Last month, I wrote a blog about teacher retention and the need to “begin within” when it comes to teacher recruitment. Beginning within means school leaders need to be intentional with their efforts to entice valuable teachers to return to their teaching positions. The blog included suggestions for administrators on leadership methods that may improve retention. The ideas were provided to me by teachers from various schools and districts.
Since writing that blog, a few things have happened in my space. The meet and confer process has concluded, contracts have been offered, and teachers have indicated through survey whether or not they plan to return to our school for the 2020-21 school year.
With the exception of two teachers who are retiring at the end of the school year, all of our teachers have indicated they plan to return to our campus next year. Given the fact that Arizona is currently in a teacher retention crisis (1800 Arizona classrooms are without a certified teacher), this is a truly remarkable circumstance. Not only do the vast majority of our teachers plan to return to our campus, we also have teachers from other schools and districts wanting to join our team.
While I am unbelievably grateful for our teachers and their return, I also want to know why. The why matters, because if we know the why, we can replicate it moving forward. We can build a culture of effectiveness and stability that benefits our students.
I decided to dig into the why on my campus. I’m not going to pretend my methods were scientific, but they provided valuable information. I sent messages to approximately half of our teaching staff. I made sure the group represented a wide cross section of teachers to include various years of experience and years at our school, as well as different content areas and grade bands. I only asked one question: What makes you want to stay.
All but three of the teachers responded to my message. As I read through them, I was struck by the similarities. Yes, there were some differences here and there, but there were also significant themes that emerged. Some of the reasons for returning were identified by almost every teacher. These reasons are the why.
The teachers on my campus feel our administrators respect them as professionals. They say administration trusts them to make decisions that are in the best interest of their students. They report they are not micromanaged, which leads to a greater feeling of efficacy. They appreciate the open door policy with our administrators and feel comfortable going to them with concerns, suggestions, or just to vent. It was also stated that the administrators show a genuine interest in how they are doing, both personally and professionally, which makes them feel respected and valued. The idea that feeling respected by building leaders improves teacher retention is supported by research, so it isn’t surprising that our teachers indicated that is a main reason they choose to stay.
Teachers need support and the teachers on my campus feel like they have it. We are fortunate. The district in which we work invests in instructional coaches and mentor teachers. Every teacher but one responded that the support they get from the coaches and mentors is one of the top reasons they stay. They are supported in their professional growth. They have someone to go to for ideas, co-planning, or encouragement. As one teacher said, “I feel like I can ask questions. That’s huge for me because I always have a lot of questions.” This type of support is vital because it builds a sense of confidence and effectiveness in teachers. When a teacher feels effective, they’re less likely to experience burn out.
In 2017, Hope Street Group Arizona released a report that included findings on teacher retention. One of the key findings in this report was that school culture has a significant impact on teacher retention. The responses I received from the teachers on my campus support these findings. All of the commentary spoke to our school climate being one of the top reasons teachers choose to stay. The teachers reported they rely heavily on their grade level teams and see them as sources of knowledge, ideas, collaboration, and inspiration. They all described the staff on our campus as hard working, dedicated, and willing to share. One of the teachers summed it up well by saying, “I love that I can go to pretty much anyone and get ideas because we have such a great staff.”
At a time when there aren’t many bright spots in Arizona’s teacher retention story, my school is doing something right. Thanks to the openness of the teachers on my campus, I now have some insight and a why to share with our leadership team. We can use this understanding to continue to build on the culture of respect and support that makes teachers want to stay. As one teacher put it, “It’s a great campus where I feel at home.” That’s a success!