By Leslie Hazle Bussey, Ph.D., CEO/Executive Director, GLISI
No disrespect to either jeans or chocolate, but neither will fix the root causes of teacher burnout that are leading to unprecedented levels of teacher attrition. It’s no secret that teacher turnover and burnout have been significant barriers to school success since before the pandemic. Turnover rates are up an estimated 4% nationwide, hovering between 11% and 14% annually. A staggering 41% of Georgia’s teachers want to leave the profession within the next five years, and the top factor they cite for pushing them out is “overwhelm.” Nationally, teachers and school principals are two times more likely to report “frequent, job-related stress” than the average working adult in other professions.
Many negative consequences accrue when teachers leave the profession, but chief among them is that it disrupts the coherence of learning for students.
A web of factors contribute to teacher turnover. Too many efforts addressing teacher turnover attend to superficial, near-term symptoms of exhaustion without addressing root causes. Learn4Life’s change action network identified teacher wellness as a root cause of teacher retention. School leaders are the single most impactful lever in influencing school climates, working conditions and institutional structures that most negatively contribute to teacher wellness. Principals who have a deep understanding of the tools and structures to build supportive cultures create the kind of workplaces where teachers can do their best work for students – and want to stick around and keep doing it.
School principals routinely report that they yearn for peer-to-peer learning, mentorship and adaptive coaching for the challenges they face. Yet, it is rare for principals to receive ongoing support for their growth once they become principals.
RETAIN (Restoring Teacher Aspiration and Innovation) is a groundbreaking partnership between Learn4Life and GLISI (Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement) to support development of leaders’ social emotional competencies associated with positive school climates – schools where teachers prosper and conditions for learning and connection thrive. More than 25 middle school leaders in Fulton, Gwinnett, Marietta, Decatur and Atlanta will participate with support from philanthropic and nonprofit partners.
Participants will experience the journey in small leadership teams convened in face-to-face and virtual learning communities from July 2023 to April 2024, supported by individualized coaching each month. Coaches from Mindful Leader Coaching will guide participants to set and pursue growth goals, using the time between convenings to integrate new insight into their day-to-day leadership practice. In addition, district leaders will be enlisted in their own learning community to problem-solve systemic challenges school leaders encounter in the work of building vibrant school cultures. The school leaders’ journeys will culminate in a capstone-style symposium, where participants will share artifacts, data, and reflections on how they have shifted practice and developed new leadership capacities through RETAIN.
By the end of the year, we expect to see gains in teachers reporting strong principal support; steady or increased rates of teacher intent to stay; and steady or decreased rates of voluntary teacher attrition. Principals’ capacity to build thriving school cultures isn’t the only factor that contributes to teacher burnout and attrition. But principal capacity does have a significant impact on school culture and how teachers experience their work. Our bet is it’s a stronger lever to pull than jeans days.
GLISI is a leader in the field when it comes to cultivating adaptive leader competencies. Explore their curated resources to scaffold development of adaptive leader skills known as the Leader SEL Toolkit, available for free at www.glisi.org/sel-toolkit.
I am very curious as to these causes, or reasons to be concerned, of exhaustion, stress, etc. I went to school in upstate NY in the late 70’s and all my teachers started their day at 7:00 in the morning and didn’t end their day until the last homework assignment or exam was graded. Myself and my classmates went on to many ivy League schools, MIT, Vanderbilt, etc. We became the generation that built and developed so much of the buildings and technology that we all use and enjoy today! There were no “work days” and multiple breaks during the year. Teachers met in the teacher’s lounge during the day – that was their opportunity to learn and feed off each other. I think the issues with teachers today is what is indicative of our entire society today – we are too soft! There is a reason we don’t hear about this same kind of burnout in China, Japan, India, France and other countries that are currently scoring higher than ours in education. I’m tired of hearing about teachers making $75k-$100k and the stress they are feeling. Maybe you need to study why our education system is ranked so low in the world and fix that, before we pander anymore to a teacher that is working less and getting paid more now than in any other time in our history.
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