How Can School Leaders Retain Teachers?

5 min read
Jan 27, 2022 8:18:34 AM

Here are three strategies school leaders can implement to retain teachers.

Teachers are the greatest asset to any and every school across the country — and we don’t just mean that as a platitude.

Research consistently shows that a highly qualified, effective teacher is the single most important component to student success and other important outcomes. 

Unfortunately, teacher attrition — a problem that predated COVID-19 — has been exacerbated by the pandemic for a handful of complex reasons:

  • The new-teacher pipeline is drying up. Since 2010, college enrollment for teacher education and other teacher-preparation courses have been on the decline.
  • The reasons for turnover and attrition vary, making the solution complicated. High stress, burnout, lack of administrative support, poor student behavior, low student achievement, stagnant wages, and much more all make this a multifaceted problem.

The problem is clear: the teacher shortage has reached crisis levels. And it exists from coast to coast.

Nationwide, this problem is approximately 112,000 teachers wide

Given the exhausting, ongoing pandemic, what can leaders in K-12 education do to retain teachers and ensure the strength of the profession for years to come?

In the blog below, we’ll outline three broad strategies school administrators can use to help teachers stay where we need them most: in the classroom.

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First, Understand the Nature of the Problem

To solve the teacher shortage in your school or district, you first need to understand why the shortage exists. If you’re assuming you understand the nature of the problem, you may be off the mark.

For example, while the number one reason for attrition is lack of administrative support, that may not be an issue at all in your school. Perhaps, instead, teachers are leaving because of mental health issues incurred by the pandemic.

Simply put, the reasons for teacher attrition in your community may not follow national trends. To uncover if this is the case, here are two tips for collecting your own attrition data:

  • Do exit interviews for teachers who leave. Ask them their reasons for leaving. This is the most powerful insight you can gain from them, and this data should inform your teacher retention strategy moving forward.
  • Do stay interviews for the teachers who remain. Ask them what they like about their role, what their biggest pain points are, and where you can improve.

You can then determine which factors are contributing to the problem at your institution and strategically plan accordingly.

Teacher Retention Tip #1: Encourage Peer-to-Peer Collaboration

Despite a classroom full of students, teachers can feel isolated from other teachers and administration. This isolation can push them to leave education entirely. Without meaningful collaboration with peers, teachers are far likelier to leave their role.

What you can do is provide opportunities for teachers to work together: formally, informally, and virtually.

For example, you can arrange meetings for teachers of the same subjects or grade levels to meet and brainstorm classroom ideas. Anything that brings your teachers together and encourages connection and collaboration can make a difference.

And don’t forget the power of having a mentor.

Particularly important for first-year teachers, an experienced mentor can be the person a new teacher leans on for anything: help with classroom management skills, lesson plan tips, or even just to celebrate the wins both big and small.

These peer-to-peer relationships have a powerful effect on teacher retention. Some states are even offering funding for this exact purpose, such as Illinois:

  • In 2021, Illinois invested an additional $6,500,000 for schools to support mentor opportunities for new teachers whose training was affected by COVID-19 and for teachers who are beginning their education career.

Teacher Retention Tip #2: Promote Professional Development and Self-Efficacy

Effective instructional coaching reduces teacher attrition by positively affecting:

  • Student achievement. A highly effective teacher is the number one determinant of student success. When highly effective teachers leave, there’s a chance they’ll be replaced with a less-qualified teacher. This negatively affects student achievement.
  • Classroom management skills. Teachers with good classroom management skills spend more time teaching and significantly less time handling student disruptions. They feel in control of their classroom and garner respect from students.
  • Teacher self-efficacy. Teachers with high self-efficacy are less affected by burnout, and they experience more satisfaction in their jobs.
  • Collective teacher self-efficacy. When teachers and staff collectively believe in their ability to positively affect students, student achievement increases. And everyone contributes to a healthy school climate and culture.

Rather than relying on punitive evaluations, implementing system-wide coaching changes the narrative. This helps school leaders create a culture of positive, constructive feedback — one where everyone benefits.

Learn more about instructional coaching here: What is Instructional Coaching for Teachers?

Teacher Retention Tip #3: Support Teachers in Their Role

The criticality of supporting teachers in their role can’t be stated enough. Implementing support of all types will help you retain teachers and reduce the need for new hires.

These supports take many forms, but perhaps the most important support amid COVID-19 is that of supporting your educators’ mental health. One strategy many schools have done is using additional COVID-19 funding to hire mental health counselors for teachers.

Other ways you can support teachers include:

  • Giving them monthly face-to-face time with their principal or other school leader.
  • Allowing them to express their opinions and concerns, then following up in a thoughtful, constructive way. You want your teachers to know you hear their concerns, value their input, and will respond appropriately.

Providing them with tools that help them in the classroom, such as behavior management tools like SchoolMint Hero.

 

All-in-One Instructional Coaching and Data Platform

Unless leaders in K-12 education take action to retain teachers, the problems of a shrinking teacher workforce will only intensify, affecting both the teachers themselves and our nation’s students.

Fortunately, teacher feedback is a proven method of improving teacher retention.

SchoolMint offers an instructional coaching platform that can help: SchoolMint Grow. Grow helps educational leaders and administrators:

  • Engage in continuous improvement feedback with teachers
  • Implement strategic problem-solving and systematic planning to improve working conditions
  • Increase administrator support
  • Improve climate
  • Enhance student outcomes
  • Decrease discipline issues

Grow greatly increases the visibility of administrators as instructional leaders and teachers will view their school leaders as highly supportive, thus improving teacher retention.

Along with mitigating the significant costs associated with turnover, the three tips above are a place for any school leader to start building their teacher retention strategy. With teacher mental health supports in place, routine instructional coaching, and peer-to-peer relationships and mentoring, you can strengthen the fabric of your school or district.

As a result, you’ll help create a positive school environment — one where educators thrive, students succeed, and teachers remain in the classroom for many, many years.

Additional Resources

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