In our recent white paper, Tackling Teacher Turnover with Instructional Coaching, we identified ways that high-quality instructional coaching can decrease teacher turnover, reduce costs associated with teacher recruitment and hiring, and improve student achievement outcomes.
As teacher turnover continues to be one of the greatest challenges facing schools and districts, school leaders are increasingly eager to identify concrete strategies that will help them create a school environment that improves teacher satisfaction and retention.
Fortunately, there are several steps administrators can take to provide teachers with the instructional support, collaborative community, and professional development that make great educators more likely to remain teaching in their school:
1. Seek Feedback from Teachers
To support teachers, school leaders must understand the individual, group, and school-wide needs of the teachers they are leading. The best way to do that is to seek feedback from teachers. Teachers' needs in the classroom when working with students can differ greatly from their needs when working with their colleagues and other professionals. Ideally, school leaders should set aside 5-10 minutes to speak with each teacher one-on-one to seek feedback. If the school is big and time is limited, leaders can consider giving the teachers an online survey or form to fill out where they can answer questions around their needs. Administrators should avoid making the assumption that teachers' needs are centered around supplies, technology, or furniture. One teacher may be really frustrated with the number of interruptions from the intercom, while another teacher may really want and need targeted feedback around classroom management. When meeting with teachers, school leaders should be prepared to ask specific questions to gather specific feedback. Some questions may include:
- What do you think is going well in our school as a whole? What could be improved?
- What is one area of teaching in which you feel like you need support this year?
- What is one area of practice you'd like to receive feedback on when I am observing your classroom?
- What supports do you need when working with students who struggle with appropriate classroom behavior?
- What leadership opportunities are you interested in within the building?
- What is one area that you are feeling concerned or worried about?
- What is one topic you would like to learn more about during professional development?
Remember that feedback is a cyclical process, and follow-up and implementation are key. Teachers know and understand that not every one of their needs will be met. When possible, however, after you have receive feedback, be sure to share your takeaways from the feedback and how you will be implementing the suggestions you received. This way, teachers will know that their ideas and contributions have been heard and are valued.
2. Use Observations and Feedback to Support Teacher Growth
In many districts, school leaders only walk into each teacher's classroom for ten minutes every three months for the state-required observation and evaluation cycle. Understandably, school leaders have a tight schedule when it comes to observations. The problem with this approach, though, is that an infrequent, high-stakes observation system has the potential to create a positive or negative misrepresentation of what actually happens in the classroom on a typical day - resulting in a lack of accurate or actionable feedback for the teacher.
Teachers thrive when they are not only frequently observed, but when they are also given the chance to debrief and discuss what is happening in their classroom, provided with authentic and purposeful feedback, and supported by a member of the leadership team to create actionable next steps for improvement in their classroom. To implement change in the type of observations and feedback they provide, school leaders can begin by making Quick Classroom Visits to engage in non-evaluative observations of teachers in order to better understand areas of strength and growth within their faculty. School leaders who are able to dedicate more time to observation and feedback should explore the Coaching Observation and the Debriefing and Setting Next Steps Instructional Leadership Strategies in the BetterLesson Lab.
3. Facilitate Time for Teacher Collaboration
Outside of the classroom, teachers need to develop their curriculum, plan upcoming lessons and units, review student work and assessment data, create support plans for individual student needs, and communicate student growth, behaviors, and achievement to parents and stakeholders. Often, this work is done in isolation, leading teachers to feel they are on their own when facing instructional challenges. School leaders can avoid this pitfall by building opportunities for collaboration into the staff meeting and professional development schedule. Teachers grow both in confidence and in skill when they are given the time to collaborate with their colleagues who teach the same content or students.
As a school leader, to facilitate effective opportunities for teacher collaboration, try creating a Common Planning Time or explore the Building a Professional Learning Community or Establishing Goals and Roles for Professional Learning Communities Instructional Leadership Strategies to develop PLCs in your school. Both common planning time and productive PLCs honor teachers' planning time while promoting collaboration and sharing of resources and ideas.
4. Provide Opportunities for Career Progression
If you ask a teacher what their career path options are, most would say they can move from teacher, to instructional coach, to assistant principal, to principal, or to a central office or district leader position. In many cases, however, due to a lack of clear career pathways, teachers feel they must switch schools or leave the classroom entirely in order to be promoted to leadership positions. To encourage teacher retention, leaders should create and provide clear pathways for teacher leadership, growth, and promotion within the building. By creating career pathways for excellent educators, school leaders can leverage the professional knowledge and skills of their school faculty to collaboratively manage teaching and learning. Consider Creating a Distributed Leadership Model to shift to a leadership system that distributes tasks across the faculty community rather than placing the administrative load onto only a few individuals.
If you're unsure of what in-house career pathways could look like, talk to the teachers. Ask them what they would envision a pathway of growth or leadership to look like for teachers within the building. BetterLesson's GROW: 4 Steps to an Effective Coaching Conversation strategy can help teachers while developing career pathways by Goal setting, exploring Realities, selecting Options, and planning a Way forward.
5. Praise Teacher Effort and Success
Teaching is a demanding job. Teachers are constantly responding to student needs, district and state demands, changing curriculum and standards, and new trends in instructional best practices. In large schools, teachers may rarely see or interact with school leaders unless they are dealing with a difficult situation. In order to keep teacher morale and engagement high, it is important that leaders go out of their way to praise and recognize teacher effort and success.
School leaders can take small steps to praise teachers. For example, leaders might thank a teacher privately for taking the time to develop a plan for a student that was falling behind in his class, praise a teacher in a faculty-wide email for stepping out of their comfort zone and presenting on tech integration in the classroom, write a personal note of gratitude to a teacher who offered after-school tutoring to a struggling student, or acknowledge via a staff-wide shout-out a teacher who works hard to create an inviting and peaceful classroom environment.
In order to begin taking steps to create a work environment that praises and acknowledges the amazings things teachers are doing, explore the Gratitude Sharing and Reflecting strategy to see concrete ways to recognize positive staff contributions. If you're not sure how to begin creating authentic conversations focused on praising teachers' efforts, consider trying a feedback protocol like I Like, I Wish, I Wonder or Glow and Grow. These strategies allow you to provide feedback and ask questions by first praising the positive efforts made by the teacher.
With the demand for teachers at an all-time high and teacher turnover rates steadily increasing, it is vitally important that leaders within schools make shifts to their leadership models and school environments that increase teacher job satisfaction and, ultimately, retention.
To learn more about how to improve teacher retention, read our new white paper: Tackling Teacher Turnover with Instructional Coaching.