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The 5 Pillars of Authentic Communication that Improve Teacher Retention

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

During the pandemic, teachers had to adapt in unprecedented ways - using synchronous and asynchronous instruction, establishing virtual connections with students, families, and colleagues, and navigating health concerns. These stressful working conditions have changed teachers’ commitment to remaining in the classroom, heightening the concerns about teacher turnover and future teacher shortages.

Increasing teacher turnover can affect our school districts and harm students’ academic progress. According to a RAND survey from early 2021, nearly one-quarter (25%) of teachers indicated a desire to leave their jobs at the end of the school year (Steiner & Woo, 2021), compared with an average national turnover rate of 16% pre-pandemic according to NCES data. Based on a nationally representative sample of 1,045 teachers collected by the RAND American Teacher Panel in March 2021, teachers reporting the probability of leaving their current state or the profession within the next five years increased from 24% on average in March of 2020 to 30% in March 2021 (Zamarro, Camp, Fuchsman, McGee, 2021).

But, Not All Teachers Had The Same Negative Experiences -

When employees have a “sense of success” (Johnson & Birkeland, 2003) and believe they are making a difference in the lives of others, they want to stay.

Supportive working conditions in schools play a critical role in helping teachers to sustain their sense of success. Using data from both pre-post and retrospective surveys from the spring of 2020 (of 7,841 teachers across 206 schools and 9 states) a study found that teachers were less likely to experience declines in their sense of success when they worked in schools with strong communication, targeted training, meaningful collaboration, fair expectations, and authentic recognition during the pandemic (Kraft, Simon, & Lyon, 2021). We call these the 5 Pillars of Teacher Retention.

Combine the 5 Pillars with TRUE-SPEAK® for Teacher Satisfaction And Retention.

1. Strong communication: Supervisors often do not give constructive feedback because they are afraid of how it will be received by the employee. Equally as important, they step over giving acknowledgements or commendations in writing because they think it takes too much time. This reticence can be overcome by appropriate skills training in effective communication. Taking time to communicate what’s working and what needs improvement is essential to establishing a culture of trust, respect, understanding and engagement. Strong communication does not mean lengthy letters. At McGrath our TRUE-SPEAK model for authentic and meaningful communication is just 4 sentences. Brief, but honest communications, can build supporting working conditions and have teachers feel valued and known for their contribution.

2. Targeted training: Constructive communication and learning provide the opportunity to enhance performance and increase employee satisfaction at the same time. If areas for growth and/or areas of achievement are noted, establishing next steps with employees will keep them engaged and growing. This results in the formation of a partnership between supervisor and employee and an employee who is more likely to stay.

3. Meaningful collaboration: Collaboration can improve collective efficacy and in turn, student achievement (Moolenaar, Sleegers, & Daly, 2012). Employees who have regular opportunities to collaborate formally and informally gain insights and satisfaction. Add to that a supervisor who has as the primary goal to be a valued partner in all employees growth, and you have a winning combination for a successful environment.

4. Fair expectations: Check in consistently with employees to see how they are doing and how they feel their work is going. Take time to adapt expectations about how much work can be accomplished during unprecedented times and get additional support and help for employees when needed based on a clear understanding of what is needed.

5. Authentic recognition: Teachers that feel appreciated by their school administration during challenging times are less likely to leave. Recognition is noticing the work of your employees and taking the time to communicate verbally and in writing the specifics of that good work and the difference it made to others. Recognizing someone publicly when they do outstanding work inspires all, especially if the acknowledgement includes the specifics of what was effective.

Habitual Use of TRUE-SPEAK® Creates an Environment of Teacher Success

This quote by an ancient philosopher cuts to the core of what works:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

McGrath Training Solutions’ SUCCEED with TRUE-SPEAK training gives managers and leaders the practical tools and skills they need to confidently lead others, daily - from their hearts, while using their heads to think it through. The practice (or habit) of using SUCCEED with TRUE-SPEAK® is not like using a checklist that you pull out of a drawer when there is trouble or a “difficult conversation.” Rather, it is a repeating, dynamic pattern for transformative change; used consistently in all communications, always guided by the TRUE principles of TRUST, RESPECT, UNDERSTANDING AND ENGAGEMENT FOR EVOLUTION.

Make 2022 the best year for you and your employees. We are here to be your partners in excellence and teacher retention

Dr. Billie-Jo Grant, PhD

McGrath Training Solutions, COO

Using Authentic Communication to Lead Others to Excellence


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