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Reducing Turnover in Schools: Three truths to retaining great teachers

Simply put, our kids need great teachers. Great teachers, in turn, need help in making this difficult work sustainable over time.

Hope Education Research Solutions serves clients by helping them clarify a vision for and actively work towards the long-term success of their programs. A large part of program success is the professional development of its staff, which can play a key role in reducing turnover and increasing overall effectiveness. In this guest blog post, Kati Vaughn of the newly launched Stay the Course proposes a person-centered solution for improving educator satisfaction and retention, to ultimately keep great talent in schools.

A year ago…six months ago…heck, three months ago, if you had told me I would be launching my own education coaching venture, I would have laughed in your face. For my entire adult life, I have enjoyed the luxury of a steady paycheck and vacation time and consistent matching contributions to my retirement account.

So, what made me take this leap of faith? Well, first of all, I have an incredibly supportive partner named Tyler, who is a kind and generous soul. He patiently listened as I asked, “Well, what if..?” and “How about…?” and “Couldn’t I just…?” Y’all, find yourself someone who doesn’t mind when visions for your start-up come to you at 7:30 am on a Saturday morning, or during halftime of a Cavs game.

Those ramblings were deeply rooted in my passion for working with teachers, and my beliefs around what they need to not just be successful but to stay in the work a long time. Those beliefs have been shaped by the realities of the teaching experience in our country:

Teachers are more than deliverers of content; they are caregivers, attachment figures, mentors.

Teachers work hard, but it’s not just about clocking in and out each day. Teaching requires emotional labor. Especially in today’s political climate, and with growing pressures associated with social media, our students come to us with a unique set of social, emotional, and cognitive needs.

Teachers are leaving at a higher rate than ever before, especially teachers of color. This matters because our rapidly diversifying student population deserves to see themselves reflected at the front of the classroom and at the principal’s desk.

Simply put, our kids need great teachers. Great teachers, in turn, need help in making this difficult work sustainable over time. We can preach the importance of self-care and work-life balance, but why should we wait until teachers are exhausted and overwhelmed to encourage wellness? Instead, let’s help them develop the habits, skills, and mindsets necessary to navigate the ups and downs of the work.

Based on a decade of working with students, teachers, and school leaders, I believe that educators are better able to sustain their efforts and impact over time when three foundational truths are evident in both their work in the classroom and throughout their school environments:

  • Educators can clearly define success for themselves and their students. When teachers and students are clear on and excited about their goals for the year, every day has a purpose. Teachers know what is expected of them as members of the school community, and students can articulate why their learning matters to them.

  • Educators keep equity and inclusiveness at the center of all they do. Working in schools means working with people. Who we are - our identity markers, our lived experiences - shapes how we teach and lead. In order to create responsive classrooms, and to effectively work alongside others, we must develop cultural competence and true empathy.

  • Educators operate with an awareness of self and others, a critical characteristic of emotionally intelligent leaders. As models of self regulation for students, teachers and leaders must be able to understand, talk about, and manage their own emotions especially in times of stress or when we feel overwhelmed. When we strengthen our self-awareness, we can also be more attuned to others’ needs and feelings.

It is time we acknowledge the deeply personal efforts of educators who work hard for our students, so we can ultimately keep our best talent in schools. Educators deserve the opportunity to reflect on, refocus, and reignite their efforts at school, both as individuals or as valued members of their teams. Let’s make the job itself sustainable, by honoring their “heart” work.

Stay the Course works to improve teacher satisfaction and retention in high-need communities through coaching and workshops for teachers and leaders. If you’re interested in learning more about how Stay the Course can help you or your school, head to the website or Facebook page and reach out for a free consultation. Whether you are a teacher who simply wants time and space to restore your energy and efforts, or a school leader seeking help in achieving your vision for a thriving school community, Stay the Course is here to serve you.


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