Changing School Culture to Retain and Recruit Teachers
It’s no secret American teachers are experiencing more stress and career frustration than ever before. Constant critique, attacks in social media, unrealistic expectations, and new job requirements are taking a toll on educators.
According to a recent article in The Washington Post, experts point to a confluence of factors, including pandemic-induced teacher exhaustion, low pay, and some educators’ sense that politicians and parents—and sometimes their own school board members—have little respect for their profession. This all comes amid an escalating educational culture war that has seen many districts and states pass policies and laws restricting what teachers can say about U.S. history, race, racism, gender, and LGBTQ issues.
Short-Term Fixes vs. Sustained Change
There are myriad short-term measures being used to immediately address teacher shortages, from offering better pay to increasing the pool of people who qualify as educators to bumping up class sizes. But as Dawn Etcheverry, president of the Nevada State Education Association, told The Post: “When you start to double classes, teachers don’t have that one-on-one with the students, that personal ability to understand what the student needs”—both academically and socially. These temporary fixes, she concludes, are likely to harm students by diminishing their ability to learn.
Clearly, things need to improve in the American education system. But widespread change is a lofty goal, and sustainable change across school culture requires strong leadership.
Who’s Responsible for Culture Change?
Change must be systemic, consistent, and campus wide, and while teachers are also a critical element to driving it, true culture change needs to originate from leadership to significantly impact the current environment.
According to Thomas Murray, co-author of Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools Today, a school’s culture is everyone’s responsibility. But the principal, Murray maintains, sets the tone. “Principals that allow all team members, from custodial and kitchen staff to teachers and support staff, to make positive contributions to the school community, while holding those who deter a positive school culture accountable, will foster a high-quality working environment for staff and an excellent learning environment for students,” he writes.
Numerous studies about effective school leadership focus on four key concepts that contribute to a positive school culture. These four concepts, along with some basic leadership reminders from Murray, are fully explored in a new Lexia® Education Insight, “The Big Resignation: What Leaders Can Do to Retain Good Educators and Recruit New Talent.”
- Organizational Knowledge
- Use of Data
- Positive Beliefs and High Expectations
This list is just the beginning. A strong equity and inclusion policy and commitment to social emotional teaching and learning also are critical, and require attention and modeling in everything taught, discussed, and observed.
Changing the School Culture
Creating a school culture where students and faculty flourish and benefit from a positive environment and high expectations should be the goal of every principal and district leader.
As previously mentioned, teachers currently feel “under attack,” which contributes to low morale and frustration. Creating a learning community—where students, teachers, and parents thrive; where all stakeholders are valued for their contributions; and where innovation and dedication are rewarded—is a strategy that can combat turnover and retain teachers.
Moving Forward: Remember the Basics
Murray, who serves as director of innovation for Future Ready Schools®, says some basics of leadership go a long way to creating a school culture that may reduce the loss of qualified teachers and improve morale and job satisfaction. While they may seem obvious to some, Murray’s tips bear repeating:
- Lead by example.
- Cultivate teacher leadership.
- Balance leadership and management.
- Show support staff they matter.
- Make meetings meaningful.
- Address that which is unprofessional.
- Show staff you care.
Keeping these points in mind, school leaders have a blueprint for creating campus wide culture change that values teacher and staff contributions and creates a culture of high expectations, positivity, and trust. You can download our Insight that outlines the four key factors outlined earlier and strategies for applying them (and dives into Murray’s suggestions, too).
Putting evidence-based leadership models into place allows educators to create a positive school culture that nurtures both teachers and students and helps school leaders recruit and retain the best teachers.
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