Retaining Teachers: Fostering Conditions Where Talent Thrives

February 7, 2019 • Lars Esdal

Teachers have long been identified as the number one in-school factor influencing student outcomes. Conversely, teacher turnover, which has increased 20 to 30 percent over the last several decades, is correlated with lower student outcomes and contributes to school cultures where churn and instability prevent positive change from taking root.

On a systemic level, the same conditions that lead to high turnover—which surveys show commonly include dissatisfaction with leadership, school culture, or with the career of teaching among other reasons—can also hurt the reputation and prestige of the profession, complicating efforts to recruit talented new teachers.

What’s more, challenges in retaining teachers are not evenly experienced across the E-12 landscape. Schools and teachers serving low income students, students of color, and students living in urban centers all experience disproportionately high levels of teacher turnover. In other words, the destabilizing effects of teacher turnover contribute to educational inequities.

Fortunately, there are stories—of schools, strategies, programs, and leaders—which buck these trends. Many schools around the country have fostered healthy, positive workplaces where a stable group of great teachers form the bedrock of learning programs where students thrive.

Today, we’re announcing a new blog series to tell these stories, with the generous financial support of the McKnight Foundation. The goal of the series is to present actionable insights and ideas to inform, inspire, and equip those working at the school, district, and state level to retain and support great talent.

This new series, titled Retaining Teachers: Fostering Conditions Where Talent Thrives, will run now through the end of the year. It will examine the systemic determinants of teacher retention, including working conditions, leaders/leadership teams, district policy conditions, and more. And throughout coverage of these topics, it will apply an equity lens to consider the teachers and students disproportionately affected by high turnover.

In particular, the series will:

  • Explore the link between working conditions and teacher retention/stability. This will include reviewing the academic research on the topic; highlighting examples of schools that maintain stable and consistent teachers and leaders (and why); examining tools used to provide insight to retain educators; and more.
  • Dig deeper into why teachers of color leave the profession at higher rates than their white peers. We will report on the available data and research on this question, and share stories and perspectives from those who have personal experiences with this challenge, and how to address it.
  • Explore the connection between effective leadership teams and teacher retention. We will examine the research on what constitutes effective leadership that creates a culture where teachers stay, highlight leaders who embody those characteristics, and consider leader training and coaching programs that have been effective in developing those abilities.
  • Look at the impact of district policy on teacher retention and effective leadership. We will hold up, through research and examples, what a productive and supportive district policy environment might look like.

We’ll feature one to two posts a month as part of this series, alongside our usual posts on education policy and innovation, and will be doing a larger public launch of the series later this month after the first couple posts are up. We are enthusiastic to get started, and hope you will join us on this journey. If you haven’t already, you can sign up for blog posts by email.

We are grateful to the McKnight Foundation for their generous financial support for this series.