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Two Lessons From Reality TV for Teacher Retention

Lillie Marshall

I confess: After a long day of teaching my 140 7th graders, I often unwind by watching the reality television competition, "The Voice." In the show, celebrity judges including Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo Green blindly pick singers, then coach them over several months until America votes on the winner.

What is striking about "The Voice" (besides Cee-Lo's fabulous wardrobe choices) are two lessons highly applicable to teacher retention.

Lesson A: People have the potential to grow hugely if given time and good coaching.

It was astounding how much Cassadee Pope, the Season 3 winner of "The Voice," developed since episode one. I spent the first five weeks of the show screaming at the T.V. that Cassadee was singing off-key and needed to be cut, but halfway through the season, she switched from pop songs to country (partly because of her coach, Blake Shelton), and found her pitch.

I couldn't help but remember how I almost quit teaching after my second year. My biggest problem was classroom management, and the systems colleagues and school leaders suggested I use to keep order only created more chaos. Luckily, I stuck it out for a third year, and with new instructional coaches and mentors, finally found my classroom management groove. Without that extra year and new coaching, I would have just been another of the countless teachers who quit each year. Just as Cassadee was lucky Blake saw her potential and didn't cut her when she hit wrong notes, I was lucky my school leaders believed enough in me to convince me to stay for another year of coaching.

Lesson B: Coaching personality matches matter.

I wailed when "The Voice" coach Adam Levine cut one of the best singers in the competition, a soulful bohemian artist named Nicole Nelson, in favor of a mousey singer who hit one crazy note once... then was cut the next episode. Something about Adam's personality drew him towards supporting the "flash in the pan" contestant, meaning Nicole might have been better off picking a coach who supported her deep talent.

This lesson holds true in teacher retention. Not every school leader is the right match for every teacher, and what matches well with one may doom another. Teachers should not be afraid to switch to a school with a leader who is a better fit whenever possible. On the other side of things, school leaders should constantly assess how their biases are shaping or mis-shaping their interactions with teachers so they don't drive away potential stars.

The coaching goal in "The Voice" is to cultivate a top team of singers to produce the most beautiful music possible. A school leader's goal is to grow and keep a top team of teachers to create the lovely music of student achievement and happiness!

Lillie Marshall has taught in Boston since 2003. Connect with her on Twitter at @WorldLillie and on her Around the World "L" and Teaching Traveling global education websites.

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