Is Listening the Antidote to Teacher Turnover? Research Shows It Could Be

Writing for The 74, Brenda Tanner, a former school administrator and superintendent, explores the promise of gathering valuable information from teachers through customized surveys in order to improve retention. Excerpts from her piece appear below:

District leaders have little access to the authentic, unvarnished perspectives that determine whether a teacher leaves or stays. This is because we don’t have a scalable way to create opportunities for all teachers to be heard. 

In our district, we were committed to finding a survey grounded in the research on teacher retention. Rather than relying on assumptions and general perceptions, we needed an instrument that would give district and school leaders a solid footing and clear direction for stemming staff attrition. We knew that not just capturing data but also building in a process to share results had to be at the core of our work. And we knew we needed to differentiate among educators in ways that enabled us to understand and respond to their challenges with increased specificity. For example, when we learned that science teachers, more than any other group, felt the professional development they received did not help them improve their work, we met with them to gain their input and involve them more in the planning of both content and method.

I observed a similar impact in response to survey data while working with a principal near Columbia, South Carolina. Surprised that her efforts to show appreciation to her teachers were not received as well as she believed, the principal realized she needed a better perspective on ways teachers prefer to be recognized and appreciated. Her willingness to listen and execute on new methods was one of several initiatives spurred by teacher input that led to 100 percent staff retention that year.

A growing number of districts are embracing a similar process, understanding that by gathering specific teacher feedback on key categories that impact retention, it is possible to develop more clearly defined action plans.

Listening at scale to teachers’ needs is not only feasible but invaluable for ensuring that educators who want to be a part of their district’s future have the support they need to stay.

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