John Hattie: 5 things you can do to improve staff retention

Posted by Rosie Neill - Last updated on November 29, 2022

In an exclusive interview with IRIS Connect, Professor John Hattie answered questions about how the education system can boost staff retention levels.

As Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Hattie's answers are based on decades of studying schools around the world.

Beautiful happy young woman thinking about love and standing with blackboard behind her

John Hattie's 5 tips for keeping high quality teachers in the classroom


1. What should the education system be doing to create a system for the 21st century that successfully recruits, trains, develops and retains a skilled and motivated workforce?

1. Esteem excellence among teachers:

  • Develop professional standards at various levels of expertise for teachers and for school leaders

  • Ensure there is dependable evaluation of teachers and school leaders across these levels. This is a way for all to aspire to be great; without this there is no credibility

  • Every schools should have at least one highly accomplished or lead teacher


2. Ensure the narrative is about impact on students and dismiss the politics of distraction


3. Stop appeasing the parents who want schools a touch better than they had


4. Privilege those experts who can show they are having maximum impact on student learning


5. Ensure that schools are inviting places to attract students to come and learn:

  • Attend to their social, emotional, physical and cognitive attributes

  • Include a major focus on building confidence in the (public) school system (and stop moving to privatisation - it's a slippery slope!)


2. Is there any evidence on the best ways to recruit and retain a skilled and motivated workforce? 

Teresa Amiable from Harvard University asked employees in many fields why they go to work and why they enjoy their work. The common answer was: because they can see that they have an impact.

It's no different for teachers and school leaders. We need more effective ways (without the whiff of public accountability) to provide evidence of impact on student learning to our teachers and leaders. 

We need to find ways to esteem expertise and at the same time ensure all are on the improvement progression. Sometimes teachers are the best at denying their expertise, instead crediting the students and the resources as the reason why students learn!

We need dependable ways to progress teachers up the professional standards ladder. This means not only principals' attestations, not only privileging experience alone, but dependable measures based on the collective impact of teachers and school leaders to enhance student learning growth (like the AITSL model in many states in Australia). 

Salary also needs to reflect increased expertise; not via the usual performance pay solutions, but by creating positions that only highly accomplished and lead teachers can apply for.


3. Which education systems have you found are particularly successful at doing this? How?

I am impressed with the policies of South Australia and New South Wales who are creating positions for highly accomplished and lead teachers.

I am also impressed with systems that have steeper salary structures based on expertise, where teachers are esteemed (and they esteem themselves). This is so important; read the systems that are making the most speed up the international ranks and they typically esteem excellence. Read the systems that are making most decline and they typically support structural solutions (more tests, different curricula, smaller class size, more autonomy for parents).

I wrote about this in the Politics of Distraction and the Politics of Collaborative Expertise.


4. What should be done at a schools and systems level?

  • Focus on the impact on the learning of students
  • Make schools inviting places for students to want to come
  • Esteem multiple ways to be excellent in the curriculum
  • Ensure all teachers collaborate to maximise their impact
  • Listen to student voice and teach them the language of learning
  • Find dependable ways to recognise impact on students

Read John Hattie's 10 myths about what does and doesn't affect student achievement >>


5. Can initial teacher education provide students with the skills required for career-long professional learning?

The answer must be YES, but I note the poverty of evidence that they do. 

I am now working to ask providers to put the evidence on the table that the graduate is ready on day 1 to impact on the learning lives of students. The alternative is not worth contemplating.

Serious attacks on professionalism, expertise and students include:

  • Asking schools to be training institutions
  • Allowing people (no matter how smart) to be in classrooms unprepared
  • Making strong claims that teachers are born rather than made

Imagine amateurs (no matter how bright) to be doctors, pilots, engineers and dentists with no training!

For more ideas and free resources to help you overcomes the challenges of teacher retention, download our free practical guide here > 


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