Teachers are at the very core of the educational environment. While the purpose of a school is to provide an appropriate learning environment and materials for students, the heart of every classroom is the teacher.
Good, experienced teachers make life easier for school leaders, and they help mentor younger teachers so that they, too, can level up their skills. To experience these benefits, a school must be able to retain good teachers.
Recent research reveals that 84 percent of Australian teachers have thought about leaving the profession altogether due to these combined challenges.
School leaders must stem the outflow of teachers from their educational institutions. To do this, leaders need innovative and proven methods that support teachers holistically, starting with caring for the individual and extending out to the professional.
Eight Ideas for Teacher Retention and Development
To address the growing problem of teacher retention, leaders must look to solutions that acknowledge that teachers are educated and trained professionals. But teachers are more than a set of skills and knowledge. They bring all of themselves to their classrooms. Any staff retention and development strategies adopted should support the teacher as a whole person and not just as an employee.
1. Leverage the Experience of Staff with Mentorships
Mentoring is a benefit to both the mentor and the mentee. Younger, less experienced teachers working with their experienced counterparts learn more than workshops and seminars could ever teach. Mentoring also helps experienced teachers expand their professional skills and gain greater satisfaction in their existing roles.
Working closely with another teacher builds a supportive bond between the mentor and mentee. The more experienced educator can provide guidance beyond a list of to-dos and impart a sense of caring and concern for their less-experienced mentee. Both teachers build a deeper connection than if they were simply colleagues.
2. Provide Opportunities for Choice within the Classroom
When teachers are provided a choice in how their classrooms are run, they are more directly involved in what happens and the direction that lessons take. Teachers become more engaged with the content that they have developed while still meeting the required curriculum for the students.
This is an empowering action for teachers. Intrinsically, it provides a sense of ownership over student outcomes and communicates greater trust in the teacher’s abilities. Trust is both a powerful motivator and the key to creating a more creative and collaborative work environment. When there is a culture of trust within the school, teachers are more likely to offer ideas and solutions and feel a greater sense of shared purpose with their peers and school leaders.
3. Create Opportunities for Appreciation
New research from Monash University suggests that 71% of teachers feel under appreciated, despite the fact that those who receive regular recognition are more productive, engaged and receive higher satisfaction scores from students and parents. Combined, those attributes indicate that a teacher is more likely to stay in their current role.
Recognition can come in many forms. As a school leader, you should look for opportunities beyond Teacher Appreciation Week or end-of-year ceremonies to celebrate the work of your staff. Recognition opportunities from both school leaders and peers should be widespread, frequent, and meaningful.
School leaders should turn to the teachers themselves to find out what sort of appreciative gestures have the most meaning for them. Some may want public acknowledgment, while others are happy with a quiet but heartfelt thank you. Taking the time to understand the needs of each teacher promotes the understanding that they are each important individuals within the larger school community.
4. Empower Collaboration
Collaboration is a significant indicator of retention. When teachers can work shoulder to shoulder with others, they have the opportunity to have their ideas heard while also contributing to the betterment of the school community.
Collaboration can appear in many forms, from inclusion on committees and advisory groups to informal staff meet-ups. This is to ensure that staff members of all experience levels are given voices and respect each other’s ideas. This, too, is supported by a culture of trust, where a teacher can state an idea without fear of reprisal or ridicule.
5. Ensure That Teachers Have the Tools They Need
Teaching tools have been part of the classroom since the very first session. While yesterday’s rulers and blackboards have given way to computers and smartboards, teachers are less concerned about having the most modern and up-to-date tools as they are about having ones that work and are effective.
If the tools within a classroom are out of date or broken, it can slow the education process and create frustration. When students aren’t making progress and teachers are stressed out over a lack of functional materials for lessons, it’s easy for teachers to feel overwhelmed and beaten down. They have less energy for their students, which further feeds into the cycle of slowed progress for all.
Having working and effective tools that teachers are trained to use can prevent this downward spiral of frustration.
6. Encourage Professional Development
Professional development for teachers is a positive for everyone. Continuing professional development enables teachers to explore ways in which they can better instruct, organise, and plan. The outcome reflects well on the school as a whole.
Opportunities for professional development can also influence a teacher’s wellbeing both in clear and less obvious ways. When teachers are offered options for growth, it’s apparent that their leaders are willing and interested in investing in their future.
Leaders should expand upon that, asking educators who have attended training to share what they learned with the rest of the staff. This action offers an intrinsic reward to the individual for the time spent learning something new and helping others to improve as well.
Beyond that, school leaders should allow teachers the agency to choose their professional development. Returning the power of choice to the teacher further encourages retention and illustrates respect for a teacher’s individually chosen path.
7. Create a Positive Work Environment
A positive work environment has less to do with the physical environment itself and more with how people are treated. When teachers are trusted, empowered, and involved in decisions, they are more connected to the school, the workplace, and their peers.
A positive work environment extends beyond having the right tools or being empowered to make choices, however. Teachers spend a significant amount of their time, week after week, working well beyond the time spent actively teaching. So, it’s critical that school leaders create an environment where all staff feel valued, supported, and happy.
Doing this requires incorporating many of the aforementioned strategies, like instilling a sense of trust and recognition as part of the culture. But to further encourage staff retention and development, leaders must promote open and respectful communication between colleagues, as well as obvious support and work-life balance. A supportive and positive workplace where staff members feel valued as individuals and teachers creates an environment that they want to be and stay a part of.
8. Provide Support
Part of offering a positive work environment is giving teachers the mental and emotional support that they need to promote their overall wellbeing. This is crucial in an educational environment, where students rely on the commitment and energy of their educators.
Having one-on-one meetings with leaders is a starting point. These meetings should be held regularly, providing a space for teachers to share their thoughts and concerns. By carving out time to listen to teachers individually, school leaders illustrate their care and concern.
There are additional ways that leaders can check in with educators beyond periodic one-on-ones. Wellbeing check-ins open the door for teachers to report struggles and insight into the overall feeling of the school environment. Tools like ei Pulse let teachers raise concerns about stress and worry, giving leaders the opportunity to act before issues bloom. Providing this conduit for individual feedback on mental state demonstrates the care and attention that school leaders have for teachers, keeping them engaged and present.
Retaining teachers isn’t all about pay increases. It also isn’t simply about providing paths to promotion and professional progress. Instead, it’s about respecting the whole individual and recognising that being a teacher is more than having a set of knowledge and skills. Teachers bring their heart and soul into the classroom, and staff retention and development strategies must start with understanding and acknowledging the importance of teacher wellbeing and the influence of a trusting and positive work environment.
Giving teachers a voice, both in what they do and how they feel, is a crucial element for retention. Supportive actions and open communication must be more than just displays; they must be genuine outreach and activities intended to include teachers as part of the process and decision-making.
Feedback mechanisms should reflect the needs of the whole teacher, including preferences on recognition, development, and wellbeing. Doing so creates a workplace that teachers can feel connected to and proud of, and it encourages skilled educators to remain and continue to help students achieve better outcomes.