While enrollment in K-12 public schools is steadily increasing, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is falling dramatically (NCES, 2019). And now, in the wake of a global pandemic, surveys suggest that this shortage will grow even wider: 20% of teachers reported in a recent USA Today poll that they are not going to return to the classroom next year following the COVID-19 closures owing to early retirement, burnout, and public health concerns (source).
Such a shortage of teachers has major consequences for student outcomes.
Teacher quality is the single most important resource that contributes to student achievement (Darling-Hammond, 2013). In a healthy workforce, those who are most effective or productive stay and those who are least effective leave. However, in K-12 schools, TNTP reports that effective teachers are leaving the profession just as frequently as ineffective teachers, requiring school districts to hire new teachers with less experience and to fill vacant positions with underqualified teachers.
There are more likely to be inexperienced or low-performing teachers at schools with high rates of poverty, exacerbating educational inequities in our school system. Further, teachers are more likely to experience burnout in these hard-to-staff schools earlier than those in suburban schools because of lack training and preparation not only of subject matter content, but also training on equity and inclusion, culturally relevant education, and social-emotional learning, among others.
Teachers of color are underrepresented in the teaching profession – more than 80% of teachers are white educating a student body where more than 50% of students are students of color – despite the fact that research shows that teachers of color are more effective at engaging students of similar backgrounds to increase student achievement, to use culturally relevant instructional methods, and counter negative stereotypes for all students. Teachers of color are also more likely to leave the profession early because of systemic and other retention challenges previously stated. Many states have worked to create a pipeline for teachers of color, however, overall these have been minimally effective or inequitable by design. This suggests that focusing on the pipeline alone is not enough; schools and districts must also focus on retaining teachers of color once they’ve started teaching.
Teacher retention is one of the most complex and challenging issues facing school districts today. Teacher attrition creates ripple effects across a school district. And, while thousands of hours and dollars have been invested in solving this problem, there is not a single or clear solution. External factors such as federal and state funding, changes in the cost of living, local employment opportunities, and the COVID-19 pandemic have had a dramatic impact on teacher retention. The challenge for district leaders is to design innovative solutions to address these external challenges.
Teacher turnover affects your district in a number of ways. Most importantly, high teacher turnover can cause lower levels of academic achievement among your students. Experienced teachers are, on average, more effective than brand new teachers in terms of student achievement, attendance, and student engagement (Darling-Hammond, 2000). Not only that, but teachers get better over time and are able to better meet the needs of their students. Losing a teacher early in his or her career will mean that you do not get to fully realize the potential learning of your educators. Especially because we lose as many effective teachers as ineffective teachers.
There is also a significant financial cost to teacher turnover. The Learning Policy Institute found that recruiting and replacing teachers costs urban districts $20,000 per teacher and rural districts roughly $10,000 per teacher. Nationally, this problem costs schools $8 billion per year. And two-thirds of teachers leaving the classroom each year are leaving for reasons other than retirement - this translates to $180,000 to $360,000 per year that districts are spending on teacher attrition that could be used in other ways, if teacher retention were improved.
School principals play an important role in whether teachers thrive and remain in their jobs or leave. In schools where the principal provides support, and allows for teacher autonomy, and clearly communicates with teachers, teachers are then less likely to leave the profession. Culture, with an emphasis on creating a culture of inclusion and belonging, and collegiality within a school are paramount in teacher satisfaction.
Opportunities for growth and extended influence are also important to teachers’ decision to stay. Teachers want opportunities to improve their practice and take on additional responsibilities. This might include teacher leadership and instructional coaching opportunities or opportunities to attend or share at conferences.
Teachers want to feel celebrated and supported. Teachers feel unappreciated and undervalued in today’s climate so taking opportunities to elevate and celebrate successes in the community is one way to promote teacher retention.
While there is a growing number of educators of color in teacher preparation programs, teachers of color leave the profession at a higher rate than white teachers (19% v. 15% annually) meaning that there is a growing shortage of educators of color. Educators of color are often one of the only people of color in their school. Their unique experiences in school are often riddled with frustration, fatigue, persistent negative interactions, and feelings of isolation. In 2015, Minnesota surveyed teachers of color to understand the obstacles that existed. They found the main reasons teachers of color left were:
Interviews with educators of color also show that they face persistent racial discrimination and feel that their expertise is not valued except for in the case of discipline. As a result, they often get classrooms filled with students who have many academic and disciplinary needs and are often the resource for disciplinary needs school wide. These anecdotes of discrimination have been supported by research. A Michigan State University study found that more than 2.5 times as many educators of color received a low evaluation rating from their principal than white educators. This trend was even more pronounced when a white administrator was conducting the evaluation.
