The positive factors of teacher retention
At the end of March 2017, Jan Paine retired as Managing Director at Herts for Learning. Having spent recent weeks reflecting on her teaching career, Jan writes about the importance of teacher retention, and the push and pull factors that she has witnessed in the teaching profession, in a personal and moving article for The Exchange …
I was recently reading a news story about the essential ingredients of teacher retention and, although it made some good points (five solutions clearly listed), I quickly realised that it really skimmed the surface of what is quite a complex issue. Yes, having good CPD, andproviding staff with a nice laptop and a good salary are all likely to contribute to retention rates, but as I come up to retirement, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my career and the experiences I have had in many different settings. So, I decided to think more deeply about the places I was reluctant to leave, and those that pushed me away.
PUSH AND PULL FACTORS
Having taught geography for many years, the push and pull factors of migration came strongly to mind. What, then, are the real push and pull factors in teacher retention?
There will always be people who move on because, although they love the place, at this point in their lives they want to earn more money / buy a house / have children, or they have other family reasons, and there appear to be no internal opportunities for promotion. If they remain within the profession but have moved geographically within the sector, then our investment in them has surely not been wasted.
Where we need to focus our attention is on the weak pull factors and strong push factors that trigger teachers to move on, because they just do not feel sufficiently connected to the culture or the profession. Two negative experiences are probably sufficient to push people towards other professions, so career coaching is likely to be critical for teachers in their first few years in the job.
Let’s start with the pull. What attracts people to a place of work in the first place, and what keeps them magnetically there for longer?
I stayed only two years in my first school but seven in the second. Both were in equally disadvantaged areas, with their share of challenges in terms of pupil behaviour and engagement and pressurised budgets, but I found it harder and harder to leave the second. So much so that, after three internal promotions, the headteacher actually said to me, “Jan, you have great potential in this profession but you need to widen your experience of other schools; do not stay too long in one place or you will never fulfil your true potential!” It was good advice and I have since passed it on to others, but it was hard to do at the time.
I was ambitious for myself and for the children I taught, but I loved that school! The staffroom camaraderie was compelling; it was such that to leave would surely create a massive gap in my life. Was it just the coming together of likeminded individuals at a moment in time, or was there something deeper about the culture in that school?
HAVING THE RIGHT LEADERSHIP
I realise now, in retrospect, that the headteacher was a coach – not by training but by instinct. As a new and young teacher, I remember him asking me personally what I thought about a range of issues and policies. He was present around the school and engaged with every member of staff on a very individual basis. He was a humble man, once asking me to observe his history lesson and give him some pointers because he thought my geography lessons were much more exciting. I realise now that we felt valued and engaged in the national agendas in a positive way, which helped to shape the culture of the school. We were all, without realising it, involved in strategy, not just in day-to-day operations. That openness of approach meant we were confident to raise concerns, suggest improvements and be given responsibility to bring about those improvements.
POSITIVE SCHOOL CULTURE
There was a strong sense of team, planning and delivering lessons together, openly sharing ideas and practice and, as a result, it spilled over into social activities. The staff organised numerous team events and competitions, coach trips and treasure hunts, outings after school and even at weekends. The range of extra-curricular activities on offer for children at the school was also phenomenal – lots of activities run by teams of staff working together. The social life of the school then added to the magnetism that kept us there for longer. I realise now that the school was an incubator for leaders. I am still in touch with a significant number of colleagues and friends made at that school and the majority have gone on to become great and successful leaders across the sector and, importantly, we are all still in touch with each other and with the headteacher, now long into his retirement.
GOOD VS BAD
What of the push factors? The shortest time
I stayed in any post was just over a year. It wasn’t in a school, but I think that is irrelevant. We are concerned that teachers are leaving the profession to go to work in other sectors, but it isn’t all rosy there, either. There are good and bad places to work in all sectors. As you would expect, the push factors in this case are the direct opposite of those that pulled me in, in my previous example. There was a culture of disengagement and lack of visibility from the leadership. Information was given on a need-to-know basis, but no one was quite sure who knew what and why they needed to know something that others did not. Opinions were never sought, and if they were voiced, they were quickly quashed. Human value was cheap and many people moved on constantly after very short periods of time; many just disappeared. Large numbers of the staff were “home workers”, connected electronically but not physically. Only some people were invited to the Christmas party … but not everyone … the criteria were never explained.
MY FINAL MESSAGE …
It is important that we remember just how good and rewarding this profession is. Changes are always happening and we do not know what is around the corner, but Hertfordshire has some of the best, most hard-working and supportive network of teachers, of all abilities. It has been great to be part of this and see the outstanding achievements that we have witnessed within the county since Herts for Learning started. Long may this continue!
By Jan Paine, Former Managing Director at Herts for Learning
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This article is from the May edition of The Exchange. To read the full newspaper please visit: http://bit.ly/TE-May2017