3 ways one big district is keeping teacher turnover to a minimum

Tonya Goree
Tonya Goree
Dr. Tonya Goree is the assistant superintendent for school improvement and transformation at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Texas.

The pressures of responding to a pandemic, meeting students’ escalating mental health needs and catching them up academically have pushed teachers to a breaking point that is driving staff turnover to new heights.

Some 55% of teachers surveyed by the National Education Association said the pandemic had them thinking about leaving the profession sooner than they’d planned. This mass exodus has led to staffing shortages in many districts. According to Texas Academic Performance Reports, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD has experienced a slight difference in pre-pandemic and post-pandemic teacher turnover. However, just like many other districts, we have unfilled vacancies and are utilizing long-term subs.

Here are three key strategies we’ve used to keep teacher and staff turnover to a minimum.

1. Be intentional about hiring and placement.

Staff retention begins with proper hiring and placement. Make sure you know the qualities you’re looking for in new staff members. Use the interview process to fully understand each person’s strengths, so you can put them in positions where they’re likely to succeed.

Also, be direct with people about the situation they’re walking into. I recently led the turnaround of a struggling campus with a high staff turnover rate. We were hiring 27 new teachers for a staff of 54. I had to be very transparent during interviews. I explained my vision and goals for the school, and I invited them to join me in this opportunity. That first year, we only lost three teachers.

2. Support teachers throughout the year.

Too often, teachers feel like they’re on an island. They need ongoing coaching and support to help them do their jobs effectively. When teachers feel comfortable and confident in their roles, they’re happy to work hard because they know they’re making a difference.

School systems must be strategic in how they provide this support. For instance, we’ve had success using an online platform to connect teachers with video mentoring and one-on-one support that fits into their busy schedules. We do this not just with new staff members but with everyone: Even veteran teachers can benefit from the feedback and support that comes from a valued peer mentor.

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During the onboarding process, make sure new staff members know the lay of the land and how things operate in your school or district. I had been an administrator for eight years when I moved to a neighboring district, and I felt like I was in a foreign country! Every school and district has its own unique way of doing things, and new hires need to understand these nuances. Don’t wait for teachers to ask questions, because they don’t always know what they don’t know.

When giving feedback, tailor it to the needs of each teacher. Base your feedback not on feelings and emotions, but on actual data and observations. Show, don’t tell: Demonstrate what you mean by showing what it looks like when a certain teaching strategy is done correctly. And remember to provide positive as well as corrective feedback. Coaching isn’t meant to be punitive, but supportive.

3. Be proactive.

Don’t wait until you’re facing staffing shortages before coming up with a plan. That’s a recipe for trouble, especially in this current environment where it can be hard to fill teaching vacancies. Visit job fairs, use word of mouth to get referrals and cultivate relationships with the education departments at local colleges and universities. You may be able to fill mid-year vacancies with students who graduate from teaching programs in December.

School systems that experience high staff turnover tend to be places where the culture is lacking and faculty don’t feel well supported. By hiring the right employees, building a culture of ongoing support that prevents teachers from feeling overwhelmed during the year, and thinking about how to fill vacancies well before they happen, districts can avoid the staffing shortages that are plaguing K-12 education nationwide.

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