What Can Building Administrators Do To Retain Teachers? (Part 3/7)

wendyz@michiganprincipals.org's picture

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article "Teacher Shortage, Teachers Leaving the Profession What Can Building Administrators Do About It?" In the article, six factors were cited for teachers leaving the profession that building administrators can influence and impact. This week's article is part three of a seven-part series that will focus on providing personalized professional development that engages all teachers.

For years, teachers have come to Lansing to testify before the House and Senate Education Committees about their professional development woes. They share concerns about "the one-size-fits-all model" where everyone has to attend a large-scale PD, regardless of relevancy, and required online PD (such as blood borne pathogen training) that has no application to the classroom. They express frustration that the District often takes over professional development time for learning new technology applications or procedures – once again, areas not relevant to teaching and learning. Teachers also claim they have very little involvement in the planning or topic selection for professional development and that administrators are often not present (either physically or sometimes just mentally) and therefore there is no follow up or follow through after the PD. Although this is just a snapshot into what happens in some situations, it becomes a broad-brush view of what legislators envision professional development time to look like in our schools. So, what is the flip-side of this that teachers would like to see? Teachers describe the ideal PD as relevant to their teaching context, sustained over time and interactive.

Most U.S. teachers agree that their principals are committed to professional learning, according to a nationwide survey – but they think PD-related decisions are largely out of their hands, and they do most of their learning outside school hours.

More than half of teachers report having "some say" in professional learning decisions. Almost 20% indicate they have noinput.

75% of teachers identify principals and district leaders as the primary decision makers regarding professional learning.

Just 25% of teachers say most of their professional learning occurs during school hours.

Source: National Education Association, Learning Forward, & Corwin. (2017). The state of teacher professional learning: Results from a nationwide survey. Resources for Learning: Austin, TX.

As building administrators, how do we provide opportunities for teachers to engage in learning that is relevant, engaging and growth oriented – and perhaps the most challenging aspect – personalized? (And by the way, isn't this what we want to see in our classrooms?) Perhaps the best way to accomplish this is to establish a culture of teacher-led professional learning – and not just focused on the what, but also on the how. What if all professional development planning was focused on ways to provide the best possible instruction for all students? This may take a significant overhaul and a few years of small steps to get there if the descriptor provided in the above paragraph is your current reality. It will take collaborative planning with teachers and a systemic approach to change the culture to one where opportunities to learn are welcomed and student learning focused. Here are three ways this might be implemented:

  1. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): You may think you are doing this, but if you're being honest are the groups that have been formed really just the same old department meeting model with the name PLC? If these meetings are opportunities for teachers to vent about frustrations, plan specific lessons, discuss pacing guides or other logistics, then it is not a true PLC. Inquiry and reflection should be at the heart of all PLC discussions… How a particular strategy resulted in improved student learning, what are the next steps in instruction and what remediation is needed to address any gaps? Collaboration is key to this work as teachers share and reflect on their instructional practice sharing success and seeking feedback. Once this structure is in place, teachers can also collaboratively review student data and analyze the instructional practice that has been applied to determine what is working and what still needs to be addressed.

    If your current PLCs are not functioning in this manner a fair question to ask is, "What training and support have teachers been provided to learn a new model for collaboration?" PLCs need structure and teachers need guidance to make them work effectively. There are many resources available to assist with PLC structures, but here is a helpful guide for PLC implementation.

  2. Teacher-Led Learning: There are many possible ways to allow for Teacher-Led Learning that can be short term (during a staff meeting), long term (on-going on the same topic throughout the year) or virtual Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) (Twitter chats, Voxer groups, etc).

    Short Term: Teachers are always looking for ways to build their instructional strategy tool kit. As you are visiting classrooms for observations and you see an innovative lesson or successful application of a strategy, invite the teacher to share it at the next staff meeting. This is affirming of the teachers practice and it provides the staff with an opportunity to learn a new strategy that was directly employed by their peer.

    Another idea is to run an #EdCamp style professional development day where teachers sign-up to provide one-hour breakout sessions on topics of interest and their colleagues select the topics that they want to share or learn more about. For more information on #EdCamps visit: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-edcamp-kristen-swanson.

    Long Term: For a more sustained and on-going approach, teachers self-select and group to do a book study or to conduct action research over the course of a school year. Lead teachers head each group and guide the deep dive that continues during PD, staff meeting and department time for the whole year. This may include visits to each other's classrooms, inviting in guest speakers, virtual visits and/or data digs as part of an ongoing process to improve specific instructional practice. For more information check out "Making Teacher Teams Work" by Meghan Lockwood.

    Virtual: If your school does not foster active participation on social media networks you are really missing out! Twitter is a great platform for teachers to connect with educators from all over the state, nation and world. If you want to foster interbuilding or interdistrict collaboration, then using a common hashtag for a weekly tweetchat or for use for regular posting year-round is a great idea. Local district tags to check out include: Rochester High School #rcsrhsfalcons, West Ottawa High School #GoWO and Walled Lake School District #wleced. Want to learn more? Check out this Twitter "How To."

  3. Personal Discovery (National Board Certification, Advanced Placement Teacher Training, International Baccalaureate Training an Online Course or MOOC):
    Supporting teachers who are willing to make a serious commitment and investment in their personal growth as an educator is essential. All of the above listed learning opportunities provide teachers with the ability to select a rigorous training option that will directly impact their knowledge and instructional practice for their current classroom assignment and beyond:

    • I have heard numerous teachers say that National Board Certification was a huge personal challenge, but it was also incredibly affirming of their own practice.

    • Teachers who complete Advanced Placement Summer Institutes (APSI) claim that not only does the training better prepare them to teach AP courses, but it also improved their instructional practice in all of their classes. In Michigan, there are usually two locations for APSI.

    • In Michigan, we are fortunate to have a variety of options for teachers to take online courses that are free or of low cost. Two great providers are Michigan Virtual (Learnport) and Edupaths. Both of these platforms are subsidized by the Michigan Legislature and there are a wide variety of courses available.

    • MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course and there is an ever-expanding market. For more information check out this Education World article.

    • Check out #GoOpen Michigan for a wide array of free resources and online learning opportunities.

    Engaging all teachers in ongoing professional learning will help keep them excited about their work and better connect them to each other. The November edition of Educational Leadership Magazine focused on When Teachers Lead Their Own Learning. There are many helpful articles and ideas for additional exploration. Supporting our current teachers and helping them to grow is an integral part of teacher retention.

    ICYMI: Check out the other articles in the seven-part series.