Expert Viewpoint

Six Steps School Leaders Should Take to Reduce Teacher Turnover

The classroom is beginning to return to normal as COVID-19 restrictions ease, but several years of pandemic-related stress has taken its toll on teachers. A recent National Education Association survey found that 55% of members are more likely to leave or retire from education sooner than planned because of the pandemic, almost double the number saying the same in July 2020.

Education has been one of the most challenging fields to work in during the pandemic, with many educators forced to change their instruction models on a dime from in-person to hybrid or remote learning scenarios in the event of an outbreak. In fact, on my first day on the job as assistant principal at Ooltewah High School, multiple teachers approached me and told me that they will quit if the school district goes back to a hybrid model.

I have never faced the challenge of retaining teachers in the past, and it quickly became apparent that teachers are stressed, overwhelmed, and tired. The extra challenges that educators have faced during the past two years forced many to reach a breaking point, and I have witnessed several teachers leave the profession entirely and pursue new careers since the pandemic started.

How do we slow this turnover? I’m sure that every school district leader has their own perspective on how to help solve this issue, but here are a few key ideas that during my own experience as an administrator have helped lessen teacher turnover.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of Your School’s Climate

During this challenging time, it is critical for school leaders to keep constant tabs on the culture and climate among both the faculty and students. Educators play one of the most important roles in children’s lives, and now more than ever, appreciation for educators is not just deserved, it is crucial for their well-being.

I’ll never forget one of my teachers telling me, “Just saying ‘thank you for being here today’ is enough.” As leaders, we need to remember to infuse happiness and fun back into our buildings to provide a sense of normalcy for everyone.

Leverage Technology to Save Time and Meet Student Needs

The near-instant switch from in-person to remote learning in 2020 forced many educators to adopt new technologies that they had little to no experience with previously. Instead of forcing your teachers to face the overwhelming task of determining what platform to implement, school leaders should identify and provide them with resources that will save them time, while also meeting the needs of their students.

After extensive research, our school decided to implement the digital curriculum platform Kiddom since it benefitted both teachers and students, and since it allowed them to continue a rigorous curriculum in in-person, hybrid, and remote learning scenarios alike.

Provide Proper Support and Training

Once the chosen technology is implemented, identify what educators need help with and provide as much support and training as possible to ensure that they feel comfortable and prepared. If you are taking the time to invest in a technology platform at your school, make sure that you are also taking adequate time to invest in plenty of support and training for your educators to reduce frustration and make the transition as smooth as it can be.

Prepare a Backup Plan

We are all thrilled that everything appears to be returning to normal, and school leaders should take advantage of this slight reprieve to solidify their backup plans. Now is the time for leadership teams to be as proactive as possible and create multiple backup plans that can quickly and easily be implemented in times of future uncertainty.

Educators have already been under so much stress, so providing them with clear communication and enough time in the future to prepare for transitions will help lessen their worries and make sure they feel prepared to handle potential uncertainties.

Encourage Teacher Participation

Teachers want to be heard and seen as all school district leaders are working together to make sure that their students are supported. Our faculty let us know that they would like to present ideas during professional developments so we have been giving them that opportunity, which also lends itself to building capacity within your staff.

Take the time to highlight teachers’ accomplishments regularly in your school’s morning news or school newsletter to showcase how they are making a difference and to share your appreciation for all that they have been doing.

Consider Using School Funds to Pay Teachers for After-School Activities

Some educators would love the opportunity to make extra money after school by participating in after-school planning or attending personal development sessions. Paying teachers to lead an after-school program is a great option as well.

We have also paid teachers on a completely voluntary basis to work with students to preview material. This supports both the educators, who can make some extra money, as well as the students, who may need help catching up on their learning as a result of pandemic-caused lags.

Reducing teacher turnover is a major undertaking that should not be handled by one person. Implementing some of these ideas and working together as a united team to solve this issue will work wonders. Having multiple perspectives on how best to retain educators will not only result in a more diverse group of ideas, but will also provide the support needed to successfully implement them district-wide.

About the Author

Whitney Green is the assistant principal at Ooltewah High School, which is part of Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tenn. Her school district has roughly 79 schools with a variety of demographics, including low-income rural and urban students, as well as upper-middle-class suburban students.