4 Tips for Sustaining Teachers

November 2014, Volume 38, Issue 3

Today’s principals struggle to hire, grow, and sustain teacher leaders. More than 40 percent of new teachers leave within the first five years of entry into the profession, a statistic that should cause principals to reflect on their hiring practices, induction efforts, and school culture. Teacher leadership is difficult to foster when teachers are fleeing the profession.

In order to ensure that the teachers they hire are successful for years to come, principals must develop a comprehensive and inclusive approach to growing sustainable teacher leadership. If principals adopt consistent practices in four key areas—hiring, induction and support, observation and evaluation, and professional development— they can improve teacher retention and focus their efforts on growing teacher leadership.

1. Hiring

Growing sustainable leadership begins with the hiring process. A few simple practices can dramatically increase the odds of hiring the next teacher of the year candidate:

Hire by committee. Let your teachers help select their next colleague. This immediately improves your new employee’s chances of being successful because peers will be invested in his or her future. New teachers who have colleagues looking out for them will find it hard to fail.

Ask questions that are based on your school’s values. Develop questions that evoke the responses you want (e.g., ask candidates to give an example of how they have collaborated with other teachers to meet the needs of students).

Call references. Surprisingly, many principals skip this basic step. Even if you already know who you want to hire, take the time to call references. It could save you from hiring the wrong person.

Avoid hiring from desperation. Principals often advertise positions and interview at the last minute. Be patient. Hire a long-term sub if necessary, but don’t hire someone just to check it off your “to do” list.

2. Support

Once your new hire begins teaching, you need to provide the support to get him or her off to a strong start. Planning for the induction and support process shows new employees they are valued and that you recognize that their needs are different. In its 2012 Teacher Induction Discussion Guide, The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) provides suggestions for the scope and structure of teacher induction programs. The guide suggests that comprehensive teacher induction programs include the following:

  • Support for new teachers for at least two years;
  • High-quality mentoring using carefully selected and well-prepared mentors;
  • Regularly scheduled common planning time with other teachers;
  • Ongoing professional development; and
  • Standards-based evaluation of new teachers throughout the process.

3. Observation and Evaluation

The observation and evaluation process is a critical component in growing sustainable teacher leadership. Principals who focus on using teacher observation and evaluation to improve instruction will have more success than those who use it as a punitive tool. When observation and evaluation conferences include honest conversations about student performance, they are much more likely to lead to teacher growth.

4. Professional Development

The state of professional development (PD) in education is rapidly changing. Just like principals expect teachers to provide instruction to meet the needs of all learners, school leaders must provide the same for the developmental needs of their teachers. Professional development should be job embedded and inclusive of the needs of individual teachers.

In 2012, the Annenberg Innovation Lab brought together researchers, teachers, and school administrators from across the country to collaborate on a report titled Designing With Teachers: Participatory Approaches to Professional Development in Education. In constructing a framework for participatory professional development, the group identified four core values:

  1. Participation, not indoctrination. Everyone (teachers included) has a role in PD.
  2. Exploration, not prescription. Teachers have a say in the scope of PD. It should be individualized for their content area.
  3. Contextualization, not abstraction. PD is practical, meaningful, and immediately useful.
  4. Iteration, not repetition. PD is evaluated as an iterative process and the selection of PD comes from the examination of data.

Role of School Culture
Ultimately, teacher retention and development are products of school culture. A culture that values everyone’s contributions is able to thrive even when teacher turnover occurs. Principals who hire effectively, support new teachers, foster the observation process, and provide innovative PD greatly increase the likelihood that teachers will remain in, and contribute to, the profession.

Christopher Wooleyhand is principal of Richard Henry Lee Elementary School in Glen Burnie, Maryland, and an adjunct instructor of teacher leadership at McDaniel College.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2014 issue of Principal magazine.

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