Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Schools where teachers stay

Over the past school year I've been on the Recruitment, Development and Retention R&D Task Force. While a lot of my energies have been spent looking at recruitment, in particular the new Global Recruitment Collaborative launched by ASB last Fall, I've also read a lot about how best to develop the talent of the teachers already employed, and the factors that lead to a high percentage of teacher retention.  At ASB over the next 2 years our retention rate is predicted to be 95% according to our Superintendent Craig Johnson - so ASB is obviously getting it right!  Last week on Facebook, I noticed several shares of an article on the Shanker Blog regarding schools where teachers stay, improve and succeed.  For this post I'm therefore going to outline the main points and discuss how these fit with my own experience and observations in international schools.

In the article, Matthew Kraft and John Papay argue that it's important to consider teacher retention because teachers have such a large effect on student learning.  In addition how effective teachers are depends largely on how they are supported or constrained by the schools where they teach.  They argue that we traditionally treat teachers as if their effectiveness is fixed, which means that it is portable when they move from one school to the next.  However my research has shown the opposite: that talent isn't very portable because high performance depends on such things as resources, colleagues and climate of the school - so some teachers who are excellent in one school can end up doing poorly in another when they leave behind the resources, colleagues and support of the school where they have been successful.

Kraft and Papay agree that "the contexts in which teachers work profoundly shape teachers' job decisions and their effectiveness".  They explain that "teachers who work in supportive contexts stay in the classroom longer, and improve at faster rates, than their peers in less-supportive environments." Interestingly enough, it's the factors that are hard to measure that are the most influential in teacher retention.  These include the quality of relationships, collaboration among the staff, the responsiveness of school administrators and the academic and behavioural expectations for students. High rates of turnover relate to poor working environment: teachers' views of the following 6 factors in a school strongly predict whether or not they stay in a school and how much they improve professionally while employed there:
  1. Consistent order and discipline 
  2. Opportunities for peer collaboration
  3. Supportive principal leadership
  4. Effective professional development
  5. A school culture characterized by trust
  6. A fair teacher evaluation process providing meaningful feedback.
The good news is that working conditions in schools can improve over time, and that teachers are responsive to these changes.  A recent study from Harvard University indicates that school principals play a key role in establishing productive professional environments in schools.  My own experience confirms this.  It doesn't take long for a poor principal to destroy a collegial working environment, through the encouragement of such things as cronyism, micromanagement, bullying, rivalry and back-biting. At the same time, once such a destructive leader moves on, a school can regenerate itself fairly quickly by hiring a principal who can build a new culture of supporting teachers and students. Even if the poor principal stays, a teacher who is performing poorly can choose to completely regenerate him/herself by moving to a different school with a more positive working environment. And in such a school, that teacher is likely to stay.  

Photo Credit: rexboggs5 via Compfight cc

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