As a school leader, great teachers are your most important asset. But we all know that teachers are notoriously under-compensated and underappreciated. While the work is incredibly rewarding, it can also require more than a 40-hour workweek and excessive workloads, meaning great teachers are choosing to leave for professions that pay more and demand less. In fact in 2015 social media was buzzing with the news that more than 50% of teachers in England 'plan to quit in the next two years'.
As a result, schools and school leaders are having to work hard at replacing, attracting, and retaining excellent educators. Here are five ways to make your school the kind of place that great teachers want to stay in:
Teacher retainment recommendations
1. Provide plenty of opportunities to learn
Lots of teachers don't want to become headteachers or senior leaders but they do want to learn and grow. Providing them with plenty of opportunities to do this has been shown to increase retention, as well as motivation, happiness and performance. For example:
- Provide a positive work environment: Teachers need to enjoy teaching, and feel like they are making a positive impact on student lives. As standard, teachers need the necessary resources and support to do their job and feel like they have senior leaders they can go to if they are struggling or need advice.
- Provide opportunity for advancement: Teachers may become disengaged if they feel like they have hit a dead-end in their career. School leaders should offer opportunities for leadership and advancement within the school, such as mentoring programs via a PD tool like IRIS Connect to allow school wide and individual reflection and growth.
- Foster a culture of professional development: Teachers who feel connected to their colleagues and the school community are more likely to stay. Offering social events, opportunity for decision making are helpful in achieving this. Also, teachers love watching other teachers teach. It helps them to gain new ideas and see strategies in action, in a real classroom - so offer many opportunities for them to be able to do this.
- Offer them feedback, coaching and mentoring: Other industries like sports and sales, use coaching to refine their skills: why shouldn't teachers do the same?
2. Choose quality over quantity
The quality of the opportunities that you offer your teachers is important. Research has proven that a one-size-fits-all approach, which doesn't account for the existing knowledge, experience or needs of individual teachers, has very little impact on pupil outcomes. So, hold back on the expensive external courses and look for more bespoke ways you can tailor professional learning opportunities to individual staff needs; like using video for self-reflection. To learn more about how to quality assure the CPD you offer download our free guide >
3. Seek teachers’ feedback and use it in decision-making
No reform will work unless you have the people who are actually responsible for implementing it at the table, so seeking feedback and including them in the decision-making is essential. There are a number of ways to include teachers in decision making. For example:
- Have a representative teacher at all school board meetings.
- Have an automatic form sent out at the end of the day where staff can anonymously comment on what went well, what didn't go well, and how their day could be improved. This form will collect valuable data that leaders can use to adjust policies, practices and improve the functioning or communication of their school.
- Use focus groups to gather in-depth feedback from teachers on specific topics. Focus groups can be organized around a particular theme or issue, and can include a small group of teachers who are representative of the school population.
- Have informal conversations with teachers on curriculum decisions, changes and plans.
It is important to communicate how their feedback is being used and to show how their feedback contributed to changes to the school - they will feel like they are making a difference.
4. Cultivate collaboration
In the past, teaching has been an isolating experience. We know now that not only do student outcomes improve when teachers are part of professional learning communities, but also when teachers are given the opportunity to take ownership of whole school improvement. When this happens, teachers are encouraged and valued for their contributions, making them feel empowered, motivated, inspired, needed and respected. All of these feelings lead to greater job satisfaction and therefore retention.
5. Encourage a healthy work/life balance for teachers
Balancing a demanding work environment with a personal life is challenging for teachers, and can leave them struggling to find the time to do simple things like pick up their children or get their car fixed. Some schools try to address this issue by giving teachers one late-start morning or early-dismissal afternoon each week, or distributing school-wide duties amongst all staff and not just between classroom teachers. Some other ideas to encourage a healthy work/life balance are:
- Stop emails in the evening
Tell staff that emails should not be responded to before 8am or after 5pm. Staff that are at home responding to emails show parents that it's okay to expect emails late in the evening and also gives teachers the perception that work hasn't finished, although they are at home.
- Early leave day
Pick a day in the week where all staff must be out of school by 4 or 4.30pm. Some teachers may not do it, but letting teachers know that you value their personal time will go along way with helping them feel respected by leaders.
- Provide support for mental health
Offer counseling and other mental health resources to support teachers. Make sure it's well known that a mental health nurse is available, their contact details and when they are in school.
- Lead by example
Try to model a healthy work/life balance by taking care of your own well-being and creating a culture that values self-care and rest. When chit-chatting with staff, mention that you think it's important and that it is something you care about for your staff.
- Set realistic expectations
SLTs should work with teachers to set realistic expectations for workload and deadlines, and ensure that workload is distributed fairly and equitably. If you receive feedback, take it onboard and use it when planning for the next deadline.
There is no one magic bullet for retaining teachers but we can try to make schools comfortable, creative, refreshing and exciting learning environments. Hopefully this will keep our nation’s best teachers in the classroom, providing the highest quality education possible.