Teacher and students conducting a science experiment, on blog titled 'Retaining Top Teachers: How to Combat High Turnover Rates in Your School'

Matt Homrich-Knieling May 22, 2023

Retaining Top Teachers: How to Combat High Turnover Rates in Your School

Matt Homrich-Knieling

Writer and Educator

We all know high rates of turnover can be deeply damaging to schools: student academic performance is hindered, school culture and relationships among colleagues are fractured by the transience of staff members, and school leaders are required to dedicate time and money into recruitment rather than investing in their current staff. 

While understanding the negative impacts of teacher turnover is critically necessary, in this article, we will focus on what school leaders can do about this issue, answering the question: How can school leaders combate high turnover rates in their schools?

Cultivate a Positive School Culture 

School culture is the most important factor in determining whether a teacher wants to stay. Teaching can be an incredibly fulfilling career, but when teachers work within a toxic, negative, or unsupportive school, it can lead to deep dissatisfaction. 

Here are a few suggestions to improve school culture:

  • Slow down: Teachers often feel an exhausting sense of urgency in their work: covering all the necessary standards, completing the required assessments, moving through the curriculum, and more. This urgency can wear teachers down quickly. School leaders can address this by creating space for teachers to slow down–whether it’s by starting staff meetings with time for reflection, making sure planning periods aren’t taken away or canceled last-minute, or collaborating ways to integrate more flexibility into curricular pacing–slowing down is an impactful way to sustain teachers.
  • Promote collaboration: Most school leaders and teachers will agree that professional collaboration is beneficial; not only do teachers benefit by learning from each other’s strengths and skills, but they build deeper relationships and trust. However, oftentimes the onus of finding time to collaborate is on teachers. Instead, school leaders can integrate collaboration into teachers’ schedules by aligning prep periods by content and/or grade-level teams or integrating collaboration into staff meetings.
  • Build community: Prioritizing community-building among colleagues is critical to creating a positive school culture. This can look like starting each staff meeting with an opening circle, where teachers answer a check-in question; organizing staff outings or social events; or even facilitating silly games like academic department costume contests. Everyone balks at ice-breaker type activities, but at the end of the day that create moments of bonding.
  • Celebrate accomplishments regularly: Shout-out individual teachers during the morning announcements, write thank-you letters to your staff, begin staff meetings by encouraging teachers to affirm their colleagues. These small acts of celebrating and recognition, when performed regularly and consistently, can help transform school cultures.
  • Address conflicts restoratively: Talking about conflict and positive school culture might seem contradictory; however, part of cultivating a positive school culture is thoughtfully addressing conflict, which is inevitable. School leaders can’t control the occurrence of conflicts between staff members, but they can control how they address those conflicts. Utilizing restorative practices to address issues among staff can help create a sense of supportiveness, safety, and trust.

Provide Meaningful Professional Development and Support

Evidence shows that strong professional development programs can improve teacher retention. Teachers want to feel invested in, confident in their practice, and productively challenged in their work, and a comprehensive and a strategically planned professional learning plan is the answer.

Impactful professional learning is more than one-off workshops or a one-and-done training; it is thoughtfully scaffolded and multimodal systems of support that are aligned to both school and individual teacher goals. 

This vision of professional learning (instead of professional development) sounds lofty, but when you plan a combination of workshops, one-on-one coaching, and access to asynchronous courses, it is attainable, and the school’s academic and behavior growth improves as a result.

Create Opportunities for Leadership

We know that the majority of teachers want opportunities for leadership and career advancement while remaining in the classroom. We also know that teachers want their voice to matter in their school’s decision-making processes.

One way to meet these needs is to establish leadership career ladders. In other words, school leaders can create clear pathways and opportunities for teachers to step into leadership roles within their schools. There are many traditional and effective ways for teachers to take on leadership, such as becoming the head or chair of their academic department. There are also other creative ways to establish teacher leadership roles that can meet your school’s needs:

  • School Culture Leads: Teachers who have a knack for building community, creating connections, and cultivating camaraderie can spearhead school culture initiatives as a powerful way to both tap into teacher leadership while simultaneously addressing issues around school culture. School Culture Leads can be responsible for conducting surveys and interviews to identify issues in school culture and suggesting solutions to those issues. Leads might also host community- and team-building exercises during staff meetings.
  • Curriculum Review Committee: Teachers who excel in curriculum planning could serve on a Curriculum Review Committee in collaboration with school leaders. These teachers could support developing engaging, standards-aligned curriculum. Additionally, teachers on this committee could be responsible for integrating feedback from their colleagues into their work, ensuring that there is a breadth of opportunities for teachers to be heard and participatory. Because teachers understand student needs so deeply, this can be a profoundly impactful leadership role.
  • Community Liaisons: Teachers could serve as Community Liaisons, working to strengthen relationships between the school and families, community organizations, and local businesses. This might look like planning family-day events at the school, creating partnerships with local service-providers to meet families’ needs, or organizing community volunteer opportunities.
  • Technology Specialists: Every school has teachers who have widely varying degrees of comfort with technology. Despite this, technology is a hugely important aspect of teaching, particularly with the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) tools. Technology Specialists might be teachers in your school who excel with educational technology tools. These teachers can serve as support persons for colleagues, points of contact for questions about technology, and professional development facilitators around educational technologies.

Consider Compensation

Teacher salaries are an important component to teacher retention. This topic is of course multifaceted, with factors like school budgets, state and federal funding, and other educational policy issues contributing to the conversation. Regardless of its complexity, teacher compensation is a necessary part of the staff retention conversation.

While increasing teacher salaries, a critical issue in education, requires a range of stakeholders and decision makers, there are other ways to explore teacher compensation. For example, applying for grants to provide teachers with stipends for leadership positions or after school tutoring can be an effective way to increase teachers’ compensation. Another solution is giving stipends to teachers that hold after-school activities or clubs. School leaders can also look critically and creatively at their school budgets to determine whether there are existing funds or line-items that could be used to compensate teachers for leadership roles, whether it’s professional development or technology integration funds. 

Remembering the Forest for the Trees

At the end of the day, a school is a reflection of its teachers. So it is of the utmost importance to make sure your teachers are happy, heard, and fulfilled. This is the only way to ensure they are in it for the long run.

Combating turnover rates and creating a sustainable and supportive environment where teachers stay requires a great deal of capacity: creating strategic goals, implementing support systems, monitoring and responding to data, and more. BetterLesson is here to support districts through that process! Schedule a call with BetterLesson today to learn how we can collaborate and support!

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