One teacher of color in a study of Minnesotan teachers captured the essence of this by writing, “You’re held under a different standard, you’re under a ton of scrutiny and you are made to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and your education is subpar.” These inequities in support, evaluation, and assignment between groups arises from both systemic bias and individual implicit bias, which over time can compound in a multitude of ways including lower teacher salary, and fewer advancement opportunities.
Report: The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development
Article: Why Do Teachers of Color Leave at Higher Rates Than White Teachers?
Article: Strategies to Celebrate Virtual Teacher Appreciation Week
Research: The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought
Research: Teachers of Color: In High Demand and Short Supply
Research: Smart Solutions to Minnesota’s Teacher Shortage: Developing and Sustaining a Diverse and Valued Educator Workforce
Research: Race and Gender Differences in Teacher Evaluation Ratings and Teacher Employment Outcomes
According to Harvard’s Center for Talent Innovation, high belonging - mattering, identification, and social connection - is linked to 56% increase in job performance and a 50% decrease in turnover risk. Creating a sense of belonging - one which is not a facade of conformity (Hewlin, 2003, 2009), where authentic self-expression (i.e. expression related to one’s cultural background) is not constrained -- is no small feat. Doing so may require a closer look at the overall organizational culture (Roberts, Cha, Hewlin, and Settles, 2009). In fact, a common underlying barrier is a school or district culture that honors and perpetuates a dominant culture rather than making space for everyone to feel included or having their identity valued and understood. To help understand this employee experience, districts can look across the various phases of a teacher’s lifecycle to consider the perceived level of belonging.
It is important that a sense of belonging is prioritized in every phase of teacher engagement, from initial attraction to long-term retention. Attracting and recruiting a more diverse and talented workforce won’t transform your organization if there aren’t effective onboarding, development and promotional pathways in place. Below, we provide an overview of and key considerations for establishing this line of belonging
We recommend that you consider opportunities to collect teacher voice (especially from teachers of color, if increasing teachers of color is one of your recruitment goals). And, ask how strategies within each phase are being/have been perceived. This feedback provides an opportunity to connect and empathize, and allow your organization to pivot based on learnings.
While the five phases are a pathway that every employee travels, each can be tailored based on a common set of design variables. Our 8 Design Elements of Teacher Retention exist across every phase, and can be used to assess strengths and gaps, and act as the basis for solutions-based design. For example, elements such as Career Pathways, Energized by Purpose, and Teacher Agency can bring a school or district employee value proposition and branding to life, as seen in the example below:
Identifying these design elements allows for common variables and values to be promoted along every stage of an employee lifecycle. And while one element alone will not address systemic challenges and needs, when implemented and practiced together, districts and school organizations are better positioned to create a sense of employee belonging, value and loyalty.
Article: Strategies and routines resilient leaders use to balance competing priorities
Article: What Can You Do About Teacher Retention
Article: What Does Teacher Agency Look Like in a School
Article: Support teachers better by building capacity
Resource: Rethinking Teacher Support Planning Tool
Research: International Survey: US Teachers Feel Overworked and Underappreciated
Research: A New Benchmark for Initiating Employee Engagement, Retention and Results
As districts design and implement plans for the next school year, we must redesign education with equity at the center. Explore this paper to reflect on the ways you can redesign for equity on a personal, cultural, and systemic level.
Download the third part in a series focused on planning your return to school to learn ways that you can center equity and Capture The Opportunity.
Article: Attract and Retain Teachers with Effective Methods Using Data to Define Needs
Article: The Surprising Power of Simply Asking Coworkers How They’re Doing
White Paper: Capture the opportunity: Steps to redesign school-level systems for equity
Shifts to virtual and socially distant learning have directly challenged the knowledge, mindsets, and skills of our teacher workforce. Formerly ‘nice-to-have’ skills in digital integration have become more universal skills we must train and develop, and traditional competencies such as classroom management or instructional design methods will require significant adjustments given CDC guidelines, smaller class sizes, and a significant number of teachers and students who do not return in the Fall.
These changes will require a significant upskilling and reskilling along both new and existing competencies:
We recommend that you take time to revisit teacher competencies to determine both the upskills and reskills given new normals of your school or district. With these in hand, determine the desired and existing skills, and the barriers that exist between these two states. Finally, plan how you will address each barrier within and across the various phases of lifecycle development.
