Breaking the Cycle: Retain Teachers through Human Interaction
By Kim Darche
The complexity in the educational field lies in the harsh juxtaposition of a fulfilling and delightful profession overshadowed by unrealistic expectations put upon overachieving individuals who often believe there is a ‘perfect’ way of doing things. This has resulted in an increasing number of educators leaving within the first five years and even fewer choosing to pursue the field of teaching.
How can instructional leaders such as coaches or administrators help retain a diverse group of educators for all children?
Let’s remove the idea of increased salary and/or even a change in working conditions and work with the cards we are dealt. Having an instructional coach in a building is an extremely impactful way to retain teachers. My journey as a coach started 14 years ago as one of the first coaches for the Chicago Public School system. My job quickly transformed from offering excellent trainings and became a quest to help support educators to succeed in a profession that is in constant flux. Here are some things I learned along the way.
Ease off teaching the curriculum – instead teach craft to build confidence
Coaching should not be about training a school in a curriculum, but that task often does fall upon the shoulders of coaches. So, as you train teachers, let the undertone of your coaching be the true goal: developing the teaching craft. By supporting teachers as they enhance and deepen their understanding of their craft, you help build their confidence. Confidence helps teachers feel prepared for surprises in the classroom. When teachers are confident, they are more likely to take risks, and if those risks fail, they are ready to move forward and try plan B instead of leaning into frustration.
Curricula in many districts seem to have a short lifespan. So instead of focusing intensely on the “moment in time” curriculum, help novice teachers by sharpening their skillset as an educator. Build confidence in educators by bringing in research-based practices. When teachers build their craft on the backs of research, it yields results. As an analogy, we are less likely to continue with a weight loss program unless we eventually see results. The same holds true for education.
Emotional resiliency and this beautiful cycle of feeling something going wrong in the classroom and knowing what to do when it does go wrong will increase confidence. When teachers cross that threshold at 5 years, the goal is that they are more confident as an educator than when they began.
Human capital is greater than resources
If you were asked to teach fractions to someone when you were on top of a mountain with nothing more than nature around you, it is a fairly good assumption that you could teach the basics of fractions. However, we know that it’s near-impossible to have a perfect environment.
Even more than resources, novice teachers need a person. They need a listener, a mentor, an observer, and a guide. They need a coach who is present and invested.
Try not to spend time on unnecessary or unused resources. Time hauled up at your computer making a beautiful newsletter or video that goes unwatched is time you could be in a classroom with a novice teacher co-teaching and supporting his or her growth. Oftentimes, resources slip away in a busy schedule, but conversations can make a core memory that helps a teacher for years to come.
Seek first to understand
During coaching conversations, it is vital that we listen without an agenda. Leave devices in another room and arrive with a notepad and pen. Be fully present for yourself and the educators. Be prepared to ask questions and use phrases that validate educators may be experiencing a challenging time while acknowledging the work they are doing. Examples include:
Tell me about your day.
How are you making it through?
What are you most proud of as you have been going through your challenges?
What was a small moment in the week that reinforced your choice to become a teacher?
Say more about that.
And what else?
How might we…?
I wonder if you have been through something like this before…?
Try to start questions stems with What(s), not Why(s). What(s) are centered on doing and actions, and Why(s) can sometimes instill a sense of right and wrong even if it is not the intention. During conversations, talk less and listen more by conquering the voices in your head.
Conquer the Voices
Overpower the voices in your head. Often in moments of problem-solving, we hear voices in our heads just bubbling up solutions and ideas. However, instead of spewing 100 ideas and monopolizing the conversation, instruct the voices in our heads to hush up. Instead, continue to ask questions and listen. And even as you listen you will probably keep getting more ideas, but resist giving advice.
The hope is that eventually, people will say “I think I know what I want to do”. And people are more likely to follow through on their ideas than yours.
Teach, reflect. Teach, reflect. This cycle should be honored much more than we do. We need to look back on our lessons and wonder:
Did I read the room?
Did I keep going when I knew nothing was making sense?
What phrasing did I use that was spot on?
Did we allow for enough student talk over teacher talk?
Using tools to record our teaching like Sibme or a camera on our mobile device or even just the audio recording can allow for incredible self-reflection.
Ask teachers to watch or listen to their recordings independently, but provide them with questions to reflect upon. When are moments when they get excited? How do they move around the classroom? What words are said? What sorts of interactions occur? All these questions will support a teacher in understanding their own personal philosophy and develop their core beliefs.
Coaching is not easy or simple, but the impact is beyond measurable when Anchor coaching practices in the human side of education.
About the author
Kim Darche is an adjunct professor with 15 years of coaching experience who decided to put all her knowledge of educational practices to the test by returning to her roots in 2022 as a 3rd-grade teacher. Email Kim at: email@example.com or find her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kimdarche
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.