Thursday, October 29, 2015

Teacher retention

Business sees value in customer retention; studies have shown that new customer recruitment costs 5 - 30 times as much as keeping an existing customer. Surely the same is true of teachers, especially when the processes of understanding and adapting to a new school and a new culture and of developing relationships with superiors, colleagues, students and parents, all of which can take two years, are taken into account. So how can schools improve teacher retention?

Sadly, no magic bullet exists. Schools are complex and dynamic organisms and so any efforts towards retention must reflect the sum of the parts rather than the parts themselves, however it is probably fair to say that typical "market" approaches will not succeed

Many studies have been done on the matter of "satisfiers" and "disatsifiers" for teachers. Satisfiers keep them happy and likely to stay; disatisfiers have them crafting resumes. In general terms, teachers like to feel valued, to be part of a team and to have good colleagues and supportive superiors. They like clear lines, boundaries and expectations. They like to be successful and able to achieve in terms of their students and programs rather than personally. They like to complain in the sense of letting off steam rather then being destructive. Above all, teachers like to feel empowered and that they can make decisions in the best interests of their students and programs. Teachers are not significantly motivated by salary, bonuses, competitions, merit pay and as long as they feel that they receive a fair salary (defining "fair" is of course a challenge), they are content.

So why do schools lose teachers? I can think of one where four young teachers were recruited out-of-state, to replace teachers who had previously left after one or two years only, and all four left after one year. While there were clearly recruiting issues, in my opinion the fundamental problem lay with the Head. She told me that she practised "delegated leadership" which I think was a non-understanding of "distributed leadership". In any case, she essentially gave all aspects of her managerial functions to the staff.

The result was no clear direction or reporting lines or responsibility, no unltimate decision-maker, colleagues judging colleagues, sigificant failings when some of the "delegees" failed to perform which in turn brought other issues and conflicts and so on. As a result, the school was deeply unhappy, and full of teachers who could not leave, perhaps for family commitments or even a lack of competency in terms of finding other positions and these teachers were deeply negative-. Parents and the community complaind constantly because of the various failings which led to individual appeasements, thus inconsistencies and feelings of unfairness.

In another school, a new Board chair re-directed discussion from the value of the fees to their level or price. So fees were held rather than increased, and salaries were frozen. Price complaints which had never before been heard became louder and more frequent and the next year, fees were again frozen and this time,salaries were cut. Teachers felt unvalued, they resented feeling as if they were commodities like burgers to be compared with other fast-food providers and they began leaving. Within three years, almost 80% of the staff left compared with 0% in the preceding five years.

In another school, a Board member socialised with two of the teachers and inevitably they began talking about school. These second-year teachers had not worked in another school, and had not worked or even experienced any challenging environments. The Board member did not understand a teacher´s need simply to vent, but instead of speaking to the Head as she should have, she took the matters to the Board which took the iceberg-perspective (you only ever see 1/9 of any situation) and decided things must be bad despite enrolment growth, financial stability, program success, staff retention etc. They began ignoring good practice, involving themselves in the school´s operations, and soon the Head left, his replacement lasted one semester, the school became generally unhappy and about a third of the families and half the teachers then left. All this resulted from the lack of a clear leader and of clear lines and expectations.

To be sure, this topic deserves fuller discussion, however what is clear is that leadership equals satisfaction equals retention.

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