By Niesha Butler, Technology & Learning Coach, South Carolina’s Richland School District Two
Throughout my career as both a classroom educator and, for the last five-plus years as a technology coach in a large, South Carolina public school system, I’ve seen the challenges of retaining our highest-performing educators.
While many factors contribute to high turnover rates among educators, I believe one key element in school systems’ ongoing battle to retain top teaching talent is the lack of equitable access to instructional coaching. I firmly believe that providing teachers robust instructional coaching can address specific challenges that contribute to the teacher retention problem.
Here are six things school leaders should consider as they work to tackle the challenges of keeping their best teachers in the classroom.
Effective onboarding is crucial for the successful integration of new teachers into a school or district. However, the onboarding process can vary widely from school to school, and teachers often find themselves grappling with different curriculum expectations, district policies, and school goals based on their location. This lack of consistency can lead to feelings of isolation and confusion, contributing to teacher turnover.
Instructional coaching serves as a powerful onboarding tool by providing personalized guidance and support. Coaches can help new teachers navigate the procedural processes of their environments and offer insights into curriculum expectations and district goals. Such targeted assistance ensures that educators feel more acclimated and supported in their new roles, which would reduce the likelihood of early career disillusionment and increase the chances of teacher retention.
2) Effective Teaching is More than Access to Resources
Teachers enter the profession with a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm but are often presented with a plethora of resources without clear guidance on how to effectively use them. The materials used during their internship might differ significantly from the resources available once they are hired as full-time educators. This lack of alignment can lead to confusion and frustration, while negatively impacting the quality of instruction.
Instructional coaching can bridge this gap by offering personalized guidance on resource utilization.
Coaches can work collaboratively with teachers to identify the most relevant and effective materials for their specific content. This targeted support ensures that teachers not only have access to resources but also gain the necessary skills to integrate them seamlessly into their lesson plans. By addressing this challenge, instructional coaching contributes to a sense of confidence and competence, which are key factors in retaining educators.
3) Classroom Management
Classroom management is a critical aspect of effective teaching, yet practices are not always solidified during the internship experience. Oftentimes, interns are placed with veteran teachers who already have a solid classroom management system in place. Very rarely are interns a part of the procedural process for implementing classroom management practices. However, first-year teachers are expected to implement such practices with fidelity. The pressure to do so and be as impressive as their veteran colleagues tend to add an additional layer of stress to an already demanding profession. Lack of preparation in this area contributes to feelings of overwhelm and, in some cases, burnout.
Instructional coaching can play a pivotal role in supporting teachers in developing and implementing effective classroom management strategies. Coaches can observe classroom dynamics, provide constructive feedback, and collaboratively create action plans to address specific challenges. Through ongoing support, instructional coaching helps teachers refine their management skills, creating a more positive and productive learning environment. This, in turn, contributes to increased job satisfaction and a higher likelihood of teacher retention.
4) Structured Conversations
Educators benefit greatly from structured conversations that are personalized, aligned with goals, and focused on the curriculum. These conversations can lead to more synthesized feedback, helping teachers reflect on their practice and make targeted improvements. However, without a formalized structure, these conversations may not occur regularly or with the depth needed to drive meaningful change. Instructional coaching introduces a framework for structured conversations that are tailored to individual teacher needs. Coaches guide educators through reflective discussions, helping them set goals, analyze student data, and refine instructional strategies. These structured conversations not only enhance professional growth but also create a culture of continuous improvement. By fostering these dialogues, instructional coaching directly addresses the need for more personalized and goal-aligned feedback, contributing to teacher satisfaction and retention.
5) Promote Participation in Professional Learning Communities (PLC)
As with any professional occupation, teachers need a network of fellow professionals with whom they can connect with for valuable idea sharing and inspiration. School leaders must ensure that educators have the space and the time in their day to participate in professional learning communities.
PLCs can consist of small groups comprised of teachers in a particular grade or school, or could be large national or international groups. Also, many companies have their own educator communities designed to support teachers. For example, I participate in the Discovery Educator Network, one of the longest standing communities in the edtech universe. Apple also offers their own PLC, as does ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education.
Instructional coaches can play an important role in supporting district PLCs or by helping educators find their own PLC beyond the district. Personally, I encourage educators to try out various professional learning networks until they find the right one for them. Once an educator finds their “home” in a PLC, a host of new professional learning opportunities will unfold before them.
6) Remove Barriers
It is important to note that instructional coaching goes beyond addressing specific challenges. It also plays a crucial role in building trust, enhancing teacher capacity, and removing barriers related to teaching, classroom management, curriculum expectations, and instructional practice. Whether in their initial year of teaching or new to a specific district or school, teachers benefit from gaining a thorough understanding of the multi-tiers of success criteria (observation rubrics) as well as site based expectations that will be used to measure their progress. They need to feel comfortable asking questions about apprehensions and about the unknowns of being a first-year teacher, or working in a new environment. Coaching provides a safe space for educators to voice their concerns, seek clarification, and receive targeted support.
By fostering open and honest communication, instructional coaching helps build trust between teachers and coaches. Additionally, coaches work collaboratively with teachers to enhance their capacity by addressing specific challenges and refining instructional practices. This targeted support not only removes barriers but also contributes to a sense of professional efficacy, which is a crucial factor in retaining educators.
Equitable access to instructional coaching is a powerful solution to the teacher retention crisis and plays a pivotal role in creating a supportive and empowering environment for educators. Investing in instructional coaching not only benefits individual teachers but also contributes to the overall strength and resilience of the profession. Unfortunately access to coaching is not available to all teachers. As a result, teachers without access to instructional coaching miss out on several key benefits that could contribute to their job satisfaction and overall effectiveness. It would be beneficial for districts to prioritize the implementation of equitable coaching programs. Doing so would be a crucial step toward fostering teacher satisfaction, professional growth, and ultimately, teacher retention.
The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.