Making Room for Joy: How to Attract and Retain Great Teachers
Any time our offices are closed for holidays or long weekends, I feel like I have received one of the greatest gifts possible: the gift of time. During a recent break, 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 for 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. I needed to be able to think on my feet, with my heart and head, and be agile and resilient.
Teaching is not for the faint of heart. It 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 give everything they have to do whatever it takes 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 acknowledge the economic reality of being a teacher, but I am not an economist, and I 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 still 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, and 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 where it 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 with which teachers support the development and learning of children.
Here are six 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 teachers?
- 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 and 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 enhances their sense of purpose and belonging also play a significant role. Throughout the 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 and that we hope save teachers time and energy so they can invest it in teaching, in finding joy in their classrooms.
There are eight 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 the teacher to scaffold the amount of support each child needs 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 Creative Curriculum Cloud.
- Encourage ownership of their professional development with flexible and convenient options and personalized learning journeys, such as those provided by the Teaching Strategies professional development Teacher Membership.
- 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 curated playlists from The Creative Curriculum Cloud or 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 offer content that is inspiring and joyful. Here is to joyful learning for everyone in our schools and centers, children and teachers alike.