Creating a Positive School Culture So That Teachers Want to Stay

By Miriam Singer, Founder of Edcouragementor

It is no surprise that teachers are leaving teaching in droves.  It is important to underscore that first and foremost, that it is not the students that they are choosing to leave.  Furthermore, it isn’t the act of teaching that is making them jump ship either.  Pandemic took an emotional toll on many people, but especially teachers, who had the emotional work on top of the academic work to perform, and it was and is exhausting.

What can schools and school leaders do to ensure that they create a culture that sustains and nourishes their teaching teams?  Read on for strategies that you can start implementing in your school today!

Pay Teachers A Fair and Liveable Wage

Let’s not neglect this giant elephant in the room first.  Teachers are qualified experts and professionals who deserve a compensation that remunerates them for the level and amount of work they perform.  Do not say you value teachers and pay them a ridiculously low wage.  Pay teachers what they are worth.  Let’s say it again louder for the folks in the back…  PAY TEACHERS WHAT THEY ARE WORTH…. Which is a lot!

Trust Your Teachers

Do not micromanage how your team is facilitating their teaching in their classrooms.  Treat them with the professional respect that they deserve, and allow them to make decisions that let their curricular creativity shine!  This means, do not adopt scripted curricula, and allow your teachers to be the pedagogical and student expert.  When you undertake your yearly evaluation of your teaching team, let your teachers be active in setting a meaningful growth goal for themselves.  Be inquisitive rather than prescriptive in your feedback, which will help your faculty reflect on their own practice, rather than taking critique.  This helps them continue this mindset throughout their career and feel like they can identify their own teaching strategies.

Have Your Teachers’ Backs with Families (Especially Rude Ones)

In a post-pandemic world, appropriate boundaries have shifted for many people, including adults. I have had parents tell me that they think it is appropriate to get a teacher’s phone number and to call them at 9 pm at night, or to text with them during the school day, or even to enter the classroom unannounced and try to have a conversation during teaching time.  Help your team maintain balance and health by being firm with the entire community about appropriate communication norms and boundaries.  And when a parent is aggressive, establish clear expectations for how they should engage with your team.  Your teachers will show appreciation for you taking the time to protect their emotional needs.

Give Them TIME Solo to Work and Plan

Teachers need time to effectively plan, grade, assess, and work on their own.  Recognize the need for this, and build it into your schedule so it is not an “extra” that teachers have to do.  For instance, if you have a narrative report card, plan a professional development day that is solely dedicated to time to write.  Knowing they have this gift of time allows teachers to catch their breaths and not feel overwhelmed by their workload.

Give them Meaningful Collaboration Time

A large part of teaching is collaboration and sharing with peers and colleagues.  Do not add any meaningless new initiatives.  Keep collaboration/PLC time focused on something meaningful with a direct connection to a teacher’s work, whether it is faculty committees, reviewing student data, talking about DEIB integration, preparing together for student-led conferences, or planning cross- curricular projects.  Make sure that the time you give for this is abundant enough for generative progress. Twenty minutes here and there does not lead to applied flow and productivity.

No Meetings that Could Have Been An Email

If a meeting isn’t used for collaboration, discussion, or connection, don’t have it!  I know it can be frustrating because some people do not read emails…  but are those same people going to be present and listening to the same information during a meeting?  Add an engagement question like, “what is your favorite way to relax?” to the end of emails and ask people to respond so you can see who has read it or not.  Another idea is to consolidate all weekly reminders into one newsletter update so you are not sending out a glut of emails and people know they have one place to check for info.  Make meetings time to work, not time to communicate AT people!

Create True Wellness Initiatives

A lot of schools say they care about their staff’s wellness, but it is truly lip service, or shallow engagement at best.  Connect and build relationships with your team.  Send them personal communication to see who they are every few days.  Remind them to take their time off, to set healthy boundaries, and to put family first.  These are true actions that create balance and wellness for teachers.

Create a Culture of Fun and Connection

Celebrate together!  Be there through hard times too.  Use humor as a balm after difficult student and parent interactions.  Some fun ideas: create a quote board of funny things kids say.  On a white board ask teachers connection questions like “Who is your celebrity crush?” to spark fun conversation in the lunchroom and staff lounge.  Make time to acknowledge each other and give one another kudos to build each other up, like snaps and shout outs and meetings.  Create a gratitude board where people can post gratitudes for one another.  I started a tradition at my school called the “Crystal Apple,” where the recipient each week passes it along to another colleague, and then we publish and photo and the reason their fellow teacher believed they deserve it.  It feels like passing along love and support.

Show Appreciation to Your Team Using All Four Love Languages

We know that humans have different preferences for giving and receiving love.  Some people love tangible gifts, while others prefer acts of service.  Some enjoy words of affirmation, while others enjoy a hug.  Ask your teachers what motivates them and helps them rally during difficult times so you can tailor your support to each teacher using their preferred ‘love language.”

Allow Teachers to Lead and Share their Voices

Teachers are the backbone of any school.  Allow all teachers to give feedback, as they can make excellent suggestions that are student-centered and allow the school program to grow and flourish.  Allow them to give input on pivotal school reforms and decisions as their opinions can help the initiatives become more robust.  A school with strong teacher leaders is a strong school, period.

And this is just the start.  Be sure to share this article with your staff, and see if they have additional ideas that would work for your community and beyond.  And then share the wealth back, so we can all learn!


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