As school leaders make preparations to fill projected teacher vacancies for the coming school year, an intentional emphasis should be placed on retaining the effective bright stars that are already on your campus. Teachers have many career options and technology has vastly improved the manner in which educators connect with school leaders everywhere at every level.
Schools and school districts can no longer ignore the increasing percentage of teachers who leave their schools and districts year after year. Their departure creates a “brain drain” of professional learning, effective instruction, and institutional integrity that must be replaced. Students suffer the most from this revolving door of professionals who take their current expertise and relationship building with them as they walk out the school door.
Why should campus leaders put a focus on those teachers already on their campus? You hired them, didn’t you? Something they said or something you thought about them encouraged you to make them a part of your school team. They should be satisfied now, right? You’re the greatest principal in the most wonderful school district in the world, right? You have given them all of the support in the world. You have fulfilled their every need, right? Well, that honeymoon period is certainly over and teachers look at their present teaching position with new eyes toward the end of each school year. For some teachers, things have not gone well and the teacher understands that it is best to part ways to seek other employment. For other teachers, the school leader may assume that everything is fine and that the teacher is content remaining with the campus for the upcoming school year.
These are the teachers who we feel believe in our vision and that we depend on to help build capacity on our campus to help improve our schools. But in our frenzied, stressful world of school leadership, we may not see that many of these teachers often feel that their hard work and tireless efforts are being unrewarded. In fact, many teachers state that they have feelings of being overworked, taken for granted, or that they simply feel unnoticed while their school leader thinks that everything is fine. It is at this point that some of the most effective teachers begin to think that they may be appreciated more elsewhere.
While school and school district leaders are focusing lots of attention on upcoming job fairs full of colorful brochures, eye-catching technology presentations, cool freebies, smiling faces, salary boosts, photo ops and other items geared to attract teachers to the campus, the teachers that you have already hired are not just sitting at home. Many of them are at the job fairs as well in other districts comparison shopping and preparing themselves for an exit plan. They are asking themselves just three simple questions before they ultimately choose to remain on your campus or become eager members of the Job Fair Club by seeking employment elsewhere.
- Do I Feel That I Belong?
How can school leaders know that teachers feel that they belong?
- Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! School leaders should use multiple ways to inform staff of current and future campus plans. Ask for their input. Listen. Give prompt feedback.
- Provide different ways to hear the voice of your teachers. It does not have to be a meeting. In fact, it is better if it is not. Create multiple opportunities for open dialogue and use a variety of methods including technology to encourage two-way communication.
- Pay attention to staff attendance. Lateness and absenteeism are clear indicators that staff may have already disengaged and are looking elsewhere.
- Don't depend on central office to be the sole means of support and encouragement for teachers. You are the first line of support and encouragement. Take this role seriously. Teachers usually leave because of lack of support and encouragement at the campus level, not beyond.
- Ask the teacher. It’s as simple as that. Ask teachers how they feel about being on your campus. Ask again later. Ask often.
- Do I Have the Opportunity To Be Successful?
Your students are successful when your teachers are successful. What are the opportunities on your campus or in your district for teachers to feel successful?
- Leaders should provide relevant professional learning that meets teachers where they are and helps them grow. Teachers stay where they have opportunities to succeed through professional learning so that they can be more successful in instruction. Teachers actually feel more personally successful when their students achieve with a new learned strategy!
- Teachers feel successful when they are able to make a living on their salary. Many think that this is question #1. The truth, however, is that if teachers feel that working conditions and opportunity for growth are present, compensation often takes a back seat if the margin is not too great.
- Teachers feel successful when they have an adult dedicated to their success. Mentors mean so much. They can help teachers in many ways. Teachers need mentors beyond the induction year. Teachers need additional mentors that are not assigned.
- Removing barriers. What are some barriers to your teachers this year? Does a teacher have a better idea about a way to remove the barrier? Find out the little things that you can make changes to and let everyone know that it was the teacher’s idea!
- Teachers feel successful with realistic leadership. Often a teacher’s decision to stay or leave a campus rests on the shoulders of just this one person – the principal. In this age of State Testing anxiety and a multitude of other pressures, are you being realistic with goal setting? What are you doing to relieve the impact of teacher stress? Are you transferring your stress to your teachers? Are you unpredictable? Teachers feel successful when school leaders have a positive “we are all in this together” attitude in words and in action.
- Do I Feel That I Am Being Valued?
What does the future hold for your teachers? Teachers feel valued when school leaders keep them “in the loop” on the direction of the school and school district. If teachers don't know what's coming up in the future, they create their own future. This includes knowing about district initiatives, schedule of classes, leadership opportunities in the school or district and other professional growth opportunities. Paying attention to answering these questions will help teachers want to stay and look forward to the coming school year on your campus.
What ways do you show teachers that they matter?
- School leaders must be intentional about valuing teachers beyond the annual Teacher of the Year recognition. Most teachers want personal attention or recognition from their school leader. It does not have to be a faculty meeting. It can be a handwritten note or card. It can be a bottle of water or a cookie. Teachers want to know that you know them. They feel value when school leaders recognize their hard work. Teachers really do like the personal touch!
- Teachers feel valued when you listen to their input whether their idea is taken or not. Have you made your campus environment one that is safe for idea sharing? Can your teachers talk to you?
- Teachers feel valued when they hear school leaders publicly praise them. Nothing gets you brownie points faster than praising your team instead of taking the glory for yourself. You will see their eyes beam and they will work even harder because they see that you acknowledge their efforts.
- Teachers feel valued when school leaders are transparent with them. Good news or bad news, teachers feel valued when they hear it first from you as the school leader. If they hear it first from everyone else, they feel that you did not care enough about them to give them the "heads up".
- Teachers feel valued when school leaders support them when adversity strikes. When teachers have those inevitable clashes with students, parents, or other staff, your response is critical. They need to see your support even if they are in error and you have to correct them too. Teachers understand that they may not always get their way and appreciate when school leaders are honest with them when conflict arises. They feel valued when they know that their school leader will stand with them and see them through trials.
Retaining quality staff must be a school leadership priority. You cannot build capacity in your school if you are always starting at the ground floor with all new staff every year. Retain the best teachers for your students’ sake. They deserve the very best.
School leaders must strive to make remaining on their campus the first choice of their best teachers. When the best teachers stay, more "best" teachers are attracted to come to your campus. It's like a magnet.
When a teacher is at that “Where will I be next year?” decision point, it really still boils down to these three simple questions.
How will you respond to the three simple questions as a school or district leader? I would love to hear your ideas!