It’s hard to believe, but the time is almost here. Teacher contracts come out next month.
Leadership teams across districts are having meetings and discussions about which teachers plan to return. With cautious optimism, they discuss the teachers they really hope sign their contracts. With the high rate of teacher turnover in Arizona, no leadership team can naively assume their most effective teachers will return.
Their desire to bring back their best educators is understandable. We know how important teacher retention is to student achievement. It is well documented that one of the most significant school related factors for student achievement is a highly qualified and effective classroom teacher. Further, teacher retention is important financially. Constantly hiring and training new teachers costs districts a fortune. That is money that could be used to better support students. The bottom line is, reducing teacher turnover matters.
As my own leadership team initiates conversations about the many teachers we hope will return, I begin to wonder. Have we started this conversation too late?
A few years ago I was at a training. I’m not even sure how teacher retention was brought up because it wasn’t the topic of the training. Nonetheless, at one point in the discussion, the presenter said something that stuck with me. We were talking about job fairs and recruitment efforts (it was January and many districts were getting ready to go on recruiting trips out of state). The presenter told us we shouldn’t only focus our recruiting efforts on new teachers to fill empty positions. He said school leaders should begin “recruiting” the teachers they value in October.
Flash forward a few years and Arizona is in an even worse crisis with teacher retention than we were when I heard that advice. Since then I’ve also come across some research studies that appear to support the trainer’s notion. The principal matters for teacher retention. Not because they can provide financial incentive, because we know that is outside their purview. But, because they have some influence over working conditions on their campuses.
Since my own leadership team is currently in the midst of these planning and staffing discussions, I decided I wanted to get more insight directly from the source.
I informally surveyed several teachers from a few different teacher groups to which I belong. I asked them the following question: What could your principal/AP do that would help “recruit” you?
I was fortunate to get a decent number of responses between the groups and I was able to categorize like ideas to identify trends.
Most of the ideas shared were actions that would improve working conditions for teachers. I grouped common ideas together and summarized them. The following are the things teachers said principals can do to “recruit” them:
This was a trend that came up most often. Teacher time is so limited and it causes great stress when their time is taken from planning periods, lunch times, and evenings. The teachers I surveyed had some legitimate and doable suggestions to help lighten the time load. Many of these have been said before, but since they are still coming up, they deserve repeating.
- Let teachers have their prep periods. Don’t take teacher preps unless it’s necessary. Teachers need this time for planning, calling parents, collaborating with colleagues, etc. When prep time is taken it conveys the message that those functions aren’t valued.
- Get creative with support staff. For example, a 30-minute lunch is short already. Add in travel time and monitoring students through lines and the 30 minute uninterrupted lunch is more like 23. Strategically placing support staff to monitor the front end and back end of lunch would allow teachers to have the entire 30 minutes for lunch. This idea could be replicated in other parts of the day.
- Limit time spent in staff meetings. Teachers know staff meetings are sometimes necessary. Only schedule them when they are necessary and then cap them at 45 minutes. Utilize email as much as possible.
- Be selective with evening events. Multiple evening events throughout the year take away from teachers’ family time and ability to have a personal life. This leads to stress and fatigue.
Another way principals can impact retention is by differentiating for teachers. This particular category included many different types of differentiation. But, the core idea was treat teachers as the unique professionals they are.
- Let teachers have a voice in their professional development. This has been said before. I sound like a broken record saying it again. But, since teachers are still asking for it, it warrants being included.
- Build up your effective teachers too. It’s easy to fall in the routine of providing all supports to new or struggling teachers. But our best teachers want support too. They want different support, but they still want support. Many of our most effective teachers feel ignored. Ask them what they need; by asking they will know you see their value.
- Differentiate your accountability systems. Let teachers lesson plan, conduct meetings, develop their daily schedules, create their classroom procedures, and develop their classroom management plans in ways that make sense for them. Requiring all teachers to perform these responsibilities in the same way denies their professionalism.
A theme that came through clearly is teachers want to feel like their principal “has their back.”
- Be a voice for your teachers. Educators are often afraid to advocate for themselves or to ask for things they need. If you know your teachers want or need a specific training, work with district leaders to get it. If there is a clear and present need on your campus, bring it to the attention of district decision makers. It may not always work, but the teachers will see you trying. And if the need is something that is within your decision making control, please get it done!
- Find outlets for teachers who may not want formal leadership positions but still want to share their knowledge and passion. Advocate for them to fulfill their professional goals (this also connects to differentiation).
- Listen with an open mind and open heart. That is the first step to advocacy. When you truly listen, you will hear what your teachers need and want and you’ll be able to act on it.
Principals have the capability to improve teacher retention on their campuses by improving working conditions. Perhaps teachers are where they can go for ideas for doing that.
What other ideas do you have for “recruiting” teachers from within?