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Podcast: What’s missing from your teacher engagement strategy

With alarmingly high teacher attrition rates—and new research suggesting that nearly half of public school teachers have considered quitting their jobs in the last few years—school districts across the country are scrambling to bolster their teacher retention and engagement strategies.

K12 Insight’s own research finds a clear gap between the importance school leaders place on both employee engagement and the internal customer experience–and their ability to effectively deliver it.

In our latest podcast, we talk with Dr. Shelby McIntosh, lead researcher on K12 Insight’s first annual State of K-12 Customer Experience Report, Dr. David Blaiklock, head of research at K12 InsightDr. Gerald Dawkins, a former K-12 superintendent and senior vice president of district relations at K12 Insight, and Dana Schafer, public information officer at The School District of Osceola County in Florida. 

These experts offer key insights into the latest research as well as practical ideas for boosting your teacher retention and engagement strategies.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

TODD KOMINIAK

Everyone who works in and around K-12 education knows that attracting and retaining quality teachers is one of the biggest challenges facing school districts–especially in recent years.

But the problem may be worse than many of us thought.

The latest PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools finds that 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.”

This growing frustration of teachers around dwindling budgets and waning support should come as no surprise to anyone who’s studied employee engagement trends over the past decade or more.

DR. DAVID BLAIKLOCK

We look at the average salary of a teacher which is $42,925 and we look at the attrition rate being about 8% every year.

TODD KOMINIAK

This is Dr. David Blaiklock, Head of Research at K12 Insight and a former K-12 educator. 

DR. DAVID BLAIKLOCK

What we see in the literature is teachers who come into the profession with the best ideas in mind–best of intentions, but as they get the extra schooling that is required to become a teacher and they start to see what their earning potential becomes against their student debt, they start to look at other industries for higher earning potentials so that they can make those goals. 

TODD KOMINIAK

This constant churn of teachers has had a huge financial impact on K-12 districts, Dr. Blaiklock says.

DR. DAVID BLAIKLOCK

Richard Ingersoll has put out that districts across the country have paid up to $2.2 billion to hire new teachers because teachers are leaving the profession.

TODD KOMINIAK 

While school funding and teacher pay are often key points of dispute for teachers, these issues are often out of the hands of district leaders. Still, says Blaiklock, there is more school leaders can do beyond budget changes to help improve teacher engagement and satisfaction.

DR. DAVID BLAIKLOCK

So, it’s not just about the money. It’s about empowering staff and employees by giving them a voice. When you can’t give them the tangibles in the way of financial compensation, there are other ways you can build engagement within employees.

TODD KOMINIAK

But, according to K12 Insight’s own research, many school districts are struggling to employ effective teacher and employee engagement strategies. 

The 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. A recent preview of the results 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. 

Even more alarming, just over half 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.

This lack of confidence was also clear when school leaders were asked to rate the quality of customer service they provide to different stakeholder groups, says Dr. Shelby McIntosh, the lead researcher on the report.

DR. SHELBY MCINTOSH

When we started to ask about the level of customer service that participants felt their district provides, they actually rated the quality of customer service provided to parents and students higher than the quality of service or the experience provided to the employee. That was really interesting to us, because it was actually the employee saying that, “Hey, we actually treat our parents and students better sometimes than we do our internal resources.” When looking at the teacher attrition crisis, this immediately rang some alarm bells for me that “Hey, this is a really important customer experience that deserves some attention here.” 

TODD KOMINIAK

So, when it comes to improving the employee customer experience, where should school leaders start?

The experts we talked to highlighted two main areas of improvement for K-12 districts. First, schools need to do a better job of showing their appreciation for teachers and other school employees. According to Dr. Blaiklock, old approaches to teacher appreciation simply don’t cut it anymore.

DR. DAVID BLAIKLOCK

Doing this work across the country in a variety of different districts, this is another issue that often comes up. In having done some focus groups with employees about that, we learned some interesting things. What employees have found to be very meaningful as far as recognition for their efforts are more personalized notes from supervisors or peers–something that takes a little bit of effort and time and thought as opposed to something that’s more generic. 

TODD KOMINIAK

At The School District of Osceola County, Florida district leaders have developed a unique way for community members to share their appreciation for district employees, using K12 Insight’s customer experience tool, Let’s Talk! Here’s the district’s Public Information Officer, Dana Schafer.

DANA SCHAFER

As part of our strategic plan, we were looking for ways to better engage stakeholders to share the positive stories on our district’s journey from Good to Great. So, we created a feature called “Share Your Great.” So, community members can share stories with us through Let’s Talk!. And, we review those submissions and they get posted on our website and it also provides us with social media content that we use throughout the school year. I like to say, these are the stories we might not ever hear about. It could be a student bragging about a teacher. It could be a teacher bragging about a coworker. It could be a community person talking about something phenomenal going on at a school. 

TODD KOMINIAK

But, according to Dr. Blaiklock and the experts we talked to, even more important than recognition and appreciation is the ability for school districts to actively listen to their educators and other employees and engage them in key decisions.

DR. DAVID BLAIKLOCK

Rather than it being another initiative pushed down from the district office or from school leadership, really working with employees to help them develop solutions to build that buy-in from bottom up.

TODD KOMINIAK

For Dr. Gerald Dawkins, a former K-12 superintendent in Michigan and Louisiana and Senior Vice President of District Relations at K12 Insight, listening is vital not only to ensure employees are engaged in the work that they do, but also that districts are making well-informed decisions.

DR. GERALD DAWKINS

The greatest resource the school district has are the people who work in the school district. Those people who deliver children to school everyday, those people who support the operations of the buildings, teachers in the classroom who are right in front of children, those are our most valuable resources. It is almost impossible to make decisions about what happens in the classroom for children, unless you consult with the people who are closest to children. So, the willingness of a school district to listen to those people is so important, and, after listening to them, to take that information to add it to what has already been shared through all of the other sources–whether it’s state, federal, or other empirical data that you’re looking at. When you compliment that and enhance that, you have a much better chance of making a much better decision.

TODD KOMINIAK

For more on the national State of K-12 Customer Experience report visit k12cxreport.org. For more ideas on engaging and empowering teachers, visit k12insight.com/trusted or follow us on Twitter and Instagram, @k12insight. We’re also on FB and Linkedin.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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