Good teachers can be hard to find, but because of the stress and upheaval caused by two years of pandemic teaching, keeping them is harder.
In a March 2021 EdWeek Research Center survey, half of the teachers said they would likely quit their job within the next two years. Only 34% of them said they would’ve given the same answer in 2019, which shows how much the pandemic has taken its toll. These results are bad news considering principals and district leaders told EdWeek Research Center in October, 2021 that they were struggling to find enough substitute teachers, let alone full-time educators.
High teacher turnover is not a new problem. The Alliance for Excellent Education reported in 2014 that about half a million teachers change jobs every year. But, the current pandemic and labor shortage have taken a huge toll on educators (EdWeek, 2021) and led many to quit or retire early.
Researchers Helen Ladd and Lucy Sorensen found teachers improve their effectiveness well into their 12th year, so the longer you keep teachers around, the more impact they’ll have on student achievement.
So what increases teacher retention?
“Teachers are more likely to remain in the classroom when they feel supported by administrators,” the Learning Policy Institute reports. “In fact, research suggests that principal support can matter more than even teacher workload when it comes to decisions to stay at or leave a school.”
That means you can increase teacher retention rates by creating the kind of work environment teachers won’t want to leave. Here are some strategies your colleagues recommend:
Create a Positive School Culture
Debra Lee, assistant principal in the Cobb County School District, explained during a What’s Next in Education webinar that creating a positive school culture begins with the hiring process.
“You have to make sure that you’re hiring the right person for the culture that you already have at your school,” Lee said. “You also need to select the best person for the job and be sure that they know from day one the expectations of the administrators and the school.”
Lee said her school brings several administrative staff members in to meet job applicants and see if they’re a good fit for the position and the work culture they want to maintain.
After hiring new teachers, Lee recommends meeting with them at least once a month to help them feel comfortable in their new positions.
“Provide basic information such as time management skills, filling out discipline forms, answering emails in a timely manner, taking attendance, standardized grading, and managing discipline within the classroom. These are the skills that you need to work with your new teachers,” Lee said.
When you see teachers do something right, consider putting a candy bar or handwritten note in their mailbox to show appreciation.
“I do that almost every day, especially if I see a teacher struggling, and that’s just a great way to build a great culture in the school system,” Lee said.
Other ways to create a positive work culture include having after-school activities for faculty and staff to relax and build relationships. Retaining effective teachers who bring out the best in students is worth the time and effort.
A 2021 Studies in Educational Evaluation study found sharing decision-making responsibilities increases teacher autonomy, collaboration, and job satisfaction. To make teachers happy with their current positions, think of ways to involve them in school leadership.
Lee said her school created a leadership team of staff members who represent and advocate for the needs in each department.
“Some of the teachers don’t want to come forward to speak about the issues that they have, but they are willing to give the issue to the department chair,” Lee explained. “This way we know the concerns, we know the issues, and together we try to solve them.”
Allowing teachers to participate in this leadership team made them feel heard and improved their job satisfaction, Lee added.
Wendi Butler, assistant principal in the Orchard UHSD, said effective school leadership requires more collaboration, communication, and transparency than educators have seen in the past.
“We can’t solve all of the problems. I think we have learned that more so this year with the pandemic than ever before,” Butler said.
You may think admitting you don’t have all the answers would weaken teachers’ trust in your leadership, but Butler said good leadership means letting others provide the answers. It is far better than always telling teachers what to do or ignoring their concerns.
Collaborating also gives teachers a stake in the solution. When teachers care about what happens at your school, they want to stick around.
Give Them More Time
One of the greatest resources teachers need is time. Time to meet with students, email parents, plan lessons, grade assessments, etc. So much is expected of teachers that it often becomes overwhelming.
Sims said, “Many teachers that I know are overachievers. They are writing lesson plans over the weekend and staying longer than their contracted time.”
You can relieve teachers’ stress and prevent burnout by rearranging school schedules to fulfill this need.
Kelsie Sims, principal in Ventura USD, said, “One thing we’ve tried to do is provide release time whether that’s a substitute coming in one day a month so that that grade-level can collaborate and have the time that they need to meet the needs of their students.”
