Teacher retention can be a struggle for international schools. A study from a few years ago found that the average turnover rate at international schools in Near East South Asia was 17%.
A high turnover rate has a negative effect on the student learning experience, as well as an impact on the staff who continue at the school who have to pick up the slack while new teachers are brought on board.
The same study found that the most important correlate of teacher turnover was how teachers felt about their school leaders. A supportive head of school made a big difference to how long teachers stayed in their role.
So, how can school leaders improve their teacher recruitment and retention strategy? Here are some ideas:
1. Prioritise communication
One of the most important ways to make staff feel supported and valued is to prioritise communication. While staff meetings are important, there are other avenues of communication that school leaders should be engaged with:
Make time for weekly departmental check-ins
Whether you’re doing a walk through, popping into classrooms or having lunch in different departments each day, it’s important to get out of the office and meet your teachers where they are. What’s more, making time for an informal weekly or fortnightly check-in with each department will show your staff that you are focused and paying attention to what is going on in their classes, giving them a chance to raise any issues in a casual way.
Use different channels of communication
Make it easy for teachers to communicate with you through different channels. Don’t restrict yourself to email – instant messages, notes, or voice notes are all good ways to communicate with teachers throughout the school day. These forms of communication might lack the personal touch of a face to face meeting, but they are a worthwhile substitute in busy periods – and much better than radio silence!
Set an open door policy
Make sure that your teaching staff know from their first day in the job that you have an open door policy, and they can come to you with any problems or queries. Share your calendar with them and identify time slots that staff members can book a meeting with you. The simple message that you are available to them is a powerful way of making people feel supported and valued.
Send a weekly newsletter
When you’ve got face-to-face time with a teacher or a group of teachers, passing on information isn’t necessarily the best use of that time. You’ll have more time for active listening and resolving issues if you’ve got the practical information out of the way first. A Monday morning update which highlights news and important events in the upcoming week is a good way to keep your teachers informed and start the week off on a positive note.
2. Hold regular appraisals
Another important way of boosting communication and connection between classroom teachers and school administrators is to have regular appraisals. It’s easy for teachers to feel demotivated, working alone in their classroom and feeling like their hard work is going unnoticed.
Appraisals give you a chance to share your appreciation for your teachers’ skills and efforts. They are also an opportunity to support teachers’ development. Appraisal conversations can throw up areas for improvement, and offer the chance to revisit this area and monitor staff improvement over the course of the academic year.
Importantly, staff appraisals are a two-way street. It’s a chance for management to give teachers feedback, but it also provides teachers with a formal opportunity to share any frustrations they’ve been experiencing, or give their opinion on recent changes within the school. That way, school leaders have the chance to address any problems before they build up.
Resolving frustrations quickly and collaboratively means that teachers will be less likely to start looking elsewhere for different roles and new career opportunities. So, regular appraisals are an important tool when it comes to boosting teacher retention.
3. Promote opportunities for professional development
Continuous professional development (CPD) should be front and centre in your school’s teacher recruitment and retention strategy. Whether training is internal, delivered by a member of the leadership team, or external, like a course or qualification, investing time and resources in the professional development of your teachers sends a really important message.
Keep your staff up to date of training opportunities. If you think there’s a particular teacher who could benefit from a specific course or targeted training, reach out and see if they’re interested. Teachers will feel flattered that you’ve noticed their abilities, and want to develop their skillset.
Making time for your teaching staff to develop their professional knowledge is a core pillar of building a school culture which encourages teachers, as well as students, to fulfil their potential. And fulfilled, happy and valued teachers are more likely to stay at your school!
4. Look at your diversity, equality and inclusion policy
A comprehensive DEI policy is a crucial tool in building the kind of school environment that will attract and retain a diverse group of teachers. If you haven’t yet got a policy, the British Council policy is a good jumping off point, covering age, gender, race and culture, HIV status, religion and belief, sexual orientation, disability and socio-economic background.
Once you’ve created your policy, circulate it within the staff and make it easily accessible. It can act as a touchstone for DEI training. Regular, updated training – potentially from external experts – will help to build awareness and make sure that your entire workforce is on board and working within the kind of culture you want to create.
If your staff feel valued and appreciated for who they are and the diversity they bring to your school, you’ll soon see the benefits. An institutional commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion is an important part of a teacher retention strategy.
5. Create a mentoring programme
Companies who offer mentorship programmes for their staff see employee engagement and retention go up by 50% – a significant increase. There’s no doubt that mentoring increases employee happiness. So, what benefits can a mentoring programme bring to an international school?
A mentoring programme is an easy way to boost connection between staff, as well as creating lots of opportunities for professional growth and learning. Mentoring can make a huge difference to new teachers in terms of helping them with their confidence and skill development, but more experienced, mid-career teachers can benefit from mentoring, too.
The benefits aren’t limited to mentees, however. For mentors themselves, it’s a chance to expand their leadership skills, share their skills and experience, and gain a new perspective. And your school will benefit from the impact of a mentoring programme as it enhances teacher performance and builds a culture of collaboration.
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