4 ways a big online school is engaging and retaining its teachers

Florida Virtual School has built a culture based on support, training, and open communication.

Teacher shortages are at a crisis level. More than half of teachers say they’re thinking about quitting, according to a poll from the National Education Association. With rural school districts in Texas switching to four-day weeks due to a lack of staff and college students stepping up in Arizona to teach, school leadership and administrators are challenged to find solutions to keep their students learning.

It’s difficult to read news from around the nation and know that teachers, students, families, and education leaders are struggling. Throughout our careers, we’ve been teachers, instructional leaders, and now the directors of instruction for FlexPoint Education Cloud and Florida Virtual School.

Over the years, we’ve learned how to engage teachers to ensure they feel supported and appreciated so that we can retain their incredible talent and ensure our students’ needs are met. In fact, for FLVS, a fully accredited online public school district that serves more than 230,000 students annually, our teacher retention rate actually increased in the 2021-22 school year to 92.54%.

The reason? We have built a culture based on support, training, and open communication. To help school and district leaders like yourself engage and retain teachers, we’ve put together a list of tactics and tips that have proven successful:

1. Develop a supportive onboarding process

The first step to building trust with your teachers and staff is ensuring you have a robust onboarding process. At FLVS, we have extensive new hire training that introduces teachers to the tech tools they will use, such as the learning management system, video conferencing apps, supplemental instructional resources, and more.

The training also engulfs them in the culture of our organization, highlighting our commitment to putting the student at the center of every decision we make. From an instructor’s first day, they become well versed in the organization’s goals and priorities.

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After their initial new hiring training, our teachers then have onboarding with their individual schoolhouses, overseen by their instructional leaders or principals. Their leaders work with them every step of the way to ensure they have what they need to  teach online successfully.

For additional support, leaders will also pair new teachers with experienced instructional mentors. This allows new teachers to shadow the experienced teachers and ask nuanced questions to specific lessons. The key is: it’s important to ease your staff into their new role rather than having them jump right in. While they need to know their responsibilities and be trained on the tools and programs they will use, you also want them to know about all the resources and support available to help their students achieve success.

2. Build relationships with your teachers

Relationship building is at the heart of everything we do. One of the biggest priorities we have at FLVS and FlexPoint is creating rapport and building a connection with students and their families, because the more you understand them, the better you’ll be able to support them and help them succeed.

The same goes for administrators—it’s critical you create a connection and build a trustworthy relationship with your teachers and staff. From introductory calls during a teacher’s first week to training, your ultimate goal should be to understand each teacher’s individual needs—what they like, what makes them tick, how we can better support them, and more.

At FLVS, we get to know our teachers personally and professionally, and therefore are in touch with their needs and challenges. At the end of the day, it matters who you work for, so you want to actively listen and support your staff.

3. Create opportunities for community building

An important aspect in engaging your teachers is to create an environment where they feel part of a community. At FLVS, our teachers are encouraged to meet in small groups, often based on the subject areas they teach, to showcase and highlight what they’re doing in their classrooms to inspire collaboration.

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We also do meet-ups in our local counties that allow teachers who live in the same area to get to know each other. Often, these teachers will become a support system for one another, regularly meeting up for coffee or lunch to garner insights and tips for teaching online.

Another way we build community is through our annual in-service training. During this yearly event, our instructional and support staff attend professional development sessions throughout the course of three days. Sessions can either be specific to instructional practices, like how to incorporate virtual escape rooms or games into your lessons or focus on general work best practices like how to maintain work-life balance and build your confidence.

One of our favorite aspects of this training is seeing our teachers meet in person for the first time. They are so excited to be around each other. So much so, that they create t-shirts for their individual schoolhouses to show their school spirit and pride.

4. Offer continuous professional development

While it’s important for teachers to get immediate training when they first start, continuing their professional development will set their careers up for success in the long run. And that’s how you should be thinking about their growth—it shouldn’t be to help them only while they work for your school or district. It should be to create lifelong learners who want to develop new skills and help students in new and innovative ways.

From LinkedIn learnings, videos, conferences, and more, providing your teachers with professional development will inspire them and show them they can make a difference. After all, that’s why many of them chose to become teachers—to make a difference in the lives of students and help shape them into productive members of society. By providing your teachers and staff with training, resources, support, communication, collaboration, and professional development, you too can create a culture of care built on trust and respect.

Robin Winder is the senior director of instruction and Jason Odom is the director of instruction for FlexPoint Education Cloud and Florida Virtual School.

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