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Addressing the Teacher Shortage Series: Building a supportive school culture

By Janiel Slowly, Education Pioneer Fellow at Good Reason Houston

Learn more about Ed Pioneer fellowships and their work with education careers here

The first installment of this blog series highlighted the benefits of teacher mentorship.  

In this second part of the series, we highlight key factors in a supportive school environment, and recommendations to implement strategies with success, which  include the importance of school culture, support beyond compensation, and understanding staff experiences. 

Importance of school culture

The importance of school culture for teachers cannot be overstated. Whether they are first-year or veteran educators, teachers often feel overwhelmed and bombarded with information. School culture, with its emphasis on support, collaboration, and a positive work environment is key in preventing teacher turnover and ensuring their well-being, especially as the teaching profession faces heightened scrutiny and evolving expectations from younger generations regarding performance, rhetoric, and student safety. 

Support beyond compensation

Teacher compensation is typically determined annually by school districts’ central offices and the school boards approve teacher salaries. While compensation is important, it is not the only factor that impacts teacher retention. So, how else might campus administrators impact teacher retention? Administrative support, which goes beyond the annual celebrations of Teacher Appreciation Week, is essential in shaping school culture and significantly impacting teacher retention. 

Campus administrators have the capacity to use their expertise and positional authority to understand the specific interpersonal dynamics within each school and the collective needs of the teachers already in the classroom. 

Understanding staff experiences

To improve campus culture, administrators should make an active effort to understand their staff’s lived experiences. Valuable knowledge about the feelings and concerns of new teachers exists, which can be used to create responsive support systems that address their changing needs. These needs are characterized by emotions such as anticipation, survival, disillusionment, rejuvenation, and reflection, and it is imperative to anticipate and address them, particularly during the first five years of teaching when attrition rates are high. For more information on teacher needs and emotions, refer to Julia G. Thompson’s book, The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide.

Recommendations

Administrative support and action are necessary due to the current teacher shortage, which was heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of different pathways into teaching has increased as the impact of COVID on the teacher shortage has become evident. According to a February report by the Teacher Vacancy Task Force, approximately half a million students in Texas are taught by novice teachers (1-5 years of experience). It has been demonstrated that students taught by novice teachers from non-GYO (Grow Your Own), teacher residence, or traditional programs tend to leave the profession sooner and exhibit slower academic growth. This combination of limited teacher experience and high attrition rates calls for administrative support and action.

Here are some steps administrators can implement to support the emotional and professional needs of novice teachers:

Create welcoming spaces for teacher perception 

School administrators can foster an atmosphere of honesty and self-reflection by openly recognizing teachers’ achievements and providing growth opportunities, promoting accountability and enabling teachers to take healthy risks within a supportive community without fear of punitive repercussions.

Prioritize individual relationships

The deep impact on individual teacher development cannot be achieved through administrative efforts alone. Prioritizing and rewarding the individual relationships cultivated by teachers, including allocating time and providing creative compensation for professional development, fosters meaningful support and attentiveness within their respective institutions.

Empower teacher leadership 

Teachers’ active involvement in and impact on school culture can foster the emergence of various forms of teacher leadership, ultimately leading to a positive and growth-oriented environment. Administrators facilitating transparent discussions about school culture empowers teachers to use their voice, influencing school dynamics to better align with the needs of both educators and students.

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Good Reason Houston is proud to partner with Education Pioneers. Education Pioneer Fellowships provide exceptional professionals opportunities in education leadership careers that solve problems outside the classroom so that teachers and students can succeed inside the classroom. This blog is written by Janiel Slowly, one of Good Reason Houston’s Education Pioneer Impact Fellows who supports Good Reason Houston’s talent initiatives. 

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