leadership. You should consider the level of training as you recruit new staff for your program and when you are developing teaching teams so that you have a well-balanced staff in each classroom.

Program managers must think about more than the overall working hours of each staff member and remember to think about time scheduled out of the classroom for coaching, training, staff planning time, and breaks. Your role as a program manager is to create an environment in which coaching and professional development are prioritized and can be completed regularly. One of the ways that you can support the professional development of your staff, and directly impact the quality of care in your program, is to make sure the staffing schedule allows staff to be released from the classroom to complete VLS foundational coursework and trainings and to regularly meet with the program coach. You demonstrate that you value and respect your staff by ensuring that they are provided with scheduled time outside of the classroom for professional development and planning. Collaborate with the coach to get an understanding of the time needed to participate in coaching and training. Consider the following questions as you plan for release time for professional development: How much time per week do staff members need to complete VLS foundational training? How much time does the coach spend coaching each staff member? Are there specific training dates and times that need to be accounted for within the schedule?

In addition to release time for professional development, direct care staff members also need time away from the classroom for planning and for their own well-being. Direct care staff need the time, space, and resources to plan curricular experiences, develop lesson plans, set individual child goals and document children’s learning and development. When possible, including lead teachers and assistant teachers in release time for planning can help promote a sense of professionalism, teamwork, and mentorship. As you develop your schedule, you can consider planning a small amount of time each day for each staff member for planning or you can think about planning one time per week for each staff member. What’s important is that staff members are consistently provided with time. When all staff members are given time for planning, staff members are more likely to feel valued, respected, and satisfied with their job.

Caring for children and youth is a physically and emotionally demanding job. In fact, due to the physical demands of child care and lack of support for appropriate breaks, many early childhood teachers face psychological and physical issues and experience significantly more health challenges than the general population (Kwon, Ford, Salvatore, et al., 2020). Thus, as a program manager, it is important to consider your own well-being and the well-being of your staff. Schedule time for the staff in your program to take at least a 15-minute break every four hours to regroup, reflect, and engage in self-care. You can learn more about the importance of self-care in the VLS Focused Topics course, Social Emotional Learning for Teachers. In addition to scheduled breaks, teachers should receive immediate and frequent restroom breaks and should not have to wait extended periods of time to meet their physical needs. Consider whether your schedule supports staff members’ ability to take restroom breaks as needed or if they have to wait for long periods of time for classroom coverage. By taking care of your staff and intentionally planning for each staff member to take breaks as needed, you are helping to ensure that the children in the program are well cared for.

Each program will differ in the amount of time offered to staff members for planning each week, the frequency and length of scheduled breaks, the amount of time scheduled for training or coaching each month, and the length and time of lunch breaks.

Below is one example of a preschool classroom staffing schedule that takes into account the number of children present throughout the day, breaks, lunch, planning time for each staff member, and scheduled professional development. This is a sample schedule to support you as you reflect on your own scheduling practices in your program. Additional examples of program schedules can be found in the Apply section of this course.

Preschool Schedule

Preschool 1
Name Shift Break Lunch Planning VLS; Coaching; PD
Staff 1 0545-1445 0745-0800 1130-1200 1015-1115 Tuesday 0845-0945 Thursday
Staff 2 0715-1615 0945-1000 1230-1300 1015-1115 Wednesday 1015-1115 Friday
Staff 3 0800-1700 1000-1015 1300-1330 1015-1115 Thursday 1015-1115 Monday

Preschool Room 1 & 2 combined at the beginning & end of the day as needed to maintain ratio or use floating staff to avoid combining classrooms.

Preschool 2
Name Shift Break Lunch Planning VLS; Coaching; PD
Staff 1 0615-1515 0800-0815 1200-1230 1030-1130 Tuesday 0915-1015 Thursday
Staff 2 0745-1645 1015-1030 1230-1300 1030-1130 Wednesday 1030-1130 Friday
Staff 3 0915-1815 1130-1145 1330-1400 1030-1130 Thursday 1030-1130 Monday

Preschool Room 1 & 2 combined from at beginning & end of the day as needed to maintain ratio or use floating coverage to avoid combining classrooms.

Preschool Room 3
Name Shift Break Lunch Planning VLS; Coaching; PD
Staff 1 0545-1445 0745-0800 1130-1200 1015-1115 Tuesday 0845-0945 Thursday
Staff 2 0715-1615 0945-1000 1230-1300 1015-1115 Wednesday 1015-1115 Friday
Staff 3 0800-1700 1000-1015 1300-1330 1015-1115 Thursday 1015-1115 Monday

Preschool Room 3 & 4 combined at beginning and end of the day as needed to maintain ratio or use floating staff to avoid combining classrooms.

Preschool Room 4
Name Shift Break Lunch Planning VLS; Coaching; PD
Staff 1 0615-1515 0800-0815 1200-1230 1030-1130 Tuesday 0915-1015 Thursday
Staff 2 0745-1645 1015-1030 1230-1300 1030-1130 Wednesday 1030-1130 Friday
Staff 3 0915-1815 1130-1145 1330-1400 1030-1130 Thursday 1030-1130 Monday

Preschool Room 3 & 4 combined at beginning and end of the day as needed to maintain ratio or use floating staff to avoid combining classrooms.

Scheduling Time for Relationship Building

One of the most rewarding aspects of developing the program’s staffing arrangement is that you also have the opportunity to plan time for fun, team-building experiences with program staff. As the program manager, you facilitate cooperative staff experiences by scheduling shared meeting times for classroom teams to regularly meet to discuss lesson plans, problem-solve issues or concerns about particular children, or reflect on the classroom environment. Planning time for these shared meetings allows caregivers to build relationships with one another and strengthens their teaching team. You also have the opportunity to plan time for small events for the whole team to build relationships or recognize each other’s accomplishments. Examples include planning a monthly potluck for lunch, a community cleanup day, a physical activity challenge, or a staff appreciation week. Team building is an important aspect of managing adults; it takes time and intentional planning. Consider the ways that you can integrate time for staff fun into your normal program schedule and opportunities for more robust team-building activities on closure dates or after program hours.

Long-Term Planning

Developing the program staffing schedule is no small feat. There are many other staffing logistics to consider in addition to daily classroom coverage. Staff have tasks outside of direct care and supervision of children that need to be built into the staffing schedule including classroom team meetings, staff meetings, and professional development opportunities. These are all elements that you can intentionally include in your long-range planning. These are aspects of your staffing schedule that you can plan for a year in advance. Each calendar or program year you should consider the parts of your program schedule that can be scheduled in advance (i.e., quarterly staff meeting dates, professional development closure dates, monthly team meetings for each classroom) and then build classroom schedules around these longer-term scheduling elements. Collaborate with your coach to create an annual or quarterly training calendar. Even if training topics are still in the planning phase, making decisions about training dates and times well in advance will help with long-range planning and help ensure that staff are released from the classroom to attend professional development.

You can also include planned vacation into your long-term planning. Think strategically about how far in advance you will require staff to request extended leave. The more advanced notice that you have, the further ahead that you can plan for these situations and mitigate any trickle-down effects. Long-range planning is important to programs of all sizes, but it is especially helpful in programs with a large number of classrooms and staff members as these programs require more intense organizational systems and more logistical elements to consider when planning staffing arrangements. 

Supervise & Support

The Importance of Leadership’s Schedules

As a program manager, you need to think about the program’s staffing arrangement holistically. Consider how each staff member’s support and presence, including that of the leadership staff, affects the operation of the program. It is important to have a qualified individual assistant director, lead educational tech, etc.) available to open and close the program each day. Arrival and departure can be difficult times that require additional support from program leaders. Think intentionally about what times of day it is most beneficial for you to be present in the program. It is important for a manager, coach, or other program leader to be available during opening and closing. Direct care staff may need support during difficult morning transitions, the daily schedule may need immediate attention to support unplanned call-outs, and these are the key times that parents are in the program and may need additional support from the program manager. While there are likely many qualified staff members in the program that can support the beginning and end of the day, think about balancing your schedule and the coach’s schedule so that a program leader is present and available throughout the program day. For example, the program coach, assistant director or other program leader may work the opening shift while the program manager works the closing shift. This schedule would allow for the presence and support of leadership at the beginning and end of the day and also provide some overlap so that there is time for collaboration among leaders. When planning your own schedule, you should be mindful of who is in charge when you are not in the program and how that information is shared with staff members and families.

