In most of the schools I worked at, at the end of every year, we’d lament the departure of a new teacher or two. What could we have done -- we asked ourselves -- to retain that teacher? Now, looking back, I see that there are many things we could have done to retain promising new teachers. Whether you’re a teacher leader, an instructional coach, or an administrator, here are six things you can do to retain teachers who are new to your school or to the profession.
1. Create a New Teacher Retention Plan
Start by interviewing last year’s new teachers. What helped them at the start of the year? What do they wish they had or wish they’d known at the beginning of the year? What suggestions do they have for supporting new teachers?
Organize your ideas to support new teachers in a simple what, when, who matrix. Determine a lead person on this plan. Who is the person (the principal? A coach?) who will take leadership over retaining these teachers? A team of people supporting new teachers is ideal, but someone needs to lead the effort.
2. Plan for On-Boarding
New teachers need at least a couple of days at school prior to when the whole staff returns. They need information about school operations and procedures, as well as a chance to start wandering the halls and getting to know the site. In your new teacher retention plan, identify what they need to know and who can share that information with them.
3. Include Social Bonding in On-Boarding
New teachers need to connect with other staff members. These connections might be the key to surviving -- and thriving -- their first year. This needs to be orchestrated by a coach or an administrator to ensure that new teachers have social encounters with a broad range of staff. Don’t leave it up to the new teachers to get to know their colleagues. Organize grade-level and department welcoming lunches, coffee with the principal, and so on.
4. Schedule Regular Check-Ins With the Principal
Principals: Your new teachers need regular (twice a month, at least), short, 15-minute check-ins with you. They need to know you care, that you’ll listen, and that you’ll be aware of their challenges and successes. Set an agenda that includes giving them a chance to share a success and a challenge in their classroom, ask you a question, or ask for help with something that might be within your sphere of influence. This will also allow you to keep a pulse on how they’re doing and to rally other resources and support if they start to struggle.
5. Provide Coaching
The best way to retain new teachers is to provide a highly trained and effective coach. A coach can help a new teacher create a plan for professional improvement. All teachers deserve and need such a plan, but novice teachers especially need to identify their areas for growth and a plan to make that growth happen.
Furthermore, an excellent coach goes beyond the instructional domain and also provides coaching around emotional resilience. Teaching is hard. We all know that. Coaching that addresses the stress, pressures, and emotional fatigue of teaching is likely to help a teacher stay in the classroom.
An important distinction is that a mentor is not a coach. These are two different roles. A mentor can be helpful -- this is a highly skilled teacher who takes a new teacher under their wing, shares experiences, offers guidance, and listens -- but a coach is a master in working with an adult learner.
While mentoring has its place, I’m far more convinced that coaching is more likely to lead to teacher retention. When done well, coaching is strategic, intentional, structured, and highly effective.
6. Bring New Teachers Together
If you have more than one new teacher at your school, organize monthly or bimonthly lunches with them. Let them get together and talk with each other about the struggles -- and joys -- they’re experiencing. You can facilitate this encounter lightly by normalizing what they’re experiencing and by providing gentle coaching of their group dynamics. But this doesn’t have to entail professional development or anything as formal. Just let them have some space together where they can share their experiences.
There’s much more we can do to retain new teachers. As you meet regularly with your new teacher support team, generate ideas together. Try different things. Talk to the new teachers and ask -- over and over -- what they need. And find resources to meet those needs.
The stability of a teaching staff has an impact on student success and on staff morale. Make this the year you retain all your promising new teachers.