For many principals, superintendents, and administrators, teacher retention is a major concern.
The primary challenge of teacher retention is that there’s only so much money to go around for salaries. Everyone — teachers, principals, superintendents, HR, CSFOs… everyone — wants to find a solution that works for the entire district, a way to overcome the set budget within which CSFOs must work while also improving teachers’ job satisfaction.
Fortunately, although money is of primary importance, it isn’t the only factor that contributes to a teacher’s happiness and job satisfaction.
As this excerpt from a Forbes article suggests:
“Everyone wants to make a decent living… but once you reach an equilibrium where you can cover your expenses… you can spare energy to think about other important parts of your job, like whether you’re growing and learning… the relationships you have with superiors and colleagues…”
In other words: Yes, money is critical, and a reasonable wage is absolutely necessary. But in addition to that, teacher happiness and job satisfaction can be improved in other ways, as well, in order to help increase teacher retention rates.
With that in mind, here are eight creative ways to improve your school’s teacher retention by focusing on professional growth and improved relationships. These tactics are broken down into categories for your convenience.
1. Provide more-personalized observations and feedback.
It’s critical for principals to provide teachers with clear, detailed feedback from classroom observations.
Working closely with teachers and coaching them, hands on, toward professional development can be difficult without the right classroom observation software, but it’s the only way to make observation feedback meaningful to the teachers. Meaningful feedback, in turn, allows teachers to feel fulfilled in their jobs.
When a person in any job – in Education or any other industry – improves their talent and their ability to see successful outcomes, the fulfillment they feel will increase their job satisfaction.
To make sure teachers can see their improvements frequently rather than only at the end of the year (thereby staying motivated), it helps to include micro-credentialing as part of this strategy. Micro-credentials help teachers understand and follow their own progress, and feel rewarded throughout their journeys toward professional growth.
2. Allow teachers to guide observation focus for more-applicable growth.
Before an observation, it’s a good idea to have a meeting with the teacher. Discuss what it is, in particular, that you will be focusing on during the teacher observation, but also give the teacher an opportunity to point out and suggest focus areas as well.
Not only will this prepare the teacher to actively think about the areas in which you would like to see improvement, but also it will prepare you to notice areas the teacher feels are important or that the teacher has been working to improve on.
This doesn’t necessarily put the teacher in control of the observation, but it does give the teacher more ownership of the observation, which breeds not only empowerment and motivation, but also accountability.
3. Understand teacher reasoning and philosophies.
It’s important to empower teachers, by listening to them, beyond the short period of time spent in their classrooms observing them.
Teachers should do a written exercise, before the observation, where they share their philosophies surrounding the focus area of that day’s observation. Not only will the teacher feel empowered, but also the observer will have a better, fuller understanding of why the teacher does certain things and how best to make improvements based on individual philosophies.
Along the same lines as digging deeper into the observation, don’t forget to dig around the observation. Ask questions such as, “What did you talk to the kids about yesterday to get them ready for today’s lesson?” and “Can you let me know how tomorrow goes based on what the students learned today?” Remember, you’re not only getting important information, you’re also showing a genuine interest in the teacher’s fundamental beliefs.
Team- and Community-Building
4. Create a team-focused atmosphere.
The principal shouldn’t be the only one developing teachers. Teachers also should be coaching, supporting, and encouraging one another.
To help teachers to stop feeling like they’re on an island and to start feeling connected to the rest of the faculty, open your process to peer coaching groups. These groups can be cross-discipline to give teachers new perspectives, or they can be subject-based with teachers from different grade levels for a similar effect.
5. Connect teachers with their former-students’ success.
People become educators in order to have a positive effect on their students’ lives. The problem is that most teachers never find out how big of an effect they’ve actually had on their students.
To remedy this, try reaching out to former students to see what they’re up to. Did they go to college? Join the military? Go into the workforce? Tracking down students isn’t always easy, but if you can find a handful of students each year and share those students’ successes with your teachers, you will put things into perspective for your teachers. They will feel more satisfied with the work they’re doing when they can see the proof of just how meaningful it truly is.
6. Establish a community.
When you work with people you understand and enjoy being around, you like your job more.
That’s why it’s so important to set up more opportunities for your teachers to get to know each other and make deeper connections.
Building a tighter-knit community of teachers doesn’t have to center on a cheesy team-building exercise; in fact, it probably shouldn’t. Instead, try to facilitate on-going groups based on interests. Just as students have extracurricular activities, teachers have hobbies outside of school. If you poll your teachers to see what their interests are, and find out that the majority of them enjoy, for example, a certain TV show, why not set up a weekly viewing party?
Remember, teamwork happens at work, but team-building needs to happen on a more-personal level.
7. Facilitate improved parent communication.
Take the initiative to guide your teachers through parent communication best practices. The better teachers and parents communicate with one another, the better they will understand one another. In turn, this will make the job less difficult because teachers will have allies at home. When parents and teachers are on the same page, it’s much easier to get more out of the students in the classroom.
One former principal, Scott Hagy of Pennsylvania, suggests encouraging teachers to call parents every so often with positive feedback.
Says Mr. Hagy:
“This builds trust between parent and teacher. If the parent knows a teacher is willing to give positive feedback, then the parent will be more likely to believe the teacher — and take the teacher’s side — the next time the teacher has to give negative feedback regarding discipline, effort, or other issues. The parent, then, becomes an asset and an ally to the teacher, rather than an obstacle.”
8. Provide benefits based on buying power.
While you may not be able to increase your budget to offer higher salaries, you can use your school’s buying power as a consolidated group to offer enticing benefits.
Some schools already are using their buying power to offer teachers eligibility for low-interest car loans, student loan debt reduction, or any number of other benefits that no one teacher could get as an individual.
Schools are pillars of their communities, so don’t overlook your community’s potential to help incentivize teachers to stay at your school. What deals might you be able to work out with your local bank or credit union? Your local car dealership or grocery store? Each community is unique, and unique benefits have a distinct competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining talented faculty members.