Posted by John Holland on Saturday, 06/24/2017
By Brian Curtin
Click here to read Barnett Berry's introduction to Brian as the leader of CTQ's March/April blogging roundtable on collective leadership. Brian is an English teacher at Schaumburg High School in Illinois. In 2013, Brian was named Illinois Teacher of the Year.
Remember your first year of teaching? The anticipation, excitement, passion, and then -- the overwhelming anxiety. The fear of failing your students, the self-doubt in managing your own classroom, and the pressure of impressing your evaluator. The deep gulp before you performed your best impression of a confident, knowledgeable teacher.
For many new teachers, that anxiety subsides naturally with experience, but for others the experiences compound the anxiety to the point where they feel they have to leave the profession. According to an Alliance for Excellent Education report, “Roughly half a million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year—attrition that costs the United States up to $2.2 billion annually.”
Research conducted by CTQ focused on teacher retention and teacher working conditions attributes teacher attrition, among other contributing factors, to a “lack of empowerment.” Conversely, new teachers who have quality support are “more likely to report they will remain in teaching.”
Most schools and districts provide a number of supports including new teacher induction programs. But are these “quality supports?”
In talking with a close colleague about the potential connection between teacher induction programs and teacher attrition, we found that, collectively, we had participated in seven different induction programs! And we agreed we did not remain in the profession because of the programs; we did so in spite of them.
So we decided to take action. We volunteered to revamp our school’s new teacher induction program in an effort to provide quality support and mitigate teacher attrition.
One of the first things we noticed is that induction programs typically provide short-term supports focused on things like an orientation of the building, school policies, and basic classroom strategies. In other words, they might momentarily relieve immediate concerns (i.e. “Where’s the faculty bathroom?” or “How do I fill out a referral?” or “What’s a good bell-ringer to get my students engaged?”), but they typically do not provide long-term or ongoing support.
With this problem in mind, we developed a vision to provide lasting support framed around three words: reflection, resources, and respond. In practice, this meant that each month we met, every support we provided and every skill we developed, featured one of the “Three R’s” as a foundational guide.
After five years of implementation, we’re happy to report that our attrition rate is 4% (well below the state and national averages). Here’s a deeper look into the program:
Teacher attrition is often a matter of efficacy. Feeling in control starts with honest self-awareness. Through promoting reflection skills, we provide new teachers with concrete strategies in building self-awareness by enabling them to identify what’s working and what needs tweaking.
For example, because new teachers work from written lesson plans, it’s the perfect space for reflection. Reflection needs to be sincere and “just-in-time.” By jotting down some quick thoughts about a lesson right when the period ends, a teacher ensures a more honest and accurate reflection. Here’s an example of what this might look like.
Reflections are simple observations, not necessarily solutions (though they can be if inspiration strikes). By doing this, you set yourself up for additional reflection, ultimately avoiding the insanity of making the same mistakes again.
Instead of drowning new teachers with resources, we build resource-navigating skills. Without the ability to access resources, reflection is an exercise in futility. After all, who wants to spend all day reflecting on what they’re doing wrong if they have no way of fixing it?
We support new teachers by helping them build online professional learning networks through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Most new educators already know how to use these social media platforms in their personal life, so the transition to a professional application is relatively easy.
Another strategy we support is “resource workflow.” With today’s information deluge, the problem is usually not access to resources, it’s how to efficiently and effectively curate and organize resources. Think about an email you receive from a colleague about cool writing strategies or that webpage you found on Twitter with engaging discussion techniques. You read it, perhaps thank the sender, then delete it because you don’t need it -- until four weeks later when you do and it’s nowhere to be found. Leveraging organization strategies like browser favorites, bookmarking, twitter hashtags, or cloud-based resource sharing, new teachers learn to move beyond the general google search.
The final skill we support is somewhat obvious, but often overlooked: action. Reflecting on areas of improvement and seeking out the resources to address those needs is a start, but without responding with action, a teacher is likely to feel frustrated and powerless.
We support teachers by starting each meeting with a roundtable discussion of “highs” and “lows.” It’s a time for them to share their struggles and celebrate successes. It’s cathartic, but it’s also accountability to respond. It might sound something like this:
New Teacher: “Last time we met, I was sharing about how I was seriously struggling with a student who wouldn’t stop talking at inappropriate times. I was feeling frustrated, but I tried the redirect strategy we discussed, and she’s been an active leader in the class ever since.”
To be clear, simply promoting an expectation that new teachers respond to critical feedback is not enough. When they feel supported with reflection techniques, and they feel like they have access to effective resources, the challenges don’t just pile up; they are addressed and resolved with deliberate action and support.
When new teachers gain a sense of control and ownership of the challenges they face, they feel more confident in honestly identifying growth areas and taking on new practices with courage and optimism.
Most importantly, they will return next year to do it all over again.
Brian’s post is part of CTQ's May/June blogging roundtable on teacher shortages. To join the conversation, comment on this blog and read the other blogs in this series. You can find an updated list of all posts on this page. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted, and use #CTQCollab to join the conversation on social media.