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- Explicitly plan to support new teachers.
- Invest in people – even if it means they leave.
- Ensure milestones are passed and celebrated.
- Focus on the culture and relationships within your staff.
- Develop a whole-school approach that maximises student engagement.
Two alarming statistics have made their way into the national education conversation in recent years. We’ve been aware for some time that many jurisdictions are coping with 30-50% of their teachers leaving the profession permanently within the first five years of service. Alarming as this is, we’ve taken some comfort in the apparent quarantining of that problem to young or inexperienced teachers.
More recently, we’ve been made aware that 20% of ALL teachers have seriously contemplated resignation, not just from their schools, but from their teaching careers in the last term. This damning statistic is a reflection on all of us and should impel us to action rather than blame.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves…”
– Viktor Frankl
One problem in how we devise responses to problems like these, is that we try to solve them locally – by thinking about OUR teachers and OUR staff, but this problem is far more systemic. The first step towards solving a problem is admitting that there is one. Let’s define this problem as a significant proportion of disenfranchised teachers in our ranks, particularly among young and new-to-profession teachers.
The two key components of this problem are:
- The youth of the teachers taking on full teaching responsibility.
- The landscape in which these teachers are working.
If we adopt three key lenses for each problem we can make significant progress. First, the youth issue and what motivates the Gen Ys and Millennials. These colleagues are characterised by a tendency to job-hop and a complete acceptance of the idea of several employers, and even careers, across a lifetime. They are typically retained in organisations through three clear foci:
- Investment – young employees leave organisations where they feel that the emphasis is more to take, or demand performance than to give, or develop capacity. In schools, the lesson is always to invest selflessly in young people to make them better teachers, even when it feels like we’re preparing them to leave. As an illustration, the focus, therefore, needs not only to be training them in the school’s specific maths program but in broadening and sharpening their awareness of a wider array of maths pedagogies. The return on this investment is twofold. Not only are young people who feel invested in more likely to stay, but the age of viral communication means that you are positioning your school as a go to destination for the other teachers in their networks.
- Improvement – Young people are obsessed with progress. The leadership imperative is therefore to ensure that milestones are celebrated and that the passing of strategic objectives are acknowledged. Even better, allow your people to see the progress towards these goals in some way. In 2008 my school’s leadership team held a special hot lunch where they made a placemat from the positive NAPLAN and attendance data we’d achieved. The lunch was held just when staff were feeling stressed and tired. Only recently, a colleague from that time spoke to me about that very lunch. She remembered that it was a hot lunch, not what she ate, but she certainly remembered the placemats.
- Culture – Young people are considerably more likely to stay in an environment that values collaboration, that explicitly focuses on relationships and that actively fosters positive communication. Culture counts.
The previous three points allow a genuine focus on the people who are likely to be lost to the teaching calling. At the same time, it is crucial to look at the calling itself, and to examine the stresses on teachers and school leaders. Interestingly, little work has been done on the combined stresses of these two cohorts, but a synthesis clearly reveals that there are three major stressors for us all, reducing our wellbeing and deflating our capacity:
- Student Behaviour – Engaging young people, who would rather be on an Xbox, in academic content remains the great challenge for today’s teachers. Further, it is not the experience of the behaviour that causes anxiety, but the absence of a plan for its improvement. A comprehensive whole-school approach, like Restorative Practices, is a must.
- Workload – Over programming in schools is now an enormous threat. Resist the urge to add programs and compliances, and aim to simplify improvement agendas instead of expanding them.
- Issues with Parents and Carers – Explicitly training our teachers to handle parent and carer complaints and conflict, while simultaneously developing a working communications plan that brings parents and carers out of an adversarial relationship with the school and into partnership is critical to retaining good staff. Think about the quality and expertise in our messages, but also the channels we use to communicate. The assembly and the newsletter, while still valid, are no longer sufficient.
ABC News Article.
Bibliography: Abc.net.au. (2019). New research finds 30-50% of teachers leave within first five years. [online]
Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2015/s4390237.htm