Sims also provides extra staff to help with disciplinary problems and watch students so teachers can observe other classrooms, which helps them hone their skills.
Butler builds in more time for teachers by using everyone as substitutes, including special ed teachers – and even herself – when no one else is available.
“We can’t rely on outside subs,” Butler said.
Your school or district may require a different solution, but flexibility is the common denominator. By being willing to rearrange school schedules or ask other staff members for support, you can take tons of weight off teachers’ shoulders so they can give students their best.
Offer Professional Development
Another key resource teachers need is professional development. According to the Learning Policy Institute, school leaders who support teachers with instructional resources, teaching materials, and professional learning opportunities have higher teacher retention rates.
Sims explained that schools, students, family dynamics, and behaviors have changed over the years, and teacher credential programs have not caught up with what educators are seeing in schools these days. It is up to district leaders and administrators to give new teachers the training and professional strategies needed to succeed. This includes training on technology, especially since the pandemic thrust educators into the world of remote instruction.
“I do believe that the reliance and the need to be adept with technology and utilize that as your main tool has really impacted some of our older teachers or traditional teachers that haven’t really adapted to some of the more progressive methods,” Butler said.
Take time to find quality professional development opportunities to help your teachers grow in their field. Studies Weekly offers customized PD training on using print and online materials.
(For in-depth information about our professional development sessions, read Effective Professional Development for Teachers.)
Support Teacher Well-Being
Teachers are whole people with physical, emotional, and mental needs. The more you support their overall health, the higher your chance of increasing teacher retention.
Here are some ways you can promote teacher wellness:
- Encourage teachers to take care of themselves
- If you notice a teacher is struggling, invite them to take a break and come back to work when they’re feeling more relaxed.
- Encourage teachers to take care of themselves
- Show empathy
- “There are a lot of days that are really hard, and at the end of the day, teachers are exhausted,” Sims said. Letting teachers know you are “in the trenches” with them makes a huge difference.
- Model a growth mindset
- Show teachers it’s okay to make mistakes by owning up to yours, learning from them, and moving forward.
- Help them with behavioral problems
- Lee does this by talking to parents about students’ behavior so teachers don’t have to.
- Call on the professionals
- Allow school psychologists and behavioral specialists to support teacher well-being. As Butler pointed out, teachers need a hug too.
- Show empathy
Practice Good People Skills
Your relationship with your teachers determines whether or not they will want to stay at your school. To gain their trust, try honing your interpersonal skills.
Butler said one thing that’s helped her retain teachers is just being herself.
“I am super authentic. What you see is what you get. This is me – all the time,” Butler emphasized, and it has worked wonders for her. “Don’t be afraid to be yourself,” she added. “Don’t be afraid to screw up, and always, ALWAYS take responsibility for the mistakes you make. You are human, and we are all human together.”
Butler stressed the importance of listening and told of a time she went to get a signature from the football coach. Rather than running off to get the next signature, she stopped to talk to him and learned he was feeling frustrated. Because she took the time to listen, he felt heard, and she was able to help him out. Had she not listened, she might have needed to start looking for a new coach.
Good interpersonal skills apply to electronic communication as well as in-person interactions. When sending emails, Butler said to:
- Write well – use correct spelling and grammar
- Start with a hook – just like in an essay
- Be concise – respect their time by only including necessary information
- Be human – make it conversational
- Show respect – respond to every email
Lee said she sends a newsletter to her staff every week with two weeks worth of information. To encourage her staff to read the newsletter, she includes a surprise at the end, such as an “early in pass” for the first 10 respondents.
“When I send an email out, they read it because I’m so unpredictable … and I try to make things fun,” Lee said.
Butler, Lee, and Sims agreed creativity and humor are legit work skills that improve teacher-administrator relationships, so don’t be afraid to use your imagination and your funny bone to lighten things up.
Teachers go into their profession because they want to help children. But whether they stay at your school or in education depends on the work culture you create and the amount of emotional and instructional support you offer to help them succeed. Following Butler, Lee, and Sims’ advice can increase your teacher retention rates and help you realize your vision for your school.
Retain your teachers by offering customized professional development through Studies Weekly.