These are trying times. That, of course, is certainly an understatement! School systems at both the K-12 and higher-ed levels have been one of the most significantly impacted areas affected by the sudden shifts to virtual or hybrid learning required because of COVID-19. Teacher retention problems and solutions are top of mind now for school administrators.
While we hear talk of the “new normal,” there is nothing normal right now, and there likely won’t be for quite some time. Unfortunately, the stress of having to learn to interact with students and colleagues in different ways, learn new technology, stay safe and healthy, and a myriad of other issues, is taking its toll on teachers, parents, students, and others.
Concerns About Teacher Retention During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Teacher retention, always a concern for administrators, has become even more of a concern during the pandemic. In fact, in some school systems, a shortage of teachers has impacted the ability to hold classes—in both traditional and virtual classroom settings.
Headlines like the ones below are common as school administrators around the country struggle to keep teachers on staff, engaged and energized:
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram: School teachers are frustrated amid COVID-19. Will there be mass retirements?
- Virginia Beach NewsNow: Coronavirus pandemic making it harder to find teachers at Virginia Beach public schools.
- Tampa Bay Times: Online schooling creates challenges for teachers, students.
A national teacher shortage, combined with the pandemic, is leading to concerns around the nation. Administrators are clearly concerned about tools to cope with teacher retention during COVID-19. Fortunately, there are some relatively simple things that can be done to help address teacher retention problems.
How to Improve Teacher Retention Problems and Solutions
As teachers have suddenly found themselves needing to find new ways to connect with and engage students who may be split between remote and in-person classroom settings, their already stressful jobs have become more so. Administrators, of course, are feeling some of the same stressors.
One of the immediate impacts both groups have faced is isolation, says Casey O’Brien, LMHC, REAT, RN, a school adjustment counselor, licensed mental health counselor and RN who works full-time in an urban public school and also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Lesley University.
“Educators need to be given time during the workday to connect with one another in a safe place where they can express their challenges and emotions without feeling judged or criticized,” O’Brien says. The ability to talk about how hard their situation is—and feel validated by colleagues, she says, is helpful for those who may be struggling right now.
Administrators can play a role here, according to O’Brien, by considering the initiation of daily optional check-ins and check-outs for staff to process their days. “Many educators are feeling isolated right now, so administrators can help staff build relationships with one another by giving them frequent opportunities to collaborate and engage in professional learning communities with their colleagues.”
Dr. Eda Rassheedah Watts, CCFP, CDFT, Chief Diversity Officer and AVP Equity and Inclusion, Affirmative Action Officer at North Hennepin Community College, agrees. The opportunity for social interaction can go a long way toward helping educators cope with the added stress of teaching during COVID-19, she says. “Having time to interact with each other, hearing each other’s stories and voices helps all of our stakeholders thrive and feel connected,” she says. At North Hennepin Community College, she says, “we do our best to maintain our sense of community s we have made it a point to provide a number of regular virtual gatherings.” These gatherings, she says, have helped.
“Many people commented that having the space to have personal discussion time with each other make them remember how much they miss their colleagues,” she says. Eve virtual connections can help, though, to build relationships and community.
Teachers should also be educated about signs of burnout and what to watch for, as well as prevention strategies, O’Brien advises. “Professional development should be focused on having staff create their own self-care plans, and helping staff initiate and maintain boundaries between work and home.” This she says has become increasingly difficult as many educators are working from home and managing online classrooms.
Communication, always important, takes on added urgency now.
Communication Critical to Aid Teacher Retention
In the best of times, communication has long been a challenge for many organizations, including educational institutions. But these aren’t the best of times. When conversation and communication can’t organically and spontaneously occur, as education is being delivered through a combination of in-person and online classroom settings, an explicit focus on communication is required. Especially two-way communication.
It’s important for schools to ensure the opportunity for teachers and others to share information and concerns easily—and to receive timely responses to these concerns. This is particularly true in an environment of virtual learning. Taking a regular pulse of how teachers are faring, and any particular issues they are most concerned about, provides a sounding board and also ensures that administrators are staying attuned to issues that may impact teaching, and learning. Open door policies are important, even—and, perhaps, especially—when those doors are digital.
North Hennepin Community College has employed a number of methods to keep its community members engaged and informed, says Watts. “We have recently introduced a college text messaging system, along with our usual channels of communication which includes targeted and college-wide emails.” The college also uses a college app and up-to-date website announcements to keep everyone informed.
“We have virtual Zoom plays taking place with students acting from the comfort of their homes, virtual art gallery presentations, riveting virtual panel discussion, and so many more genius programs taking place virtually that have never been seen or done before,” Watts says. Importantly, she maintains a positive attitude and outlook despite the disruption.
“While there are incredible challenges in the midst of it all, I know that when we get to the other side of this we will be changed for the better,” Watts says. “I certainly expect that higher-ed will operate in a more robust learning platform.”
Class for Zoom is proud to be an important part of this journey and a tool to make virtual classroom interactions seamless and engaging. As administrators navigate the tricky terrain of teacher retention problems and solutions, virtual learning technology can help.