Systems to Support Staffing Arrangements

As the program manager, you are primarily responsible for the staffing arrangement in your program. It is important that you develop a staffing schedule that works for your program and that you develop the proper systems to communicate and support these staffing arrangements. For large programs, it may be helpful to use an organizational chart to help you develop the staffing plan for your program. An organizational chart can help illustrate the number of staff members and their role in the program as you plan the times that staff members are needed most in the center. It also helps ensure that you have included all staff in your planning.

Developing systems and procedures for requesting planned time off, alerting appropriate staff of unplanned illnesses and emergencies, and communicating the short- and long-term schedule to staff is critical to successfully implementing a staffing arrangement that is supportive to children, families, and staff. Think about the specific systems and procedures that you can put into place to support your staffing schedule and how you will share this information with the staff. One procedure that you may put in place is that staff members are required to request extended leave at least 30 days in advance in writing and that once you have approved the request, it will be added to a shared team calendar. Using an online or shared calendar system will help you to document, track, and schedule around planned absences. In this case, you should clearly communicate that you will try to grant all vacation requests, but there may be times when the day-to-day needs of the program won’t allow this. Another system that you should consider is limiting the number of staff members permitted to have planned time off each day. This will allow floating staff to cover unplanned absences that you have less control over. A clear procedure and system are needed for alerting the appropriate individuals of an unplanned absence due to an illness or emergency. Be sure to clearly outline exactly whom the staff member should contact if they are unable to attend work. You should consider both who the staff member needs to contact (e.g., program manager, front desk staff, teaching team) and how that person should be contacted (email, telephone). You might consider communicating these systems in multiple ways including during initial onboarding messages, regular staff meetings, and via email.

The table below shares an example of an organizational system and procedures for scheduling.

Scheduling Systems

Direct Care Staff

  • Submits request for extended time off at least 30 days in advance via email
  • Alerts front desk staff, program manager, and T&CS in case of illness or unplanned emergency via phone
  • Posts daily staff schedule in classroom
  • Informs program manager if out-of-ratio and coverage is needed

Program Manager

  • Creates and maintains schedules for all staff
  • Creates back up plans for schedule as needed
  • Alerts all staff of scheduling changes
  • Approves or denies requested time off
  • Alerts front desk staff of changes to shared calendar
  • Posts own schedule

Front Desk Staff

  • Maintains shared calendar, updating with approved time off, center closure dates, professional development dates, etc.

An important consideration is how you will communicate the short- and long-term schedule. As noted above, you should plan out your staffing schedules one to two months in advance and post it in a location that is accessible for all staff to reference. This provides staff members with plenty of notice of what their schedule will look like so that they can plan other parts of their daily life outside the program. Make sure to communicate how far out you will plan the schedule and where it is located. Understandably, you will have to make short-term scheduling changes to account for unplanned absences. When these scheduling modifications happen, be sure to alert staff members to the new schedule, thinking of all those that may be impacted by the changes. Clear, consistent communication with all staff, children, and families will help to make these adjustments more manageable for all.

Communicating During Scheduling Issues

Communicating with staff about long-term staffing schedules, changes to the daily schedule, and systems for requesting planned or unplanned time off are critical to the success of your program. When you set up strong systems and expectations around communication, staff members feel supported, connected, and competent. These systems provide a foundation for communicating and handling unexpected scheduling issues or problems around following scheduling policies and procedures. For example, when you clearly communicate the procedures for alerting the program of unplanned time off and these systems are outlined in more than one space, the procedures are (a) likely to be followed and, (b) if they are not followed, you have the documentation to support your conversation with the staff member about their use of the system.

While consistency is important, even the best planned schedule may need to be modified because of unexpected circumstances. Scheduling issues may arise because families change their arrival or departure times, a staff member resigns, a floater is accidentally assigned to multiple classrooms, or an emergency occurs. When scheduling issues arise, your job as the program manager is problem-solve solutions to the issue, make adjustments as quickly as possible, and communicate the scheduling modifications to all staff members. To be most supportive, you should notify staff as soon as possible about scheduling adjustments, especially those that require staff to report earlier or stay after their previously scheduled time. When adjustments are necessary, it can be helpful to briefly communicate why, as this provides an authentic way to reinforce the things important to your programs, such as maintaining safe environments for children, creating as much consistency as possible, and supporting one another to provide high-quality care.

