I’m the assistant superintendent at Metropolitan School District (MSD) of Decatur Township in Indiana. Despite the challenges created by the pandemic, including an ongoing teacher shortage in many areas, we have kept highly qualified teachers in front of our students. As a result, we’ve seen a great deal of growth in our metrics, such as state testing scores and Northwest Evaluation Assessments in grades K–8.
One of the keys to retaining teachers in our district is helping them to find a sense of belonging. Connection to their peers and administrators helps them grow and encourages them to stick around. Video coaching is a valuable tool in developing the kind of reflection that builds those bonds. Here’s how we’ve used video coaching to retain 351 teachers, about 86 percent of our faculty, over the last five years.
Retention Begins in the Hiring Process
The first step in retaining teachers is finding candidates who are a good fit for our district. We are very intentional about making sure that our staff reflects the diversity of our student body, but beyond that, whether they are fresh out of teacher prep or seasoned classroom veterans, if they are good teachers and want to join our district, we will take them and “Decatur-ize” them on their way to the classroom. That means we have a pretty intense onboarding and new teacher orientation process. Our HR director meets monthly with new hires and goes over topics such as supports, motivations, wishes, resources, feedback about needs, benefits, calendars, and events.
We also don’t wait to start getting to know our new teachers. If we hire someone in the spring and they won’t start teaching until the fall, we still send them notes and messages and invitations to school picnics and other events every step of the way. We make sure they have plenty of Decatur swag because we truly want teachers to feel like they’re a part of our district family the moment they decide to accept a position with us.
Using Video Coaching in Professional Learning
The use of video in coaching during the pandemic has also been a catalyst for us. Being able to choose the video they submitted gave our teachers more say in what they were doing and, in turn, helped them develop a sense of autonomy and ownership. Video helps teachers reflect more deeply and accurately on their own practice, understand where and how they want to improve, and then seek out the help to achieve that growth.
Early coaching: Through a partnership with Teaching Channel, we have been offering our teachers’ video-based coaching for several years now. Our internal coaches are on intentional cycles, so they work with all of our teachers over time, beginning with onboarding new teachers. This allows us to make sure that new hires receive the coaching they need to feel confident and comfortable in the classroom, but more important, it creates a mentorship relationship. Right from the beginning, teachers have someone to go to for questions, and they feel engaged and connected to their peers.
Creating a culture that values video coaching: Once a teacher is an established part of our district, they have annual stay interviews with our administration and HR team. By providing clear communication, cycles of coaching, teacher-led supports, and check-ins, administrators are creating a climate that helps our teachers feel respected, safe, and secure enough to ask questions or seek other help. Watching yourself on video alone can be kind of scary. Building teachers up to the point that they are confident enough to share videos of themselves at work and ask their peers or a coach how they can improve takes a commitment to real growth.
PLCs: Video coaching also takes place inside our professional learning communities (PLCs). These meetings are scripted. As part of the agenda, teachers often bring in videos they have made of themselves in practice to gather feedback, tips for improvement, encouragement, and support.
Teachers in our district come to rely on one another and build strong teams within their PLCs. We often hear from our teachers, “I would never want to leave. Mrs. So-and-so is my go-to person.” Strong teams build strong ties and make teachers want to stay where they are.
Building a video library: We also have a video library, where we collect examples of excellent practices to use in our teacher professional development. As an administrative team, we have access to 1,500 exemplar videos to use for professional development.
Video coaching in evaluation: As we’ve used videos more frequently, we actually decided to make it an option during the pandemic to be used for evaluations. We’ve noticed that more teachers are now choosing to use video as an official observation as part of their own evaluation. Teachers submit videos of their own lessons for administration to critique and evaluate them, and they can record themselves as many times as they like before submitting. This has really supported retention of our teachers, as they have choice and voice.
For us, the key to retention is happy teachers who feel connected to their peers and our community through shared growth. We create that through coaching that provides every teacher and leader with support that is based in their own self-reflection and desire to improve.