A quality education program and a strong sense of community within a school depend on experienced staff, yet teacher turnover is a perennial problem. The situation was exacerbated in 2020, with a spike in the number of teachers taking early retirement during the pandemic. School leaders can be proactive in their staff retention efforts by addressing the issues that cause teachers and support staff to leave the profession too soon.
Stress Drives High Attrition Rates
RAND Research surveyed nearly 1,000 former public school teachers to determine why they left the profession. The study’s findings gave school leaders insight into how to improve staff retention. Stress, even more than insufficient compensation, was the most cited reason that educators quit. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this by adding health concerns and new demands created by the switch to remote learning.
These are the most often cited causes of stress in the profession:
- The lack of materials necessary for teaching, limited planning times, and understaffing strain a teacher’s ability to be effective.
- As states develop new standards and adopt new programs, teachers often become overwhelmed trying to keep up. While staff members new to teaching may be up to date on the latest trends and technology in education, the need to learn new methods and programs is an additional burden for tenured teachers, particularly if they have limited time in their schedules for training.
- Discipline problems create stress for new and experienced teachers alike. Inconsistent behavioural expectations in a school and lack of training in classroom management skills negatively affect school climate, creating a stressful environment.
- Teachers may be frustrated by the actual or perceived lack of support from school leaders, colleagues, and parents. Teachers must feel comfortable approaching leaders with their concerns and know that their needs are understood.
- New stresses arose during the COVID-19 pandemic. School staff who continued with in-person instruction worried that they might bring the virus home to their families.
High turnover rates are not inevitable. There are proven ways of improving staff retention. The issues that create stress and drive teacher turnover can be addressed. Increasing compensation isn’t enough. Schools that successfully retain staff have implemented these specific initiatives to bolster health and wellbeing in their schools.
1. Support Professional Development
The post-COVID-19 era makes new demands on educators. Distance and hybrid learning models require new skills. Even before the pandemic, schools were expanding their programs to incorporate social-emotional learning into the curriculum. These changes require teachers to learn new methods and new ways of interacting with students. Investing in professional development programs and scheduling time for educators to share best practices with their colleagues will support teachers in these efforts.
2. Engage Staff in Decision-Making
Problems cause stress, and taking actions to solve those problems relieves that stress. Staff members who are not included in decisions that affect their work will be frustrated and may feel that their status as professionals is going unrecognised. A sense of autonomy is critical to wellbeing, and schools that include their staff in program and policy development will have staff who are more fulfilled and satisfied with their jobs.
3. Build a Strong Sense of Community
A sense of wellbeing comes, in part, from the belief that we are part of something greater than ourselves. A cohesive school community, one where leaders, staff, students, and parents work together, fulfils the need for a sense of belonging. To achieve this, school leaders must develop trust through transparency and communication. All staff must feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns to create a strong sense of community in the school.
4. Encourage Collaboration among Teachers
A California State University study identified collegiality, a strong sense of teamwork, as critical to job satisfaction for educators. Those who remained in the role cited that the quality of relationships with their colleagues and the belief that all were working together to achieve a common goal contributed more to their job satisfaction than factors such as adequate resources or support from leaders. Allowing time for teacher collaboration is one of the primary ways of improving staff retention.
5. Provide a Supportive Environment
In any industry, employees hesitate to admit that they are having difficulties on the job. Educators must not feel compelled to hide problems from their leaders. Encouraging communications and implementing systems to facilitate conversations will make school leaders more approachable and ease staff stress levels.
6. Build a Strong Mentoring Program
New teachers who are paired with capable mentors report increased job satisfaction. They have a stronger commitment to their school and tend to stay in the profession. This translates into better outcomes for students and positively impacts overall school culture. Mentoring programs also help build a strong sense of community, as the tenured staff takes responsibility for welcoming new teachers into the school.
7. Utilise Technology to Better Support Staff Wellbeing
Mobile technology offers ways of communicating and connecting that can reduce feelings of isolation. Waiting until the end of the term or school year for survey results often means teachers with difficulties have already decided to leave. Schools that incorporate routine wellbeing check-ins, using applications such as ei Pulse, are better able to address issues quickly. Additionally, collecting school-wide data on wellbeing will give school leaders insight into trends to inform decision-making.
These ways of improving staff retention require investments in time and money, but the effort will save both in the long term. The reasons that so many leave the education field prematurely can usually be traced back to wellbeing issues. To experience job satisfaction, staff must feel competent in their positions, have some control over decisions that affect their roles, and feel like they are an integral part of the school community.
By adopting systems for monitoring staff wellbeing, school leaders can proactively address individual and school-wide problems. For most people, using mobile devices has become second nature, and mobile applications offer a comfortable way for teachers and support staff to report their wellbeing status.