As we approach the 2022-23 school year and rejoice that our schools are operating mostly “normal” after two years of COVID-related closures, protocols, and changes, school leaders now face a new challenge. The last few years have drained teachers, and they are leaving the profession in droves. According to a recent National Education Association (NEA) survey, “55 percent of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they’d planned.” One county in my home state of North Carolina faced a 22.6 percent vacancy rate at the start of the 2020-21 school year. Simultaneously, schools are reporting more discipline incidents than in the past as students acclimate to a post-COVID school environment. Now, school leaders are charged with more than just recruiting teachers; they must provide appropriate, job-embedded support, specifically in the area of classroom management, to retain them.
While the task of supporting new teachers through their first years may seem daunting, there are concrete steps leaders can take to support early-career teachers in classroom management. Keep reading for five strategies to improve teacher retention:
- Building a relationship early. Just like 12th graders are big kindergarteners, adults are big students. We cannot expect students to learn until they know their teachers care, and we cannot expect teachers to be open to support and feedback until they know the same. Leaders can start building relationships through spending time with their new teachers and practicing active listening. Leaders must work to not only build their own relationships with new teachers, but also to ensure that teachers feel they are a part of the school community. This might mean assigning a mentor to work with the first year teacher, providing opportunities for staff to engage socially, and supporting new teachers to make connections with other district personnel.
- Establishing expectations together. After a relationship has been built, leaders should work with new teachers to create classroom expectations related to management and procedures. Leaders should ensure that new teachers’ classroom expectations and procedures are consistent with the school’s policies. Most importantly, they should support the new teacher with a plan for implementation. This plan should be chunked and calendared so that new teachers feel the work is manageable. This work can be outsourced to a mentor or department chair in order to broaden the system of support for a new teacher and lower the stakes. BetterLesson’s Creating Shared Classroom Values and the Modeling and Repeated Practice of Expectations, Routines, and Procedures strategies serve as guides for those working with new teachers to develop classroom expectations.
- Being present. Once relationships have been formed and classroom expectations are established, leaders need to be present. Teachers (and their students!) need to see school leaders in the classroom, in the hallways, and in any space where learning occurs. They need to see that the leader is invested in their performance and in their experience. Similarly, practicing presence gives leaders an opportunity to observe and ensure that the expectations built are followed. Finally, being present allows for organic conversations about topics important to the school’s vision, which might include diversity, equity, and inclusion; social-emotional learning; and meeting the needs of all learners.
- Setting goals. When observing new teachers and having conversations, it can feel like there is a laundry list of stressors to address. Going slow and starting with the most critical goals for new teachers is important and can help leaders support teachers in accelerating their practice later on. As leaders provide support and presence to focus on classroom management, they should work with teachers on setting personal professional goals related to management. Leaders should use their observations to come up with collaborative, measurable goals to support new teachers in their work.
- Providing feedback. Teachers need to know where they stand and how they’re doing on established goals and expectations. Taking the time to provide feedback to early-career teachers on their classroom management improves teacher performance. As part of this feedback, leaders should be ready to model, support, and problem-solve when action areas are identified. Similarly, leaders should make clear to teachers that feedback is a two-way street. As leaders provide feedback to teachers, they should welcome feedback from teachers about the support they’ve received.
As school leaders hire new teachers, creating a plan for support specifically focused on classroom management will help leaders move past recruitment and into retention. Teachers feel supported and ultimately empowered when leaders follow the steps above to help with classroom management. If you would like further support as you work with new teachers, a BetterLesson Instructional Coach can help you get started.