5 Ways To Keep Your Teachers During “The Great Resignation”

The educator shortage isn't new, but it's increasingly concerning as more teachers leave the profession. Here are five actions you can take to reverse this trend in your school.
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Imagine being a young student, excited to arrive at school, only to find that your teacher isn’t there. This was—and still is—a reality for far too many students this year. The teacher shortage in our public schools is not new, but it's increasingly concerning with more teachers leaving the profession than ever before. And it's especially evident for teachers of color.

Teachers of color are already underrepresented in schools, with 54 percent of a school's population identifying as students of color compared to only 18 percent of teachers. We can expect this trend to continue due to the systemic nature of teacher attrition. Let's explore why teachers are leaving and what actions you can take to reverse this trend in your school.

Why are teachers leaving?

Why are so many teachers, specifically teachers of color, planning to leave the profession? The teacher shortage is a longstanding problem made worse by the pandemic. Teachers report leaving for many reasons, most notably poor working conditions, low teacher pay, and an absence of opportunities to advance in their careers. With more teachers leaving, the ones who stay are asked to do more with less support. This leads to burnout: 90 percent of educators surveyed report that feeling burned out is a serious problem. School leaders are also joining The Great Resignation, and when leaders of color leave, teachers of color are less likely to stay in their roles. These factors, combined with well-paid job opportunities outside of the classroom, have created a perfect storm that repels new and existing educators from the profession. 

How do we get teachers to stay?

It's indisputable: the teaching profession is ripe for innovation. School systems are employing several practices to make the teaching profession more attractive, accessible, and relevant in today's labor market. These include expanded pathways to become a teacher, coordinated recruitment partnerships, and improved financial incentives.

Aligning your school's culture to what attracted great teachers to your school in the first place is a powerful retention strategy. 

As a school leader, you have the power to retain more teachers in your school. In fact, one of the strongest determining factors in teacher retention is effective leadership. The strategies below, supported by both educational research and practice, will help you improve teacher retention at your school and across your district. These suggestions have proven beneficial for retaining all teachers but are cited as specifically helpful for keeping teachers of color.

Build trusting relationships

The best school and district leaders prioritize relationships to create a sense of belonging. We asked New Leaders alumni who are leading schools to share strategies for how they are retaining teachers. The most common response was proactively building solid relationships. "Trusting relationships are the incubator for people to show up as their authentic selves," explains New Leaders alum and principal Hector Caldones. And the key to building relationships? Trust. Caldones elaborates on four areas of trust that serve as a precursor to effective relationships and provides questions to aid in your own self-reflection:

  • Sincerity: Does my staff believe what I'm saying?
  • Competence: Does my team think I can act on what I'm saying?
  • Reliability: What is the perceived distance between what I say and do?
  • Caring: Does my staff believe I'm genuinely invested in their development?

Create inclusive environments

While salary and flexibility are essential factors in attracting and retaining teachers, research finds that school culture is more determinant of lower teacher turnover. Aligning your school's culture to what attracted great teachers to your school in the first place is a powerful retention strategy. And luckily, school leaders have tremendous influence over the culture of their school. What are your school's core values? What actions are you taking to reinforce them? Ask yourself these questions to determine if your school culture embodies the values that matter most to teachers of color:

  • Does your school focus on the whole child rather than solely on test scores?
  • Do the adults in your building have an equity-focused mindset, believing all students can succeed?
  • Does your culture promote positive racial identities?
  • Do you provide school-wide professional development that confronts sensitive issues about race, social justice, and implicit bias?
  • Are teachers supported in teaching lessons on issues relevant to underserved communities?

A growing body of research also suggests that racial affinity groups can positively impact retention.

Distribute leadership

To increase teacher retention, you need to leverage their insight and use it to better your school and the students within it. Teachers want to know that their opinions and ideas matter and want to be supported when they advocate for needed change. Distributed leadership is a shared approach in which decision-making is spread from the principal to the school community—and it drives collective action. When offered leadership opportunities, teachers experience their work differently. They are no longer on the receiving end of policies and practices to implement. Instead, teachers become invested in the problem-solving process. When teachers are engaged and professionally respected, they are likely to stay.

Create opportunities for professional growth 

During the pandemic, many teachers re-evaluated their career paths with a focus on growth. Take distributed leadership to the next level by formally giving educators opportunities to step into teacher leadership and assume additional responsibility. Principal and New Leaders alum Alison Welcher found that providing tangible career opportunities to the educators in her school helped minimize turnover. She implemented an "Opportunity Culture" where the most effective teachers could expand their impact to more students by leading other teachers—and get compensated for the additional responsibility. This one-two punch helped all teachers win and drove student achievement. Teacher leaders became more engaged, while others benefitted from dedicated resources to support their professional learning through coaching and co-teaching. This brings us to our next strategy.

Teachers want to know that their opinions and ideas matter and want to be supported when they advocate for needed change. … When teachers are engaged and professionally respected, they are likely to stay. 

Provide individualized support

How are you supporting and developing new teachers? Instructional coaching is an impactful way to provide individualized support and job-embedded professional development. New Leaders Senior Director of Program Implementation Hal Harris shared how his coach helped him grow as a high school English teacher. What stood out to Harris was how his coach centered their time together on student work, prioritized building a personal relationship with him, and encouraged him to take ownership of his career growth.

When planning to enhance teacher support, New Leaders alum and Head of School Daniela Anello offers a valuable reminder to listen, adapt, and differentiate. People value different things, so ask your teachers what they need and what would help them the most. And Anello would know: her school has nearly 100% teacher retention.

Final thoughts

The longstanding teacher retention problem has become more complex. There's no denying the growing teacher shortage in our public schools. But you have the power to improve the working conditions at your school. When we all take steps towards making schools better places to work, we create extraordinary change. 

You know that an educator’s work is vital and sacred. That’s why you’re in this profession. Teachers help students dream bigger dreams to secure a better future for us all. How are you supporting teachers in this noble aim and showing them how valued they are?

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