Since the only way to improve your charter school is to either recruit new teachers or improve the teachers in your staff, high quality teacher engagement and retention can the lifeblood of charter schools.
It is vital that the most effective teachers are supported and nurtured so that they stay in the profession. A recent survey from the National Center for Educational Statistics indicates that about 25% of teachers who left the profession did so indicating that administration was extremely unsupportive.
These data align to recent a 2018 Gallup Poll of the US workplace noted that almost two-thirds of United States managers said they “don’t like talking with employees” mirrors the 67% of US workers who say they’re not engaged at work.
The reasons given were; 37% of managers found it difficult to give negative feedback to workers about their performance; 20% said they struggle to share their own vulnerability and another 20% disliked being the messenger for company policies.
Knowing that employee turnover can cost up from 1.5 to 2 times the previous employees salary to replace them, creating supportive and engaging working and learning environments for new teachers needs to be a priority for all administrators.
Here are tips we have gathered in our ten years of effective charter school oversight.
1. FACILITATE “WHY DO YOU STAY?” INTERVIEWS
With the COVID-19 pandemic creating havoc across the globe, this is a perfect time for school leaders to really gain clarity on why their top or longer tenured teachers stay. Ask questions such as: what would you change or improve? What is it like to work here? What is it like to be led by me? Why did you first want to work here? Does that align with why you stay? Where do you see yourself in this organization in two to three years. Then use the information to strengthen your employee recruitment, orientation and retention strategy.
2. PROMOTE FROM WITHIN WHENEVER POSSIBLE
One of the five characteristics of effective charter schools is professional expanded opportunities for staff. It is critical for most educators to know they have not only a long term future at the school but a critical role in the long term success and development. It is critical to know and understand the long term goals of your people and paint them a clear path of an advancement.
3. BUILD LEADERSHIP CAPACITY
This could be providing training to learn a new job skill, be placed in charge of a school improvement initiative to grow the school and their place in it, or tuition reimbursement to help further your employees education. Our Teacher Leader Academy equips teachers to lead outside of the four walls of their classroom through improved communication, leadership skills, mentoring, coaching and equip them to lead crucial school initiatives.
4. LEAD FROM THE GROUND UP
Teach staff how to create and lead school improvement initiative committees and hold regular collaborative, idea generating meetings in which employees can offer ideas and ask questions. Lead by walking around and ask questions to encourage employees to speak frankly with their direct reports without fear of repercussion. Be sure to bring information from as close to the problem as possible to solve school problems. Give authority to make decisions and autonomy to solve problems.
5. COACH PEOPLE
Require your identified “positional” leaders (principals, deans, to learn how to effectively coach and develop employees, helping your strongest performers move to new heights and improving performance for your average to minimal performing staff member. Our Coaching for Managers and Leaders program equips leaders of all levels to ask effective coaching questions and build an internal school structure that develops people.
6. SET CLEAR ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES
It may seem basic, but often in small charter schools, employees have a wide breadth of responsibilities. If they don't know exactly what their jobs and it shall and what you need from them they can't perform up to standards, and morale can begin to dip. Every employee should be very clear on their role, key responsibilities and what is expected of them in terms of their work hours, behavior and reporting requirements.
7. COMMUNICATE CLEAR & CONSISTENT EXPECTATIONS
Remember, any expectation not communicated is merely a thought. The satisfied employee knows clearly what is expected from them every day at work, but changing expectations keep people on edge and create unhealthy stress. Even worse, are communicated expectations not being followed by employees and no one is correcting the misbehavior.
8. CONSTANTLY TRAIN PEOPLE TO BE EFFECTIVE LEADERS
The quality of the feedback and personal development an employee receives is critical to employee engagement and retention. People do not quit organizations. People quit other people. Employees benefit from ongoing personal and professional development that is purposeful and grows the person as much as it improves the practice.
9. CREATE A COMFORTABLE SPACE FOR FEEDBACK
Does your organization let ideas and provide an environment in which people are comfortable providing feedback? If so, employees can offer ideas, feel free to criticize and commit to continuous improvement. If not, they bite their tongues and find themselves constantly in trouble - until they leave. As the proverb states, those who do not listen will eventually be surrounded by those who have nothing to say.
10. EMPOWER YOUR EMPLOYEES
When you empower employees to act on behalf of the organization, rather than delegate a work task, you will find you will get more from your team. It's critical that when you empower someone you set a clear vision/outcome, but give them full autonomy with this responsibility. They will probably make a mistake along the way. It is alright, this is how we all learn. Do not take that task away, coach them through the process and provide them an opportunity to finish the job. Otherwise you might diminish the relationship.
11. BE FAIR
The perception of fairness and weight of all treatment is important to employee retention.
12. DISCOVER YOUR EMPLOYEE’S STRENGTHS & TALENTS
Employees seek to use their talents and skills in the workplace. A motivated employee wants to contribute to work areas outside of his specific job description. As a leader, you will benefit by spending time with each member of your team to get to know their skills, talent, experience and long term goals. Then take the time to tap into it while painting them in the bright future of the school.
13. NEVER THREATEN AN EMPLOYEE’S JOB OR INCOME
Even if you know layoffs loom based on low enrollment, it's a mistake to foreshadow this information with employees in order to get their buy-in or more effort in return. It makes them nervous, no matter how you phrase or explain the information.
14. OFFER FINANCIAL REWARDS
Consider offering performance bonus or other financial awards for employees who meet performance goals or stay for a predetermined time (longevity). Also, provide meaningful annual raises. If you can't afford it, give more to your top performers. Or, create the bonus structure where employees can earn an annual bonus if they meet pre-approved performance goals or lead key initiatives.
15. OFFER A COMPETITIVE BENEFITS PACKAGE THAT FITS YOUR EMPLOYEE’S NEEDS
Providing health insurance, life insurance and retirement savings plan is critical to retaining employees. But other perks, such as flex time, an option of telecommuting, offering daycare or wellness stipends go a long way to show employees you are willing to accommodate their outside lives.
16. SAY THANK YOU!
Your staff members must feel rewarded, recognized and appreciated. Frequently saying thank you goes a long way. Monetary rewards, bonuses and gifts makes the thank you even more appreciated. Understandable raises, tied accomplishments and achievement, also help retain staff.
Call to Action: Sit with your team and identify two or three of these tips in which you are doing very well and see if you can improve on them. Then, prioritize the rest of the tips based on the ones you are most likely to try and would be the easiest next step to raise engagement and retention at the school you lead.
This blog was written by Dr. Tom Miller, charter school consultant, leadership coach and trainer who is certified through the John Maxwell Team.
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