The expert in anything was once a beginner. ~ Helen Hayes
We’re going to put it right out there, the education profession is in trouble. Fewer-and-fewer teachers are entering into the profession, with over a 30% drop in teacher prep program enrollment. Couple this with an unprecedented number of teachers who want to leave the profession, and we are well within a serious crisis.
Teaching is an incredible and noble profession. The complexity of the job requires not only technical and content expertise, but also a profound love for kids. The degree of patience, understanding, and generosity needed to connect and motivate students is not common within other professions outside of education. Believing in the incredible and positive mark that we can have on a child seems to have somehow lost its allure. Regardless of the multitude of reasons why this is the case–ranging from pay to feeling unsupported–many potentially great teachers are not choosing this profession. We need to do something about it.
However, there are still great people who are entering the field, choosing to be classroom teachers. For those teachers, we applaud you. With that said, applause and a well-stocked teachers’ lounge aren’t enough. School leaders have an important role in supporting new teachers to substantially increase their chances of remaining in the profession. New teachers leave within their first five years at a much greater rate than those who leave after year five. Much of this is within an administrator’s control, which is why we put together the following strategies for school leaders who want to hire and retain the best staff.
Before, During, and After Hiring (BDA)
A well-known reading strategy that good readers inherently understand is called “before, during, and after,” (BDA) which refers to what good readers do before reading, during reading, and after reading a selected text. Simply described, good readers prepare themselves for the text of their choice by thinking about and connecting to prior knowledge; they ponder the text while reading by summarizing and pausing to improve comprehension; and then after reading, they reflect on the content of what they read. In doing so, they have stronger comprehension than readers who don’t use BDA successfully.
The same is true for employee motivation, support, and retention. Once a new teacher is identified and hired, the “after” part becomes critical in how we support them. For many new teachers, the next few months and years are pivotal.
Teachers with 1 to 5 years: The Vulnerable Valley
The first few years for a teacher are when they are most vulnerable. Doubt, fear, uncertainty–all emotions that work their way into a new teacher’s mind. Make no mistake, there is nothing like suddenly being in charge of a group of students who you have to educate. Words can’t describe the level of responsibility and inadequacy that many new teachers experience early in their careers. Despite this being normal and really okay for that matter, many new teachers struggle. Too many of them leave. The following five strategies create a meaningful support system for new teachers, and we hope that it helps with our ability to have them choose to stay instead.
The Definitive Five Ways to Support New Teachers
#1. Maintain high standards while providing support for growth
A culture of growth has a balance of pressure and support. High expectations grounded in support and encouragement yield results. School leaders who are supportive but don’t set high expectations not only support mediocrity but fail to tap into the human desire to get better.
Even worse is the leader who applies pressure through unsupported expectations. Without a structure of support–including resources and time–teachers experience burnout. The result of a high-pressure, highly supportive work environment is extreme growth. New teachers (and veterans) desire growth and progress and that feeling leads to greater rates of retention.
Pro Tip: Set meaningful and realistic goals early. Granted, there may be state-required metrics as well, but don’t let them be the only metrics used to establish meaningful benchmarks that demonstrate growth.
Example: Create meaningful formative assessments so that teachers can see their student’s progress, which leads to a greater sense of self-efficacy as a teacher.
#2. Increase productivity by being present and using praise
Relationships are everything. Leaders have to build connections with the people who they lead for increased motivation and retention. That means spending more time in their spaces and not in our offices or conference rooms. When you’re present as a leader, it’s easy to find quick moments to praise the work that people are doing. Use the One Minute Praise that Blanchard and Johnson teach. You can’t go wrong! This model of being present and giving genuine praise in the moment leads to productivity at a new level, and productive happy teachers are more apt to stay at their schools. To harness the power of praise, check out our four part praise model that we wrote in Retention for a Change.
Pro Tip: Praise needs to specifically identify what is being recognized. TheSchoolHouse302 Praise Model is research-based and designed to reinforce desired behaviors.
Example: “Jill, excellent job using the Muddiest Point check for understanding formative assessment. It’s a quick and easy way to identify an aspect of the lesson that students are struggling with or just need some additional clarification. Taking time and going back to see what needs more clarity is critical. Great work!”
#3. Balance risk and autonomy to unlock innovation
“Any sector of business depends and thrives on fresh, original thinking, taking chances, and exploring new ideas.” Teaching is no different. Leaders who support new ideas, encourage risk-taking, and praise out-of-the-box thinking drive innovation. Teaching is an art and a science that needs to be supported, encouraged and honored. An environment that supports creativity creates highly motivated and loyal individuals who are apt to try new strategies, create new lessons, and find unique ways to reach every student. New teachers want to know that they can challenge the status quo and pave a path for the future of education.
Pro Tip: Encourage teachers to use specific strategies, skills, or technology that are learned during professional development experiences and invite yourself to see them fail in action. Walkthroughs don’t have to be a “gotcha.” In fact, they should be a tool to observe and coach, especially when teachers are learning a new skill. Support them when they fall and treat that as normal.
Example: Instructional technology is fairly common in schools, but it is reported that 30% of software licenses that get used, only 2.4% are used intensively. That’s a lot of waste! Consider your RTI or MTSS initiative and the technology and diagnostic assessments used to support them. Are they being used? And, if so, to what extent? Maybe the expectation isn’t clear that they should be trying these new tools despite the fact that they might not work at first.
#4. Communicate the expectations of the position
Another aspect of teacher motivation, support, and retention comes through quality feedback. Whether this is through a formal evaluation system or walkthroughs, if you want your new teachers to grow, feedback is king. Your feedback should be aligned to the goals of the school and district, should be frequent, and should be easy to implement. The appraisal system must continue to communicate to the teacher about their role long after they are hired into it, and it should support their sense of belonging through a refocus on their purpose each time you meet one-on-one. We call for frequent walkthroughs, quality feedback, and more face-to-face meetings about performance. Let the teacher know you care about them by investing in them. Performance feedback is a lot less daunting when someone knows that you believe in them, which is especially true for new people.
Pro Tip: Feedback should be built around TheSchoolHouse302 Meaningful Feedback Model–A.F.A. This model is designed to ensure growth and forward progress.
Example: “Joe, very nice job with today’s turn-and-talk. Not only was the strategy used effectively, it demonstrates your ability to use what we learned in our faculty meeting this month. Student voice matters and so does your ability to make adjustments based on professional learning in our school. Fantastic!”
#5. Provide meaningful mentorship
In Leading an Inspired Life, Jim Rohn writes, “Don’t take the casual approach to life.” Casualness leads to casualties. Seek out the mentors who you need and will lead you to greatness in your field.” Although Rohn is not writing to the leader, we like to look at it through that lens. Administrators who take supporting, coaching, and growing novice teachers casually, will only end up with casualties. Provide mentors who are skilled at planning, at managing time, at navigating difficult situations, and who are inspirational. Also, don’t consider years of experience to be a determining factor for a great mentor; sometimes, the best mentors are the ones who were just mentees a year or two ago.
Pro Tip: Mentors should have training, be paid, have clear guidelines, and a well-developed checklist to use on a monthly basis. Below is just a quick sample of a checklist that can be used on Day One. Notice all of the items are basic. However, don’t let that fool you. It is the simple things that we don’t want to gloss over that can cause the greatest frustrations.
TheSchoolHouse302 Mentor/Mentee Checklist
When school leaders use these five strategies with new people, they’re far more likely to stay in their schools and in the profession. All educators have to play a role in keeping our best and brightest new people in the spirits needed to make it past year five. Principals and assistant principals have a serious responsibility in this work, and we want to help you to make the difference that you set out to make when you became an educational leader.
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We can’t wait to hear from you.