As a lead up to my travel to the UK this week (details below) to lead workshops and take part in a live debate about teacher retention I asked the twitter world to let their voice be heard. I set up a survey and put it out on Twitter, asking the question “What is the Single Biggest factor impacting teacher retention?” and 8000 educators from every corner of the globe had their say!
So with 8000 voices in both private and public/state education from more than 15 countries around the world, the question created quite the discussion about what impacts negatively and positively on teachers with almost 200 comments from passionate teachers. It was obvious that this is one of the key issues for teachers no matter where they are in the world.
To put this into context, I am a teacher (with leadership experience) and have been teaching for 13 years in both public/ state schools in New Zealand and private/international schools in Singapore. My work outside of school takes me to countries all over the world including Australia, UK, Middle East, South Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and many more. I truly have a global sense of what teachers need and want, what schools are doing to support them and how people feel about their job in what some would argue to be the MOST important job on this planet!
Now to analyze the data gathered from this survey and summarize the findings:
- 7995 educators from 15+ countries had a say
- 182 comments describing their “other” vote
- 65% of educators believed that Time and Teacher Workload was the single biggest factor leading to teachers leaving the profession. This broke down into educators feeling that with more time to plan and prepare they would feel less stressed about what they do. They also noted that workload and expectations were going through the roof with little recognition from leadership, students and parents to show that they are valued and should go above and beyond the call of duty (something that every teacher strives to do because we love what we do).
- 20% of educators went for the ‘obvious’ answer of Pay/Benefits – a lot of educators mentioned that they got into the job to make a difference and for the love of teaching and learning, not for the money. The comments showed though that money is still important to make ends meet and if pay doesn’t adjust and change with the increase of living costs (at the bare minimum) it is only a matter of time that teachers can stay with the profession.
- 8% of educators felt that there were little to no opportunities for them to develop within their school or job. They felt undervalued and not supported by leadership to take the next step in their career. They felt that opportunities to professionally develop were often left to them to take ownership of and it wasn’t very often that this was recognized within their school buildings, making them feel reluctant to go above and beyond.
- 7% of people voted ‘other’. This is where the majority of comments came from. By far the largest number of comments were around the idea that teachers quit principals, not schools! So many of you were passionate that it is not the school (in most incidents) that you leave, it is the leadership team. Most of the comments referred to school leadership teams that are not positive, supportive or visible. People felt that this was one of the leading factors not evident in the options in the survey. So I decided, with some help, to go one step further.
- After having a discussion with Jenelle Kresak about this survey, she rightly pointed out that there was more to this discussion, particularly around the theme of teachers leaving leaders and not schools, so together we created this survey (below) which at the time of posting this was still active with 1315 votes. The question was: “As educators, what factor do you feel administrators/leadership should do immediately to improve school culture and retain teachers”
- 39% of educators felt that fostering a work/life balance was critical for leaders to do. Walking the walk and not just talking the talk. Some comments were spot on in my opinion and something I see in great leaders I have worked with before. It is the little things that count. Get to know me as a teacher, ask about my family, let me go early to see my kids, encourage me to stay off my emails by not sending me emails, instead come and talk to me in person!
- 29% of educators expressed that being visible is critical. Have an open door policy and better yet, get out of your office, into the community and in your classrooms! Being visible and being REAL is something that we want and need, don’t be an office dweller that doesn’t know what is happening on the ground – nothing should be a surprise.
- 26% of educators said that they would feel happier in their job if leadership supported their ideas and decisions. This isn’t just doing it lip service or supporting at face value but actually standing up for what their teachers say.
- 6% said that being more efficient was critical. This typically referred to the way people communicated and how many meetings were held. Being efficient is critical and reflects directly back to teacher workload – if meetings are not critical then don’t have them!
- Other takeaways for me include:
- The language being used in schools is important – you shouldn’t ever refer to people as ‘them and us.’
- Hierarchies and systems generally support their own survival first. Hence the importance of accountability, school improvement and measuring success. Maybe as a system, we should be looking at ways to break the hierarchy – would a flat leadership model help teachers have a bigger say in how schooling adapts?
- Developing a school culture is critical and as I have heard it said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Culture is about collaboration and identity. Relationships, trust, consistency, and autonomy are key.
- Verbs being used in schools aren’t precise. We constantly use words like Disable, Ignore, Disengage … let’s look at how we say things to improve culture.
- Being inclusive is important for teachers too and as a teacher who also has a leadership role, I think it is important to note that everyone’s voice is important at the table. Inclusive responsibility means that when times are tough, you can’t just dump things at the feet of principals & leaders and expect them to fix it. You need to bring solutions to the table as well.
- One of the things I constantly do is tell students that mistakes are good and more than that I share this message regularly in the teacher workshops I run. As educators (and leaders) we forget that taking risks and making mistakes is OK and truly drives change.
- Changing leadership attitudes is important but in the eyes of most educators changing the attitudes of kids and parents towards educators is even more critical. Too often we hear negativity from parents and kids about their teachers, disrespecting our profession and positioning us in a way that we get the treatment we deserve. This attitude needs to change and we all have a part to play in changing the way parents think one by one.
- Be transparent!
While these statistics and the voices heard here number 10,000+, you have to remember that having a voice and having it heard is one thing, but making change is another. What can we do from here? In my opinion, this plus other research and data needs to be brought forward with strategy, solutions and practical ideas to the people that make decisions, not just at your individual school level but at the state or regional level as well, including governmental departments.
Make a change today – time to team up and work together as ONE to move forward.
Don’t move forward with negativity and a pessimistic mindset! Instead move forward with optimism, positivity and a mindset where you know your voice truly matters and that you and your colleagues CAN and WILL make a difference for the kids in your school.
I am lucky enough to be flying to London from Singapore today to take part in a Times Educational Supplement (TES) debate in conjunction with Cognita Schools to discuss Teacher Retention and the reasons why we are losing teachers at an alarming rate. If you are based in London or close by, click here to get your FREE ticket – I would love to meet you! The debate is this Thursday, April 19, 2018, 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM BST.
With teacher recruitment, retention and workload an increasingly pressing issue worldwide, we will debate what’s wrong and what we can do to fix it. The debate will be live streamed here – so if you are not in London you can join me too.
As a follow up to the live debate we will also be going live on Twitter for a chat discussing the points raised at the debate on Friday 20th April. The chat will run from 08:00-09:00 GMT (16:00-17:00 in Singapore, and 19:00-20:00 in Australia), and you can join in with our hashtag #keepteachers and by following my Twitter handle.