Breathe New Life Into Back-To-School to Retain Your Teachers

Title graphic that says Think Outside the Box with a tic-tac-toe board the bottom.

For most of us, it’s that time of year again…. Back to School time! I’ll bet you are gearing up for another school year… Or, perhaps you’re just starting off in education, or in a new district. Perhaps you’ve moved to another field related to education, or you’ve left altogether.  As a district, perhaps you’ve ramped up your mentoring or training or orientation programming.  Perhaps you found ways to recruit the best and the brightest to fill openings in your schools. 

No matter what we’ve experienced individually, be aware many eyes will be on K12 education in the coming months. By now, The Great Resignation is common terminology, and increased numbers of professionals leaving (or gone already) mirrors other industries. This “Education Emigration” is more than concerning.  As Carl Hooker shared in one post from his Forward to Different – A Blog Series on How School Will Operate After the Big Quit, 

“The Great Resignation, or “Big Quit”, is happening across multiple industries. Education has been in the cross-hairs of this movement for the past several years, but now the pandemic has amplified it.”. 

Indeed, we are seeing unprecedented numbers leaving K12 education.  Whether moving on to an early retirement, corporate education opportunities, or away from education altogether, we understand. The pandemic was a game-changer in many ways.  We don’t blame you if things didn’t work out.  

However, we cannot stand at the rails blowing kisses and wishing our departing colleagues well when there is still a ship to sail.  Though many have left, a multitude more are still here, with new shipmates arriving daily. Smart, educated, devoted, talented, flexible, organized, adaptable educators ARE STILL HERE .   We must find ways to retain them, lest we lose them, too. Teachers are highly sought after. Their skill-set is valuable in all industries, so believe me when I tell you MANY teachers are in a position to leave. To change lanes. To switch districts. To reinvent themselves.   What concerns me more is a recent survey done by where author Michael Bronder shares:

“88% of respondents report that they would give less than 1 month notice if they found another job….  While 4 weeks notice may seem more than reasonable outside of education, educators are in the habit of announcing career moves well ahead of time. Retirements are deliberate and well-planned, and both teachers and administrators generally announce intentions to move-on in the spring before summer break. That over 10% of respondents say that they would “leave immediately” is unheard of.”

Teacher retention cannot rely on optimism alone.  Hope is not a strategy.  We need concrete ways to appreciate, support, defend, develop and hold fast to these professionals we work so hard to hire.  Are you a district or school leader looking to support rock stars?  Let me offer some advice, suggestions and resources from some colleagues I think can help. 

Have you heard of Amber Harper?  She is a Kindergarten teacher, author of Hacking Teacher Burnout and CEO of The Burned In Teacher. Her specialty is supporting those struggling with the burdens associated with teaching, especially through the Covid pandemic aftermath.  I attended an online webinar with Amber and was instantly drawn to her energy and dedication to helping teachers. I reached out to her about writing this article and to thank her for the important work she is doing.

I particularly love this quote from one of Amber’s blog posts: 

“There are certainly many factors that can be happening around us that can make teaching life very hard and unpleasant. But, there are also many things that we can do both internally and externally to pull ourselves out of this cycle of depression and burnout. If you want or need support, the The Burned-In Teacher Podcast Facebook Group is ready and willing to give you that support. We’re here for you. No matter what.”

Imagine if a school district shared out Amber’s work as a source of support; recognizing that we all could use strategies to Burn-In, instead of Burn-Out!!?? If you visit Amber’s website, or Facebook group, be sure to check out her free workshop. She is an engaging presenter who gets right to the point and wants to improve education for teachers and students alike.  These are “DO NOW” tips and strategies!

Lucky am I to have known Jennifer Sabatini Fraone since we were in grade school…. I have followed her contributions for years at Boston College as Director of Corporate Partnerships in their Center for Work & Family have found many parallel connections to our work in K12 education. She recently provided resources for me to share with you:

“Living through the past two years of the pandemic has led to a lot of soul-searching and introspection about how people are living their lives and how their career fits into that plan. Employees are looking not only at their compensation, title and benefits but they are seeking employment that connects to a mission and purpose that is meaningful for them, and a community that recognizes and appreciates their work and contributions. They also seek a culture of trust, empathy, flexibility and support. Workplaces in all sectors need to evolve to meet this moment or they will be more likely to lose current talent and struggle with attracting new candidates.”

As Jennifer said, this is definitely a hot topic that is getting more attention. Here are a few other articles she shared with me. Again, I believe some of these can be great to share in mentoring and onboarding programs as a springboard to productive conversations.

My brilliant friend Charity Preston from The Organized Classroom understands the challenges of being a teacher, and creates systems and processes to make our role in education a bit easier.

Being proactive versus reactive can mean the difference between being miserable in the classroom on a daily basis, or looking at the big picture to frame a positive mindset. Taking proactive steps will lead you to feeling a greater sense of job satisfaction for the future. If you are having more stressful days than satisfactory ones, perhaps it’s time to reflect on your mindset. It’s the one thing we ALWAYS have control over. Believe it or not, those feelings will transfer to your students too. They can sense when you are struggling. Classroom environment and behavior management really takes a hit when the teacher is not on his or her A-game .”

Charity is right. Sometimes improvements to organization or classroom systems can alleviate stress in the school house, for the benefit of students and teachers. Even the most tenured faculty can benefit from fresh eyes observing their age-old systems. Read more of Charity’s work on a proactive approach on her blog here:

And, Charity’s Classroom System Starter Kit is a great resource.

Finally, I am going to go out on a limb here and compare education to baseball. Yes….. Baseball.

Have you heard of the Savannah Bananas ? I have watched endless videos and read many articles about the team who plays Summer League College Baseball and Banana Ball in historic Grayson Stadium.  Go ahead and watch the video for the pure enjoyment (it is baseball season, after all!) Then, I want you to WATCH THE VIDEO AGAIN , and substitute the following terms you hear:

Owners, Managers, Players —-> Teachers, Administrators, Staff

Fans —–>  Students

Baseball, Game ——–> School, Learning

Now… Take it easy there…. Don’t take my suggestion to the extreme and think I’m saying we all have to dress like bananas to fix education.  Deep down… you KNOW what I’m saying.

  • Work as a TEAM
  • Look for NEW ways to achieve goals
  • Breathe LIFE into the learning environment
  • Create a workplace where teachers HOPE to be hired
  • Make kids WANT to come to school

How can something as traditional as EDUCATION change for the good of all our students as well as for those who choose education as a career path? I don’t have all the answers, but I bet ALL of us can come up with some together!

Yes, the education industry is unique. But being unique does not protect us from what happens when work demands outweigh personal wellness. Like the rings of a tree, we will see the scars of this pandemic for years to come. Persevering through this post apocalyptic time with a proactive, realistic view is integral to our students’ future growth. 

Our ATTITUDE will determine our ALTITUDE.




Editorial Director, K12Leaders

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