Monitoring Staffing Arrangements

As the program manager, you constantly look at the program from a lens of continuous improvement. Your awareness of what is going well and what could be improved and your commitment to quality improvement are what moves your program forward. This focus should apply to all aspects of your program, including staffing arrangements. You should monitor staffing arrangements by observing and collecting data from staff and families to determine whether the arrangements are meeting the needs of the children, families, and staff within your program. Be observant and pay close attention to how frequently you must ask staff to return early from a break, skip lesson planning time, or regroup children to keep ratios and supervision covered due to unexpected changes. Consider how often you are relying on the coach to cover staff absences. These types of things should be happening relatively infrequently. If they are happening often, this could be a sign that there is a need to hire additional staff or make an adjustment to a staff member’s shift. You should monitor how frequently you have to adjust the staffing schedules due to unplanned absences and whether the systems for communicating these absences and planned time off are working for your program. After implementing a new staffing arrangement, spend several weeks collecting observational data and feedback from staff and families on how it is working. Then, use this data to make informed decisions about changes that would improve the quality of the schedule for everyone in the program. A system for gathering staff feedback on staffing arrangements is provided in the Apply section of this lesson. You can also create a feedback form specific to families regarding the staffing arrangements in your program to obtain additional feedback on ways to improve your staffing arrangements.


Listen as a program manager discusses factors to consider when developing staff arrangements and the essential systems to put into place to support program schedules.

Creating Supportive Schedules

Program managers describe how to create schedules that support staff.

The practices and systems reviewed in this lesson, when implemented appropriately, help provide a foundation on which to strengthen staff members’ feelings of competency, connection, and autonomy. When staff members are provided with time for professional development and to meet with their coach, they refine their practices and become more competent providers. When they have consistent schedules, staff members form meaningful connections to each other, children, and families, which helps support greater teamwork among staff members and supports more individualized and responsive care to children and youth. When staff members are provided clear guidance on how to request planned time off and how to report when they have an unplanned absence due to illness or emergency, this helps them have more power and autonomy in their work. When managers use tools, like the one provided in the Apply section, to gather staff feedback about staffing arrangements, or when managers seek to support a staff member’s scheduling wishes, and when they explain their staffing choices relative to their program’s mission, this again demonstrates a workplace that values staff members’ voices. Managers who recognize that staff well-being is critical to properly implementing their mission create the foundational structures—like good staffing plans—that help their program thrive.


Use the Reflecting on Staffing Arrangements handout to reflect on the current staffing challenges that you are faced with and ways that you could improve your systems and staffing structures.


Obtaining an accurate count of children during the day will help you to determine your staffing needs at various points during the day and the times and places when you are under or overstaffed. Use the Developing Staffing Patterns handout as a tool to reflect on the staffing needs within your program. Use the Example Staffing Schedules handout as a guide to try out different staffing arrangements in your program 

Monitoring the effectiveness of your staffing arrangement is necessary to ensure that the needs of children, families, and staff are being met. Gathering feedback will help you to determine elements of the schedule that are strong and areas that could be improved. Use the Evaluating Staffing Arrangements handout as a tool to gather feedback from staff members regarding how well the staffing schedule supports their needs. 


Continuous Quality Improvement:
A conscious commitment to continually improve the quality of services provided to children, youth, and families
Continuity of Care:
Children and caregivers remain together for more than one year, often for the first three years at a program


True or false? The first factor to consider when creating staff schedules is the preferred shift of each staff member. 
As you develop the staffing arrangements for your program, it is important to consider the following:
True or false? The program manager should plan the staff schedule on a weekly basis, it is too challenging to develop schedules farther out than this. 
References & Resources

Harris, L. (2005). Staffing at the Child Care Center.  

Kwon, K.-A., Ford, T. G., Salvatore, A., Randall, K., Jeon, L., Malek-Lasater, A., Ellis, N., Kile, M., Horm, D., Kim, S. G., & Han, M. (2020). Neglected elements of a high-quality early childhood workforce: Whole teacher well-being and working conditions. Early Childhood Education Journal.

McMullen, M.B., (2018). The Many Benefits of Continuity of Care for Infants, Toddlers, Families and Caregiving Staff. Young Children, 73 (3). 

Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center. (2018). Planning staff meetings. 

Zero to Three (2010). Primary caregiving and continuity of care.