Retaining our Great Teachers

By Martin Silverman

In 1966, the phenomenal Motown trio The Supremes sang the classic song “You Keep Me Hangin' On." Though this song speaks of a couple with differing opinions on the state of their relationship, the song's message resonates today with educators as we consider how to keep our teachers hangin’ on to form long-lasting relationships with our students and school community.

Much has been reported recently about the Great Resignation in the American workforce. As school leaders, in whichever chair we sit, we need to consider the many ways we can generate a space where teachers not only stay but choose to stay.

Times change, but people's motivations rarely do. Teachers want to stay in a place where they feel connected, where their needs are met daily, and where the vision for their work is clear, reachable, and meaningful. Some of the steps are easy, and we can implement them immediately. Other measures take a bit more time and planning.

However, re-centering our thinking on teacher retention and shifting from my-way-or-the-highway thinking to a more inclusive mindset will reap incredible rewards as we retain staff, build deeper connections, and create more effective school communities!

What You Can Do Tomorrow

As you look for ways to retain your staff, there are actions you can start right away. One of the most important ways employees feel valued is when you consider that we spend many of our waking hours at work.

There was a movement back in the mid-nineteenth century in Great Britain to balance adult lives by suggesting that in a day, we spend eight hours working, eight hours in recreation, and eight hours resting. Most of us would love that balance, but we are often way out of it in actuality.

A school leader can help employees by understanding that we can use the time to the advantage of the employee, which also helps our employees preserve their family time. Here are a few examples:

  •  Allow employees time for short appointments during the day if necessary. Cover a trip to the bank, getting blood drawn, or a veterinarian appointment so they don’t have to use leave time.
  •  If your employees have school-age children who attend schools using a different calendar, allow their children to come with them to work on their days off. This promotes the family feeling of your school and enables the employee to not stress over childcare arrangements.
  •  Consider having local businesses add your school to their route. One example: a local dry cleaner did pick up and delivery service. The staff members could have their clothes picked up and returned to school. This convenience took away one of their after-school chores and gave them more time to be home.

Permit Yourself to Build Capacity

If you are a parent, you know one of the greatest joys is when your child learns to walk. It's often difficult to watch them approximate steps, uneasy and clumsy at first and then more confident as they adjust and practice. We don't take those first steps for them (though we probably wish we could).

Having the autonomy to try is valuable when creating a stable and effective workplace. When building stable school communities, it's so important for us to allow our employees the space to make decisions and try new things. Here are some ways you can do this:

  •  Decide what is important for you to control, and allow other things to be run by others. For example, allow teachers to choose where they go on field trips. School events can (and should) be run by groups of teachers to ensure they are relevant to the families they serve.
  •  When we had Family Game Night recently, our PTO members and a group of teachers completely ran the event. They did all the planning, promoting, and execution. They were connected to that event and not just working it for someone else.
  •  One of the best ways to consider new programs, events, procedures, etc., is to ask the people who will actually be doing the work for their opinions and then act on their suggestions.
  •  Last year I had the idea to a multi-age classroom group to help students coming off two pandemic school years stay with a set of teachers across two grade levels.
  •  When I put the idea out into the world, I asked the teachers to consider every facet of what this model would entail, and I prepared myself to completely drop the idea if they did not envision it working effectively.
  •  As principal, my best input into that planning session was to say, "You would be doing this work, not me. Let's think about what the actual implementation would look like." This allowed the group to be heard and have their contributions become part of the design of the model.

Making the effort to take effective actions will help us retain our teachers. We can keep them hangin’ on if we take those positive steps for deeper connections to our schools.

Photo by Anna Shvets
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