Five Ways Technology Can Help You Support Teachers and Boost Retention
Dr. Lisa Andrejko, Director of Education Solutions at PowerSchool, drew on her more than 30 years of K-12 experience as an educator and superintendent to write this blog. In it, she analyzes the challenges talent and HR professionals in education face today. She also shares her own tips, best practices, and innovative ways technology can help you better support educators and staff.
I remember how proud my dad was when I landed my first position as a teacher. "My daughter is going to be a school teacher,” he bragged to his mostly blue-collar friends and our relatives. It was a difficult path to earn a teaching position back then. First was substituting, then working all summer, and then the part-time jobs needed to make a living and start paying back school loans. Through my years as a teacher, building and district level administrator, and finishing my career in K-12 as a superintendent, never once did I regret my decision to stay in public education.
What changed? Why is it so difficult now to suggest teaching as an option for young people? Why are those in the profession so unhappy that they are leaving in droves? What can we do to halt this trend, and how can we look to technology for help?
Teacher prep programs all across the country report record enrollment decreases, with many closing altogether. Nationally, enrollment in these programs is down by more than a third since 2010. Nearly every state sees declining enrollment. For example, Pennsylvania, where I earned all graduate and undergraduate degrees and spent 34 years in the K-12 system, had two-thirds fewer teacher certifications in 2020 than they did in 2010.
Meanwhile, the demand for teachers will increase over the next five years. But demand alone won't increase the new teacher pipeline if incentives don't keep pace. Compensation is a primary factor for the lack of interest in "teacher" as a career. Teachers get paid nearly 21% less on average than other professions that require a college degree. Thirty years ago, the pay gap was just 2%.
While a bit misleading, "having the summer off" was always a draw to the teaching profession. In reality, many teachers work or take graduate courses in the time equivalent of twelve months in just ten. That changed in this age of accountability.
Schools where assessment and standards became a priority have seen increased student achievement and improved teaching and learning. However, this most positive benefit has been a source of stress for organizations that may not have managed that shift with the needed support for teachers. In a recent national survey, teachers said their workloads were becoming unmanageable, with piles of grading assignments, planning learning for an increasingly diverse student population, and responding to parent emails and phone calls.
Administrative and compliance tasks also consume teachers' time. Their work-life balance is poor, and they feel overworked, burned out, and undervalued. Other sources of stress include student behavior, mental health issues, and campus safety—none are an easy fix. Add the stressors from the pandemic and developing an adequate response to keep teachers in schools may seem overwhelming.
However, there are ways to leverage technology to help both teachers and administrators manage their workload more efficiently and accurately, alleviating some of the stress associated with administration and compliance. Additionally, technology can supply data to help administrators make informed decisions about strengths and needs.
Retention is a Shared Responsibility
School human resources have become adept at dealing with teachers relocating, taking leaves, recognizing critical shortage areas, and compensation issues. What may be new is having HR lead the conversations in problem-solving. Talent managers now find themselves at the center of addressing expectations for teachers, lack of preparation for those coming from alternate paths, lack of support, burnout, and school culture.
Leadership in this area requires an "all hands-on deck" approach of interdepartmental collaboration from the teacher and learning administrators, the finance team, and building-level administration.
Let’s explore five best practices in retention and how technology may assist.
1. Strong Mentoring and Induction Programs
I believe schools may see more "underqualified" teachers over the next few years than they have ever seen. Schools will hire second-career individuals, alternative certification candidates, and even those with the most minimal qualifications. A strong, data-driven onboarding and mentoring program can give new teachers the firm footing needed to gain confidence and the skills required for a great start.
A strong mentoring program is more than onboarding and induction. HR should collaborate with teaching and learning leaders to ensure a customized experience is part of a mentor program. Choosing the right mentor is critical. Data from teacher observation and evaluation can provide the strengths potential mentors have to match the mentees' needs.
For example, suppose a principal sees a new teacher struggling with student engagement. In that case, the principal can easily find a mentor teacher with high ratings in student engagement components, as indicated in the analysis of teacher supervision data. Data can also help principals suggest which teachers might be best for new teachers to observe or with whom to collaborate.
2. Meaningful, Personalized Professional Learning
For both new teachers and seasoned veterans, time is valuable. When professional learning is needed to help teachers in their daily work or for further understanding, there's no time to waste on one-size-fits-all professional development models. Data from teacher supervision and evaluation can provide a picture of district- or building-level needs, but more importantly, individual needs. While classes, courses, and training can be made available for all, data can pinpoint individual needs and strengths for use in professional learning communities and purpose-driven, individualized independent work.
3. A Supportive Working Environment
A supportive school climate can increase teacher retention, perhaps more than many other strategies. Overall, job satisfaction improves when teachers feel competent in their professional abilities and enjoy autonomy based on trust. The school working environment must be collaborative and professional, promoting mutual respect among all stakeholders.
Teachers understand evaluation is part of the profession but appreciate the process more when it is fair and transparent. Evaluation systems that differentiate effective and less effective teachers with targeted feedback and support make a difference in how teachers perceive the working environment. Feedback that is constructive, timely, and actionable helps teachers feel directly engaged through productive discussions that focus on their professional development. Districts are more likely to retain teachers who feel recognized for their contributions.
If an educator effectiveness system is supported by technology that is easy to use, consistent, reliable, and tailored to their role, tenure, or skill level and process, they feel more comfortable with using it. That's because they know it is collaborative and growth-oriented.
4. Collegial Support and Engagement
Keeping employees engaged is vital to retention. When they understand district policy, established processes, and what's expected of them, they will likely feel more capable of driving their careers. Communications must be transparent, proactive, and timely to make employees feel valued. Clearly outline initiatives, responsibilities, and processes. Directives should explicitly outline teacher expectations, project timelines, and dedicated resources that impact teacher-related initiatives, thus creating a sense of autonomy. Teachers who feel a strong sense of control in their professional lives indicate higher levels of engagement.
5. Using Data to Monitor Contributing Factors
While technology certainly assists productivity and accuracy, technology also allows administrators to use data to examine and contribute to informed decisions and actions. Factors of teacher attrition can be identified by examining the data provided by high-quality systems. HR departments should monitor trends in teacher retention at various levels and then implement targeted responses. Districts can look for trends and changes in teacher retention over time.
The U.S. Department of Education provides examples of factors to use at the teacher, school, and district levels. Hiring data such as qualifications, demographics, experience, and pre-service experiences can uncover trends and successes. Monitoring surveys, stay interviews, a review of policies, and compliance rates with deadlines and timelines can give administrators pause to think about the values and completion of tasks.
More revealing outcomes can come from analyzing teacher and administrator evaluations, which may be most enlightening at the component level. Participation in mentor activities and professional learning indicates more than participation. Specific courses or activities completed can be correlated with evaluation data from teachers and principals. A more ambitious goal would be to include student data (test, behavior, grade distributions, failure rates, etc.) in the correlation.
School systems face multiple challenges every day. In addition to students, the most important asset schools possess are the adults who create the conditions of success for students. Keeping your school family engaged and enriched will keep them employed with you. Take the time to examine what your school district already has in place to be sure systems are not preventing you from doing what you need. After more than 30 years working in public education, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of investing in your educators and staff members. People truly make a difference.
Explore ways to support your teachers to improve retention, engagement, and growth.