How Educational Leaders Influence Teacher Retention Rates

Dr. Rick Bolling
Dr. Rick Bolling
Divison Superintendent of Schools; Ed.D. in Leadership
Two teachers walk down a corridor, smiling and talking.

Teacher retention rates and recruitment are common headlines as America addresses the nationwide teacher shortage. Retention is even more crucial than recruitment as school leaders must retain newly hired teaching professionals.

School leaders also must invest time and resources to retain current faculty who make a positive difference in the lives of children. While resources are one piece to teacher retention, investing time may be even more critical. There are numerous ways in which school leaders can invest time into teacher retention without the investment of additional physical dollars.

One piece is certain, the issue of teacher retention rates cannot be ignored because our children deserve classrooms that are conducive to learning led by highly-qualified professionals. Teaching is one of the most important professions as it leads to all other types of employment. Teachers are professionals who make a profound difference, so investment in retention is essential to help alleviate the teacher shortage crisis.

Why is Teacher Retention Essential?

Teacher retention is essential because districts are having to invest significant time and resources into staffing each year. Gone are the days when there was a bountiful supply of candidates who had to seek out employment. Now, schools have to search out candidates, and many teaching positions sadly are left unfilled, leading to increased class size and less desirable learning conditions.

Districts often look to online providers as outside contracts to teach students when positions go unfilled. The personal attention and relationship piece is missing with these providers.

Further, instruction is not always aligned, and evaluation of teaching quality by building-level leaders is somewhat limited. Most K-12 students need an in-person teacher and deserve that choice. The teacher is the essential component of instructional quality, so avoiding outside providers is an essential consideration whenever possible.

Not only do leaders need to focus on teacher morale and retention to keep positions filled, but leaders must consider the lost investment in teaching induction and training when teachers continue to leave after the first year of employment. Teachers need additional training and development when they enter the classroom. Institutional knowledge, curriculum understanding, community relationships, and essential understanding of effective teaching methodologies are lost when teachers exit the building.

Teaching quality typically improves as teachers gain experience, so the need to retain teachers is for the benefit of our students. High turnover levels typically result in temporary unrest as new staff adapt to their new roles, whereas, if a staff remains consistent and there are no teachers leaving, only slight refinement is needed to continue to a new school year.

Ways Educational Leaders Can Prevent Teacher Turnover

Focus on Relationships

Education is a relationship business. All stakeholders must work together. I have often noted that high expectations, data-driven decision-making, and a focus on relationships are the three essential components to sustained school improvement. I would argue that relationships is the most important piece and is a prerequisite for the other two components.

School culture and school climate are essential considerations for teacher retention and student learning. Teachers want to stay at schools and districts in which they are happy coming to work. Leaders must be approachable and supportive of teaching faculty to help prevent teacher burnout as much as possible. People want to be a part of a team that works together, treats one another with respect, and models empathy in approach and decision-making.

Mentorship

As noted, teachers rarely leave teacher education programs fully prepared to teach. Even with lengthy internships, intern teachers have the immediate support of a supervising teacher. Further compounding this problem is the fact that many educators are bypassing the formal internship as districts struggle to hire fully endorsed teachers.

Teaching is a demanding career that is highly stressful, and many job duties must be learned in the trenches. As such, quality teacher mentorship and induction programs are essential to teacher retention. The mentor should not just be a random name on a document.

Rather, careful consideration should be given to mentor selection. Leaders should select mentors who model quality instruction, deeply understand district practices, and foster positive relationships with students, parents, and coworkers. Further, mentors need to understand that time must be invested in the program.

Teachers need a support system that is positive and encouraging to navigate the initial years in their career. District-level induction programs should focus on practical knowledge and skills that can be implemented to improve student learning. These programs need to be relevant and purposeful.

If they are designed as a checklist that is simply a time drain, these programs are actually counterproductive to teacher retention. The inclusion of retreats in these programs is helpful with teacher retention as well. Retreats offer time for bonding and entertainment, helping a teacher acclimate to an area.

Professional Development

Allowing opportunities for growth and development is another area that is linked to increased teacher retention rates. Education is lifelong, and districts need to support that belief by investing in the continuing growth and refinement of their teachers’ working conditions.

Opportunities to engage in building-level and outside workshops needs support when the opportunity is relevant and purposeful. Further, districts can retain teachers by alleviating tuition costs for continued learning and obtaining additional endorsements.

Focus on the “Kitchen Table Issues”

Although salary and benefits are not the only issues that impact teacher retention, financial considerations are critical. Teachers are professionals and need to be able to make a comfortable living.

People are the biggest asset of a division. As such, districts must make pay and benefits the biggest priority in budget processes. 

Working Conditions

To retain teachers, teachers need to feel comfortable coming to work. The environment needs to be fun, upbeat, and encouraging. Retention is linked to having a solid support system without burdening micromanagement. Teachers need to feel that they are contributing to the better good and are viewed as professionals making a difference.

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