We are currently counting the number of teachers at the American School of Kuwait that are not returning next year. While we have focused mainly on teachers that were fired or non-renewed by the school, there are also a large number of teachers that are choosing not to return next year, with some teachers making that decision very recently. We hope to, by June, report the retention rate for the whole school, as well as individual retention rates for each level.
The article below was taken from this website.
“Susan just quit.”
The news is delivered to me swiftly and immediately a hot ball of stress forms in my stomach. This is going to be a pain to deal with. We have to replace her and we can’t just replace her with anyone, we have to replace her with someone who meets our expectations for education and professional experience and who meets all of the state’s requirements as well.
I’m going to have to carve out time to conduct interviews, background checks, and a new employee orientation. The children in the classroom will be emotionally disrupted by the teacher turnover and an extra burden of stress will be placed on the existing staff in the classroom. There will likely be a parent or two upset with the transition and they will need some meetings, phone calls, or emails to help keep them calm.
There’s no two ways about it: teacher turnover is time consuming, expensive, and stressful.
Yet it persists as one of the biggest problems for the schools I work with, especially those schools who specialize in early childhood. Turnover is rampant at the early childhood level and it is a persistent issue for many schools, both public and private, at all levels.
I have spent enough time working with leaders from many different schools to see some patterns in employee turnover. This Money Magazine article discusses the results of a LinkedIn survey of 10,000 employees on why they quit highlights much of what I share in this post.
Here are the top reasons I see that employees turnover and what you can do about it.
They Don’t Trust School Leadership
This is probably the biggest reason I see people leave their positions at schools. It is really hard to show up every day and work for someone you see as dishonest, unprofessional, lazy, or selfish. These four words were chosen carefully as they are the words teachers most frequently use to describe their nightmare boss (teachers love telling me about their terrible bosses for some reason).
If you are seeing a lot of turnover in your school, the first thing you need to do is look at yourself and your behaviors and practices as a leader. What are you doing that might be causing your teachers to perceive you as dishonest, unprofessional, lazy, or selfish.
Your staff may see you as dishonest if:
- You announce decisions without providing context or building consensus.
- You have friendships with certain teachers but not others.
- You advise them to use white lies as a communication strategy with parents or colleagues.
- You have a tendency to share some of the truth but leave out uncomfortable parts.
- They hear you saying things that aren’t true.
- You hide behind email instead of having direct conversations.
Your staff may see you as unprofessional if:
- You go out drinking with them regularly or worse, go out drinking with a select few of them regularly.
- You gossip or share confidential information with people who don’t need to know it.
- You don’t follow school policies and protocols to the letter with consistency.
- You allow problems to slowly build until you or the issue explodes.
- You raise your voice or shame people.
- You dress in a way that does not align with expectations for a school leader.
Your staff may see you as lazy if:
- You don’t expect and require everyone to work toward the school’s mission while also complying with all state, federal, and organizational expectations.
- You don’t regularly observe them throughout the school year.
- You don’t regularly meet with them and offer them personalized support and guidance.
- You come in late, take long lunches, leave early often, and/or take frequent vacations.
- You start projects or implement policies but don’t follow through on them.
- You don’t lend an extra hand during challenging situations.
- You don’t help out the classrooms regularly.
Your staff may see you as selfish if:
- You don’t frequently offer your gratitude to people for the work they do.
- You don’t publicly acknowledge staff for their years of service or celebrate their major life milestones like birthdays, marriage, children, and graduations.
- You do most of the talking in staff meetings.
- You throw them under the bus in front of parents or one another.
I want to be clear that I’m not saying you are any of these things. I’m just showing you that maybe this is a starting point for evaluating your leadership behaviors to see if you might make some changes that help the staff to see your dedication to the school and build more trust in you.
They Don’t See Hope for a Future at the School
People don’t become teachers because they want to rule the world. They become teachers because they want to make a difference in the lives of children while building a secure and rewarding career for themselves. They want hope for the future.
Often, when a teacher first enters the profession they are shocked by how grueling the work can be even though they have tiny magic moments with the children throughout the day. I know I don’t have to tell you this, but teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It doesn’t matter if you are an infant teacher or a high school teacher, it’s SUPER tough!
Teachers can work through all of these challenges, as long as they see a hope for a future at the school. Here are some ideas for how savvy school leaders build a culture of hope and investment amongst the teachers.
- Pay a living wage to every staff member. Let me be blunt: $10 per hour isn’t a living wage anywhere in the US. Where I live, $12 doesn’t even cut it anymore. If you pay people poverty wages, there will be turnover because they will always be willing to jump ship for more security elsewhere. If it is all you can afford to pay, get used to the turnover.
- Offer a cohort of helpful benefits. I know, paying a living wage makes the expense of benefits even harder to imagine. I bet, though, that offering some benefits is likely less expensive than the cost of turnover in your school each year. A subsidy to help them buy health insurance bears a cost but offers a lot of support. You can also offer some benefits, such as retirement or supplemental insurance, without a cost to you. They can just be available to your teachers if they choose to partake.
- Give them time off. Public schools have time off built into their schedules. Private schools have more flexibility in how their annual calendar is built and, unfortunately, that often becomes an opening to keep the school open 362 days per year. If you don’t give teachers paid vacation on top of taking off winter break, spring break, and federal holidays you will have persistent turnover because people will burn out. If you want your teachers to be their very best you have to give them time off and space away from the classroom.
- Create leadership opportunities for them. Every person at your school has the ability to contribute to the greater vision and culture. Start looking for ways to bring your teachers into the fold and build them up as leaders in your school community. Celebrate the ways they make your school a better place. Give them hope for the future.
- Facilitate strong peer relationships. People like going to work every day when they consider their fellow colleagues to also be friends. Actively work to promote partnership and camaraderie amongst your staff. It isn’t your role to be BFFs with your teachers, but helping them form strong bonds with one another is good practice. Everyone wins when folks have genuine love for one another.