The Key Three of Teacher Retention
The teacher attrition crisis in US education has been in the headlines a lot in recent months. Many districts and schools started the 22-23 school year woefully understaffed, leading districts to implement drastic stop gap measures just to open their doors. Some districts opened this fall with armies of substitute teachers, shortened school days, and were forced to implement confusing and sub-optimal alternative schedules.
The impact of teacher attrition on student achievement has long been documented as content, pedagogical expertise and institutional knowledge walk out the door with our teachers. Take a moment for a quick exercise to illustrate this impact - think back to three years ago and name all of the teachers you worked with. How many of those teachers are still teaching? For the teachers that are no longer teaching, what did they leave with? What initiatives, training, knowledge, and relationships did they take with them? For the teachers that are still teaching, what would you lose if they left tomorrow?
Leaders are no doubt asking, "what helps with teacher retention"? The reasons for the teacher shortage are no doubt varied and complex. Fixing the root causes of teacher attrition will require systemic changes and policy shifts at the national, state, and district levels. This blog post is NOT about those needed changes and shifts. Instead, I want to offer school-based leaders a practical framework for teacher retention strategies at the school level that you can start right now.
The Key Three of Teacher Retention
- Know Teachers Genuinely
Leaders who retain their teachers find ways to genuinely know and understand their teachers. These leaders schedule time with their teachers and hold it sacred. They learn what their teachers are good at and what their teachers are working on to get better. They learn the aspirations of their teachers. They promote social networks for their teachers that are psychologically safe spaces.
- Engage Teachers Meaningfully
Leaders who retain their teachers find ways to engage and empower their teachers. Their teachers have decision-making rights and their professional opinions are trusted and valued. They seek out feedback from their teachers. They bring teachers into the decision-making process and are transparent about how and why decisions are made.
- Celebrate Teachers Authentically
Leaders who retain their teachers find ways to celebrate and honor their teachers. They recognize both the small wins and the big wins. They praise privately and publicly, and they authentically show gratitude for their teachers and the incredible work they do.
Don’t leave it to chance
Nothing I’ve written here is groundbreaking or revolutionary, and yet as leaders are balancing many competing priorities, it can be easy to leave the Key Three practices to chance. Busy leaders can fall into many common traps. They make assumptions about what teachers want and need without spending the necessary time or resources to really understand. They rely on casual conversations or beginning-of-year surveys to get to know their teachers. They start teacher committees and mentorship programs only to see them fall apart when the school year gets busy. They wait until Teacher Appreciation Week before they think about celebrating teachers.
Sidestepping chance and luck, leaders who retain their teachers create the systems and structures that allow for implementing, monitoring, and evaluating teacher retention practices.
Check out our webinar on the same topic!
Three high-leverage enabling systems to consider implementing:
1 - Know Teachers Genuinely using One-On-One Meetings
- Implement recurring and regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with every teacher. Ideally, these meetings will happen weekly or bi-weekly, however, the most important thing is that they are on the calendar and the time is sheltered from interruption.
- Use a simple agenda that puts the teacher’s agenda items first:
- 10 minutes for the teacher’s agenda items
- 10 minutes for the manager’s agenda items
- 10 minutes to talk about the future and the next steps
- Create a teacher-led committee with power, decision-making rights, and a budget (if possible) to plan for a positive school climate.
- Create a protected time in your schedule to allow the committee to meet.
- Allow teachers to opt into the committee instead of appointing teachers.
- Build daily time into your schedule to write a note of gratitude to a teacher, and use a tracker to ensure there is equity in who receives gratitude notes.
- Build time in staff meetings to allow others to express their gratitude for each other.
The teacher attrition crisis in US schools need not continue. Through systems planning and thoughtful leadership, we can build schools that attract and retain the teachers that our students need and deserve.