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Support and retain teachers and staff by listening to their feedback

engaged teachers

We’ve known for a long time that teachers are overworked and underpaid, and now over half are thinking about leaving the profession. The profession has become increasingly difficult as teachers and staff juggle criticism and volatile school boards, multiple learning options, learning loss, and safety measures. 

Understanding the engagement of frontline employees is critical to district and school success. Many administrators use outputs — such as attrition rates, test scores, and graduation rates — to help their communities understand the quality and achievements of their district and schools. However, not enough school districts are measuring inputs — the day-to-day environment of administrators, teachers, and staff — to understand employee quality, retention, and attrition. 

As districts grapple with the labor shortage and expanding class sizes, there is one key thing administrators can do to support and retain teachers: Listen to their feedback. 

K12 Insight recently released the 2020-21 Benchmark Report on District- and School-Level Employee Engagement — a study on employee engagement in schools with critical insights on the perceptions and experiences of teachers, staff, and administrators regarding engagement, feedback and recognition, professional development, support, and safety and behavior.

This report, developed by K12 Insight’s Managed Research team, analyzed employee engagement among in-person, remote, and hybrid employees at 14 school districts across the United States. Our goal was to help district leaders gain a better understanding of what their teachers and staff need to succeed in today’s environment. 

Despite the challenges of today’s education environment, the report found a bright spot for employee engagement. Most participating school employees — 77% — feel engaged despite the concern of workplace burnout and frustration. 

Job security and opportunities for career growth are two critical factors for employee engagement. However, there’s a gap in many school districts because only 61% of participating employees agreed there were leadership opportunities for them in their school or department. This lack of opportunity — whether it’s perceived or a reality — could affect engagement and retention. 

Feedback and recognition are two other key elements of employee engagement. Teachers — who are working 20% more since the start of the pandemic — are exhausted. In our study, only half of the participating employees said their district recognizes their high-quality work and accomplishments. Only 61% felt appreciated. 

Rewarding teachers and staff can go a long way to increase employee engagement and overall job satisfaction. Encourage your school leaders to recognize your teachers and staff who are working hard to ensure student success — whether it’s in a meeting, on social media, within your monthly newsletter, or on your website. 

You might also consider providing a small gift or rotating a special workplace perk — like a coveted parking spot — to highly engaged teachers and staff. Even sending thoughtful handwritten notes throughout the year — especially after particularly busy times like back-to-school — can make a positive impact on morale. 

Professional development is also crucial to success. The good news is 79% of participating employees feel they were provided professional development opportunities to meet the expectations of their roles.

There’s room for improvement though. Only 64% of teachers and staff said their principal or direct supervisor helped identify opportunities for professional growth and improvement. As we enter into a new year, it’s a great time to suggest conferences, virtual courses, and other programs to help your teachers and staff grow and learn so they’re prepared to help lead as schools continue to evolve.

The final piece of advice I want to share with district leaders is to welcome feedback and make sure your teachers and staff know their voices are being heard. You can listen in a variety of ways — from formal surveys and listening tours to informal coffee chats and lunches with a small group. By listening to feedback, school district leaders can make positive adjustments to help keep teachers and staff engaged — which ultimately drives student success.   

Interested in learning more about engaging your employees? Download our benchmark report

About the Author

Jennifer Coisson, Ph.D.
Dr. Jennifer Coisson has extensive experience in education research, including college and career readiness; diversity, equity, and inclusion; employee engagement; school quality; student engagement; strategic planning; and superintendent searches. Dr. Coisson earned a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Florida Atlantic University. She also has a master's degree Counselor Education and a bachelor's degree in Communication, as well as a graduate certificate in Student Affairs and a certification in Appreciative Advising.

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