Teacher turnover is rising to new highs in the United States amid spiking stress levels and frustration with the educational system. To combat the problem, the education sector needs to put strategies in place to help improve teachers’ morale and increase their job satisfaction. Happier teachers equate to happier classrooms and higher-quality lessons, all of which are key to increasing teacher retention.
Fortunately, many of the viable strategies listed below can be easily implemented with the right management and planning within schools and colleges. By putting teachers first and giving them a voice, the whole sector can benefit. Teachers will be more content and more likely to have strong, positive feelings about the profession. These strategies include establishing mentorship, programs and improving working conditions, among others.
Establish mentorship programs
Teaching can be stressful, so having a person or mentor to lean on for support and advice during difficult moments can make a huge difference. In their “Stopping the Revolving Door” study, Brill and McCartney argue that mentoring programs are the single-most effective method for providing the help and support teachers need to thrive in their roles while also decreasing the chances of them leaving the profession entirely in the long term. This is because mentors can offer structured, positive feedback and inspiration.
Mentorship programs also provide teachers with a platform to discuss their problems and share resources and new ideas, which can help them address challenges, develop creative ways to deliver lessons and reduce the burden of laborious tasks. When teachers converse with each other and mentors, they gain a greater sense of accomplishment from their work. They also won’t feel like they are isolated and on their own, which is a mindset that is likely to lead to stress and burnout.
Another key aspect of mentoring occurs when a teacher first enters the profession. High-quality orientation is crucial for successfully “onboarding” teachers during the formative months of their careers so they don’t feel lost or overwhelmed. Advice and support during this critical stage can strengthen positive feelings about teaching. It will also put robust fundamentals in place to enable new teachers to be more effective in their roles. Mentorship initiatives benefit everyone involved then, including the school, college or university.
Foster collegial support
The support of a broader network of peers can also play a vital role in improving retention and job satisfaction. While having a single mentor or leadership figure to look up to and learn from is important, regular interactions with like-minded teachers will create a sense of camaraderie and friendship, ensuring a novice isn’t left isolated and alone. A strategy that could be deployed to improve collegial support is setting up daily meeting hours and creating relaxing and inviting spaces where teachers can switch off for a few minutes. Studies show supportive and friendly peer-to-peer interactions vastly enhance job satisfaction levels.
A strong support structure makes it more likely that teachers will be content in the long term, too, as they will not feel neglected or have negative perceptions about the profession. To ensure the right work culture is nurtured in school environments, experts recommend acknowledging hard work and highlighting success stories during meetings. Assigning an assistant to a new teacher can also reduce the burden of a heavy workload and help colleagues to get to grips with the day-to-day challenges of “managing” students and classrooms.
Set up reflective supervision
While support from colleagues can be hugely beneficial in emotional terms, it is unlikely to push teachers forward professionally. This is where reflective supervision can be transformative. The key term here is “reflective”, as this supervision differs from traditional methods by providing teachers with a nonjudgmental and collaborative support system with a designated supervisor.
The supervisor will not be critical or expect teachers to meet specific strict objectives, but will instead encourage them to reflect on how classes have evolved over time and to consider how they could potentially improve on the interactions they have had with students in the past. This is a collaborative learning process, not a judgmental one where teachers are expected to be perfect at all times.
Teachers with experience of reflective supervision say it removes some of the stigma associated with the process of supervision, which can often elicit feelings of anxiousness or dread. The nonjudgmental support system instead gives teachers the opportunity to become more self-aware and recognize their own skill or knowledge gaps. Research shows that this can reduce stress and increase feelings of self-accomplishment, which can help to improve job satisfaction and retention.
Provide professional development opportunities
Creating an excellent work culture in schools goes a long way toward improving the mental and physical health of teachers. However, teachers are unlikely to be fulfilled or happy in their job roles in the long term if they don’t have access to professional development opportunities. Teachers, like employees in other professions, want to feel like they are taking steps forward in their careers and that they have the tools at their disposal to achieve certain goals and objectives.
Teachers will already have an extensive professional knowledge base, so the concept of ongoing learning is likely to be ingrained in them. One area of development that can transform a teacher’s job prospects is leadership, especially if they want to become a principal. An online Spalding University Doctorate in Education online will enable teachers to complete a comprehensive leadership program, covering such concepts as ethical leadership and problem-solving.
Teachers enrolling into leadership programs in this way can earn a doctorate completely online, so they don’t have to leave their jobs or relocate to a different state. Learning advanced leadership concepts will prepare graduates for a wide range of roles across the industry, such as being a principal, department leader, chancellor or dean. Providing teachers with opportunities to complete courses like this is proven to increase job engagement and mitigate the risks of burnout and disenchantment.
