Teaching has always been a stressful, but since the pandemic it has become even more so, according to eSchool News. According to research, 59 percent of teachers say they’re burned out and 28% reported experiencing symptoms related to depression (compared to 17% of the workforce in non-teaching occupations).
The stress that teachers are feeling is causing many to leave the profession. School districts nationwide are scrambling to fill open teaching vacancies, and this crisis has a profound effect on the quality of education that students receive. Here are five key strategies that could make an immediate impact:
1) Create a school culture that teachers won’t want to leave.
Improving teacher retention starts with building a positive and supportive school environment. Research shows that a positive school culture is associated with higher attendance rates and deeper engagement for both students and faculty.
For instance, research on the factors that influence teacher retention from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University found that reducing the number of student disciplinary problems, improving the work environment, and increasing administrative support can lower attrition rates and encourage teachers to stay.
A positive school culture is characterized by strong, healthy relationships among students and staff members; core beliefs and values that are taught and reinforced throughout the school environment; and high expectations accompanied by robust support systems. In schools with strong, positive cultures, student discipline is less of a problem—and this creates a less stressful work environment for teachers.
Making sure employees feel valued and celebrating their successes is also important. Dealing with job-related stress is a lot easier to do when you feel like your efforts are truly appreciated.
2) Support teachers’ professional growth.
Providing high-quality professional learning experiences can help instill mastery by ensuring that teachers have the skills they need to be effective. To develop mastery of their craft, teachers need ongoing professional learning opportunities, supplemented by personalized coaching and support. When teachers feel capable and confident, they’ll be happier in their job and more willing to work hard because they know they’re making a difference.
3) Give them the respect and autonomy they deserve as professionals.
“Despite the central role teachers play in our society, they have long struggled to gain and maintain the status of a prestigious profession,” one report states. “Teachers are at once heroes and villains, saints and scapegoats. … This tension has led to repeated efforts to raise instructional quality by controlling teacher practices with top-down management and standardization, diminishing teachers’ autonomy and disregarding their expertise.”
Giving teachers the respect and autonomy they deserve could help improve recruitment, retention, and job satisfaction, the report suggests.
“This is not to say that teachers should be left alone in their classroom or expected to develop curricular materials on their own,” the researchers write. “Such practices can lead to inconsistent instruction, professional isolation, and burnout. Instead, efforts to support teachers through coaching, professional learning communities, and peer observation and review programs might create the conditions [that] teachers need to feel successful with their students,” while also ensuring high standards.
4) Build collegiality.
Creating opportunities for teachers to work together with their colleagues and build collegiality can reduce this sense of isolation and lead to better job satisfaction.
K-12 leaders can do this by connecting teachers within professional learning communities (PLCs); giving them time for collaborative planning within or across departments; and establishing opportunities to get to know each other and build relationships in staff meetings and events.
5) Empower teachers with tools for success.
High-quality curriculum materials, apps, and programs empower teachers to do their jobs more effectively.
For instance, a high-quality classroom management platform can make teachers’ jobs simpler by helping them deliver instruction seamlessly. With the right program teachers can share their screen with students, highlight exemplary student work, keep students focused and on task, and even communicate with students privately if they need additional help.
The right classroom tools can reduce the complexity that teachers face in teaching with technology, making their jobs less stressful and helping them to be more effective.
Reducing the stress that teachers face is critical to help them achieve success and improve staff retention. This is a complex problem that will require a system-wide approach to solving it, and these five strategies are a good place for K-12 leaders to start.