Teacher retention is closely linked to practices for teacher recruitment and training, and we need to bring in best practices for employee engagement and retention from other sectors if we are going to create meaningful and lasting change.
Get in touch to know how we can help you develop dynamic solutions based on your specific needs and goals.
COVID-19 poses new challenges and opportunities to the ways in which we staff our classrooms. Fewer opportunities for in-person recruitment may shrink an already depleted candidate pool, shifts from in-person to virtual interactions may change the way we assess candidates, and new demands on access or resources may introduce new biases and/or obstacles to efforts to develop diverse candidate pools.
You might start by reviewing their candidate journey map to determine impact and adjustments in a shift to virtual recruitment. We recommend the following considerations within the Attract and Recruit phases:
Attract (Brand, Message, Market)
Candidate Awareness - Consider the venues and status of the platforms used to build virtual awareness. How up-to-date and user friendly is your website? What platforms do your ideal candidates use and how are you creating two-way communication with these demographics? Where do they live and would an investment in virtual direct marketing be feasible? The shift to building virtual awareness can feel less overwhelming once targeted around specific candidate profiles.
Candidate Consideration - Teams can revisit and clarify their employee value proposition (EVP) - the unique sum of the benefits that your employees receive. One simple way to develop this EVP is to ask your staff three questions about your school or district: 1.) Why did you join? 2.) Why do you stay? 3.) What would make you leave? The collective answers can be used to form the headlines you should amplify, and will allow you to audit existing marketing materials using these headlines. By conducting this audit, you can brainstorm ways to incorporate your EVP headlines.
At Education Elements, we created a one-pager and Day in the Life video to explicitly communicate what new team members might expect. In the absence of in-person moments for candidates, schools and districts must determine opportunities to bring the best parts of the job to them.
Recruit (Engage, Interview, Hire)
As organizations across the world pivot in response to the current crisis, using responsive practices to support a remote work culture is critically important. Whether it’s keeping up with rituals, streamlining communication, or encouraging employees to take care of themselves and their families, it’s essential for schools and districts to cultivate and sustain healthy community and culture while working online and remotely. We recommend the following guide for initial steps for Building and Sustaining a Remote Work Culture.
Article: Upskilling and Reskilling for the ‘New Normal’ of Education
Article: Virtual Recruitment Through COVID-19 and Beyond
Article: Upskilling and Reskilling for the ‘New Normal’ of Education
Infographic: Building and Sustaining a Remote Work Culture
Education Elements’ Hiring Sheet: Education Elements Hiring 1-pager
Education Elements’ Video: The Life of An Educational Consultant
Education Elements’ Video: Our Company Culture at Education Elements
Because retention efforts should exist within every phase of the teacher lifecycle, every organization will have a unique starting point and areas of focus. One way to assess this individual starting point is to identify your organization’s ‘line of belonging’ - or, the point at which an individual sees their role on the team as part of their identity. Establishing (and maintaining) this line is critical, because research suggests that a sense of high belonging is directly linked to increases in job performance and decreases in turnover.
To determine this line of belonging, teams should assess systems, structures and employee experience, particularly for marginalized groups (i.e. employees leaving at a high rate, groups of employees most likely to not be promoted, among others), along the five phases of teacher lifecycle: Attract, Recruit, Immerse, Develop and Empower. For each phase, consider the strengths, opportunities, and weaknesses. Which phases intentionally build a sense of belonging, and which phases may be lacking? You might further analyze each phase by surveying new and veteran employees who represent different lifecycle phases. This should include specific questions around their level of belonging, and the specific strategies that contribute to this sense. Understanding the line of belonging across each phase can help identify the initial starting point for your team’s efforts to improve retention. To get started, we recommend the following white paper as a way to get started with this redesign for equity on a personal, cultural, and systemic level.
While teacher retention success indicators will be unique to each organization, common metrics focus on attrition rates, diversity goals, and teacher satisfaction levels, among a long list of variables. It is important that these metrics specifically name marginalized groups they intend to address (i.e. decrease attrition of Black males across all school-based roles), or they risk gearing toward your organization’s averages, maintaining or furthering inequities. Ultimately, each organization must define these metrics based on unique community needs and strategic priorities. Regardless of focal point, we recommend teams define success via a few criteria: 1) defining a clear vision and purpose for retention efforts, 2) collecting stakeholder feedback on current needs and ideal future state, and 3.) auditing existing employee engagement structures on strengths, opportunities and weaknesses.
Article: The Value of Belonging at Work
Article: How companies can support employees of color through a pandemic
Book/ Article: 6 Steps to Building a Better Workplace for Black Employees