Teachers that engage in professional development will also be better equipped to deal with challenges that arise in the classroom and more efficient in their own work at planning and preparing lessons and implementing new teaching materials and methods. This all contributes to a better classroom environment, for both teacher and student.
Promote teacher engagement
Increasing the autonomy of teachers and giving them a platform to be seen and heard will drive engagement and reduce the likelihood that they will be disillusioned with the profession and burnt out. Teaching can be very bureaucratic at times, which can make teachers feel like they are swimming against the tide with policy-makers and those above them. A report by the Specialist Interest Group (SIG) in the UK calls for greater autonomy for teachers to combat the problem.
Teachers should be able to have direct input in important decisions, especially those that will affect them. They should also have the freedom to develop curriculums for different subjects rather than merely acting on strategies and materials created by others. Unfortunately, the SIG report found high-ranking executives are still responsible for the vast majority of key decisions, which is reducing the autonomy of principals and teachers.
Moving forward, this imbalance should be addressed with a focus on recognizing the importance of teachers and the value of their contributions. Promoting engagement is important, but it could also manifest in perks like a better work and home-life balance, effective feedback channels and higher pay. Everything should be done to keep teachers in the loop, to converse with them transparently and provide them with opportunities to develop and grow in their careers.
Advocate physical and mental well-being
Improving work conditions will enable teachers to perform better and be happier and more content in classrooms. However, the benefits of an optimal school environment can be lost if a teacher is unaware of the importance of physical and mental health. Promoting physical and mental well-being will give teachers the tools to reduce stressors and mitigate the risks of anxiety and depression from developing. Teachers are at risk of these conditions if they don’t practice mindfulness regularly.
A strategy to improve well-being would involve allowing teachers to take mindfulness breaks during the day. A recent study found that teachers who were able to take just a 15-minute break two or three times a day were much more energetic and focused. A mid-morning and afternoon break helps teachers to rest and focus on themselves. In contrast, a day without breaks can leave teachers feeling stressed and exhausted.
Schools and colleges should, therefore, give teachers the opportunity to have physical and mental reprieves away from classrooms and screens. They should be encouraged to go outside, undertake brief exercises or indulge in a relaxing hobby, like reading. Schools could even create designated relaxing spaces where teachers can meditate or do yoga. These short breaks, like power naps, are an incredibly powerful way to destress and restore physical and cognitive energy for the rest of the day.
Allow planning and reflection
Another process that can help a teacher’s well-being is effective planning and reflection. A study by Kilgallon et al. found that teachers who are given the chance to plan at certain points during the day are more committed and satisfied in their roles. Teachers should always have the chance, during working hours — not late at night or very early in the morning — to gather materials and plan for classes. When teachers have to use their own personal time for these tasks, it can lead to exhaustion and burnout.
Various other studies have claimed that planning, as well as reflection, should be a priority during a teacher’s workday. Reflecting on previous lessons and routines can help teachers to make positive changes. Giving them the time during the day to do this will again boost satisfaction while helping to improve the overall quality of lessons.
Monitor teacher retention
Putting strategies in place to increase retention is vital, but each district in the US should be actively monitoring retention rates to ensure that there is an improvement in this area over time. There are certain goals that those at the district level can target and link to key performance indicators (KPIs). For example, creating a diverse workforce across a wide range of demographics, including age, race and gender, is important. Making sure each of these workers is happy and content, not just a single demographic, is crucial.
Districts can monitor retention based on other factors, such as qualification and experience levels, to again ensure the workforce is well-rounded and that more teachers are actually happy and willing to remain in the profession in the long term. Analyzing different working conditions, such as salary, can help, too. Stakeholders and key decision-makers need to know whether higher rates of pay can boost retention, for example.
Improve wages and benefits
A final strategy to increase retention is to regularly review the wages and benefits of teachers. While better pay doesn’t address many of the other challenges teachers face, it can help to sustain morale. Offering additional benefits and perks as part of the job can also address the work and life imbalance many teachers face. A strategy where those in power prioritize benefits, such as pensions and health insurance, can pay dividends in the long term as teachers will feel like they have a future in the sector and are more willing to remain committed to their roles.
All these strategies can contribute to increasing a teacher’s job satisfaction which is vital in today’s educational sector as churn rates increase and more people look to leave the profession due to stress and burnout. The main takeaway is that establishing a robust support system via mentorship, colleague support and reflective supervision, and providing teachers with the opportunity to relax and unwind during the day, is an excellent starting point. Those in power can then improve other aspects, like work conditions and provide professional development opportunities to lay the long-term foundations for increased retention and job satisfaction. Teachers are worth investing in as they will be integral to the educational sector for decades to come.