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Research: Teacher Unhappiness Goes Beyond Pay

Public school teachers are unhappy.

This isn’t news. Record-high teacher attrition rates and recent wave of teacher and employee strikes show just how much school districts struggle to attract, engage, and retain quality educators.

But a new national study suggests the problem may be more dire than we previously thought. 

According to the latest edition of the annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, half of public school teachers have considered quitting their job in the last few years.

The national poll also found that “a majority of public school teachers say they would strike for higher pay and for greater school funding if given the opportunity, and only about half say their community values them a great deal or a good amount.

While financial and budgetary concerns are often outside the control of district leaders, building support for teachers–both internally and with community members–should be a top priority. 

But K12 Insight’s own research shows that this is still a struggle for many district leaders.

Room for improvement

K12 Insight’s 2019 State of K-12 Customer Experience Report is the first-ever national study to examine the impact of quality community engagement and the customer experience on K-12 education. The report reveals the top priorities of K-12 leaders when it comes to meeting the needs of their communities.

When asked to rank how important communication with internal stakeholders (i.e. staff) is to their district, 80 percent of school leaders responded “very important.” Note that this is lower than the 90 percent of school leaders who ranked building community trust as very important or the 81 percent who said engaging external stakeholders was very important. 

When school leaders were asked to rate the quality of the customer experience their district provides to different stakeholder groups, they actually ranked the quality of customer service provided to parents and students (79 percent) higher than that of their employees (72 percent).

State of K-12 Customer Experience Report Employee Engagement

Even more alarming, just over half (56 percent) of K-12 leaders said they were “very confident” in their district’s ability to communicate with internal stakeholders. In other words, nearly half of K-12 leaders lacked confidence in how effectively they could engage their employees.

Keeping educators engaged

As K-12 districts head back to school, this is a critical time to create an environment in which employees feel appreciated and empowered. Our research and conversations with K-12 school leaders from across the country have helped us identify four key steps to better engage teachers during back-to-school and throughout the school year. 

1. Hire passionate teachers

In the midst of a growing teacher shortage, it may be tempting to hire anyone and everyone who is interested in open positions at your district. That’s a mistake. Because of the many challenges facing the teaching profession, hiring teachers who may not be all-in on the mission of your schools will inevitably lead to a less engaged faculty.

2. Make training a priority

Professional passion is essential. But that passion needs to be supported by a deep understanding of how best to help students succeed in and out of the classroom. Strong training goes beyond classroom tools and empowers employees to understand students’ social and emotional needs and the importance of a positive customer experience for families and community members.

In the video below, customer experience experts from K12 Insight lead an interactive session, part of an emerging form of PD focused on helping school leaders provide exceptional customer experiences. 

3. Involve teachers in decision making

For teachers to truly be empowered, they need to know their voices are being heard. To ensure teachers feel heard and valued, a growing number of school districts are embracing customer experience as a function of their HR departments.

Fort Bend ISD in Texas, for instance, launched Talent Connection. Powered by K12 Insight’s Let’s Talk! customer experience solution, the online portal allows employees and prospective employees to engage the district’s HR department in conversations about important topics, such as onboarding, employee records, or benefits.

4. Make teachers and staff feel appreciated

When it comes to teacher satisfaction, a little acknowledgement can go a long way. At the School District of Osceola County, Fla., for instance, administrators rolled out a Red Carpet Awards program, recognizing schools and district departments for going above and beyond in their commitment to the community. 

After an initial application process, community and business leaders served as “secret shoppers” in efforts to assess the level of customer service provided at participating schools and departments. The winners were announced at an administrators’ back-to-school function and received red carpets that they put outside their doors to signify the distinction.

For more on the State of K-12 Customer Experience Report, visit www.k12cxreport.org.

For more research and strategies for improving teacher retention, check out our latest podcast: