Ways to support teachers in the new school year

Most attendees of Education Week’s Aug. 17 webinar, “Start the School Year Strong: How K-12 Leaders Can Create Thriving Schools for Teachers and Staff,” said they were very optimistic for the 2023–34 academic year to begin.

That is consistent with results from a survey the publication’s research center conducted in spring where more than 70 percent of district leaders and principals indicated they were somewhat or very optimistic about the upcoming year.

While district leaders report feeling ready to move away from reactive responses brought on by the pandemic and move forward with a proactive approach in their work, and administrator and teacher morale is on the rebound, concerns around student mental health, behavior and learning recovery as well as the recruitment and retention of staff and motivating staff linger.

During the webinar, journalists, educators and experts shared ways that schools and local educational agencies can try and address retention issues and increase employees’ spirits and job satisfaction through a series of brief sessions covering a range of approaches.

Productivity and retention

Andrea Silvestrini, an education consultant at education technology company Promethean, one of the event’s sponsors, spoke on strategies K-12 educators can use to improve productivity and retain staff.

Access to innovative classroom technology; on-demand, engaging professional learning opportunities; and fostering a welcoming and collaborative community of educators have proven successful on both fronts.

Research shows that a majority of educators believe that technology helps them do their jobs better, whether with tasks like lesson planning and delivery or student engagement, classroom management and administrative duties, Silvestrini explained.

LEAs may consider involving teachers as stakeholders while deciding on new products or tools, take steps to maintain the technology to minimize disruptions and maximize the life of devices and offer on-site tech support.

To successfully integrate technology, ongoing, hands-on training led by a qualified professional should be scheduled and educators should be given access to necessary devices and software, like laptops, interactive whiteboards and learning management systems.

Professional development should be offered in multiple other forms — such as microlearning, peer collaboration and practice, self-paced online courses and/or the chance to self-select courses based on their individual interests — and on varying matters of local issue or importance.

Overall, Silvestrini suggested honoring teachers by allowing them to show their skills and present on topics like best practices at faculty meetings, celebrate personal and professional achievements and establish a mentoring model to strike a balance between new and veteran teachers.

Supporting new teachers

Teachers are most likely to quit the profession during their first five years in the field.

Caldwell County School System in North Carolina has deployed a full-time mentoring model to help acclimate early-career educators to the classroom.

Heather Puhl is one of three mentors the LEA has supporting roughly 110 first- through third-year teachers. She shared that mentors meet with the teachers in their classrooms either weekly, every other week or monthly depending on their experience level. As they don’t have their own classrooms to attend to, the mentors have time to pop in and observe teachers and give feedback that isn’t part of their formal evaluation, co-lesson plan or teach, offer professional development (including sessions on stress management and time management) and host peer events.

They focus on relationship building and so new teachers feel comfortable coming to them with any questions or concerns and use guiding questions to help them find areas for improvement without being overly critical.

Puhl added that support should extend to things like assistance finding housing or providing mental health resources when possible. An area of need she’s noticed in recent years revolves around licensure requirements as an influx of people entered the profession who aren’t fully licensed. Having to teach during the day and take classes or study at night and on weekends can add to a new teacher’s already full plate.

As for concerns around classroom management, she offered sage advice, saying, “classroom management begins with relationships” and that if you have mutual respect and prove your investment and involvement in students’ well-being, a room can be managed with a set of expectations as opposed to typical rules and policies.