This week we've invited Laura Bilbrey, Director of Customer Success, to relfect on her past experience as an educator and how programs can work towards improving teacher and staff retention.
Over the holidays, our offices were closed, and I received one of the greatest gifts possible, the gift of time. I spent this time joyfully catching up and celebrating with family and dear friends, including a blast from my past, my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Watkins.
My elementary school was a very old building, built in the 1920s in a working-class neighborhood. In retrospect, it was actually pretty decrepit, but I didn’t know that at the time. It was a haven for many of us, and when we arrived at our decrepit little school each day, we were met by the most caring, committed, and dedicated team of teachers you can imagine. After chatting with Mrs. Watkins (and learning that she, my 3rd and 4th grade teachers, and our principal all had a secret card-playing group they belonged to) I couldn’t get thoughts of teachers and the role they play in the education of all children off my mind.
A Challenging, Yet Rewarding Career
I was a teacher and an administrator for many years before coming to work at Teaching Strategies. When I think back on my years in the classroom, I can’t help but think of the commitment it required – the time planning and researching, the physical and emotional energy it took to be present and meet the needs of each student each day. Some of those needs , I could anticipate and plan for, while others took me by surprise and caused me to think on my feet, with my heart and head, and to be agile and resilient.
Teaching is not for the faint of heart and was some of the hardest and most challenging work I’ve ever done. At the same time, it was work that brought me more joy than I can articulate. So, what is it we can do to both attract and retain the best teachers – the Mrs. Watkins’s of the world, the teachers, who like me and so many others give everything they have to do whatever it takes, each day, to reach and impact every child in their classrooms?
What can we do to help cultivate and make room for joy in teaching?
It would be disrespectful to address teacher retention and not address the economic reality of being a teacher, but I am not an economist, and sadly don’t have viable solutions to this age-old challenge. What I do know is that when I look back, salary and economics were not paramount for me. Yes, I struggled to make ends meet, I think I deserved more pay for the work that being a great teacher required, and I believe that today about every teacher in every classroom, but when I think about my time teaching, what stands out for me is the joy. The joy that was evident in the interactions in my classroom, on the faces of the children as they engaged in meaningful learning, the joy I felt at the end of the day knowing I made a difference.
Apart from addressing pay equity and the demand for increased salaries, what can we do to both attract and retain teachers? If you do a quick search for teacher satisfaction it will return results that cover a large continuum of time, from various countries, from early childhood through secondary education, yet there are some very clear and consistent findings.
Just like we ask teachers to build a classroom community - a place of belonging, where everyone’s voice is heard, a place that is safe to experiment and take risks, where there is the right amount of challenge or scaffolding in place – teachers also want this type of community for themselves.
Teachers want to have a supportive community of professionals with leadership that listens, responds, and inspires. They want to have a voice as well as the tools and resources they need to do their work successfully. Teachers also need to be scaffolded and offered the right amount of stretch to help them grow. Much of what we know about meeting the needs of children also applies to meeting the needs of adults.
Administrators focused on staff recruitment and retention have the opportunity to support the growth and development of teachers with the same intentionality teachers support the development and learning of children.
Here are 6 questions leaders and administrators should consider when evaluating retention and recruitment efforts:
- Does the physical environment convey positive messages and how can its effectiveness be measured?
- Is this a place intentionally set up to welcome and nurture them?
- Do they have the tools and resources to help them engage in intentional teaching?
- What about the social-emotional environment? Are teachers able to build and maintain meaningful, supportive relationships with leaders and coaches?
- How do we listen to teachers, observe and respond to their needs?
- How do we hold ourselves accountable or measure the success of our efforts to demonstrate our commitment to teachers?
While economics certainly play a role in teacher recruitment and retention, research indicates that factors such as strong, fair, and inspirational leadership, opportunities to learn and grow professionally, and a team or community of teachers that enhance their sense of purpose and belonging also play a significant role. As we enter into the New Year, I encourage leaders and administrators to look at how they do for teachers what we ask teachers to do for students.
Leaders and administrators, I encourage you to reflect upon your school community and environment. As an administrator, have you created a teaching community that is similar to the learning environment that is outlined in The Creative Curriculum®? Do you offer guidance that effectively supports intentional instruction as well as employee satisfaction?
At Teaching Strategies, we will continue to work to fulfill our mission of providing innovative, effective, and time-saving resources that empower and inspire educators as they teach and care for our young learners. Resources that we hope save teacher’s time and energy so they can invest it in teaching, in finding joy in their classrooms.
There are 8 key ways that we can continue to support the professional needs of teachers:
- Develop thoughtful and exciting content that teachers can use to create a joyful classroom full of inquiry, exploration, risk, and discovery with The Creative Curriculum®
- Provide guidance on creating a classroom community. The First Six Weeks resources focus on building a strong foundation of community that will support future investigations and content learning
- Offer materials that allow for the teacher to scaffold the amount of support needed to succeed – our resources offer step by step suggestions for a beginning teacher, yet allow flexibility in how much support a teacher needs as she progresses
- Provide tools, such as GOLD®, that help teachers organize their observations and data to inform their teaching
- Offer tools and resources that help teachers use assessment data to inform and individualize their instruction, such as the Digital Curriculum Resources found in the Teach area of MyTeachingStrategies™
- Encourage ownership of their professional development with flexible and convenient online professional development modules, like those found in the Develop area of MyTeachingStrategies™
- Help them tell the learning story of their classroom and students to both administrators and families through GOLD® portfolios and/or tadpoles®
- Offer teachers curated resources to share with families so each child is offered the best opportunities both at school and home, like the Modeled Moments accessible through ReadyRosie™
It’s our goal to provide strategies and solutions that save teachers time, help them use data to be the best teacher they can be and to offer content that is inspiring and joyful.
Here is to joyful learning for everyone in our schools and centers, children and teachers alike.
What brings joy to your Early Childhood Education program?
Please share your ideas and success stories in the comments section below!