For a Better Teacher Work Environment, Look to These 4 Factors, Report Says
Professional support plays a big role in how teachers view their jobs. Research has suggested that having a mentor can keep teachers in the profession for longer, and that teachers who like their principals rate their school climate more favorably.
A new report attempts to pinpoint the factors that hinder this kind of supportive work environment for educators, and it offers a roadmap toward creating a stronger professional culture.
The report, published by 100Kin10, a national nonprofit seeking to recruit and train 100,000 new science, technology, engineering, and math teachers by 2021, stems from the organization's previous research into the "grand challenges" facing STEM education. Of the 14 "catalysts" 100Kin10 identified—changes that would have the highest impact in attracting teachers to the profession and retaining them—three were related to work culture: making time for professional growth during the school day, providing more opportunities for teacher collaboration, and creating a positive environment for staff.
The group identified these trends by analyzing published research and news reports, and consulting with 100Kin10's partner organizations, which include school districts, teacher-preparation programs, nonprofits, and companies.
The report argues that four main factors prevent schools from reaching these goals:
Belief: Too often, schools look at improving professional culture as one end of a binary choice: They can prioritize either student learning or teacher growth. But the two aren't in conflict, the report argues, as actively supporting teachers can lead to better student outcomes.
Structures: When schedules, teacher-evaluation methods, or professional-development practices don't allow for collaboration or growth, school leaders may not have the authority to make changes to the system. Promising programs—like teacher-leadership pathways—are often put in place without a roadmap to implementation.
Capacity: Changing a school's culture takes time, training, and support—resources that school leaders, especially principals, often don't have.
Resources: Developing more opportunities for professional learning and collaboration often requires additional funding, which schools and districts may find difficult to secure.
While 100Kin10 is focused on recruiting and retaining STEM teachers specifically, these are issues that affect school culture for all teachers in the building, the report says.
How can schools and districts address these barriers? Principal leadership plays an important role, said Talia Milgrom-Elcott, the co-founder and executive director of 100Kin10.
Principals are instructional leaders, but also school managers—they need to be able to set a vision and goals for their teachers' development as professionals, she said.
"We often don't prepare principals to think of themselves as leading work environments for adults," said Milgrom-Elcott. "We don't support them with management skills."
Research suggests that teachers' opinions about their principals could shape perceptions of their school environment. In a 2016 study from Loyola Marymount University, teachers' ratings of their workplace climate matched their assessment of their principals.
And as my colleague Madeline Will reported in a new Education Week special report on the challenges principals face, school leaders say providing instructional leadership and positive recognition is key to teacher retention.
100Kin10's report identifies commonalities across successful teacher workplace culture initiatives. Among them: setting aside one to two hours a week for teachers to collaborate and meet with coaches, and creating clear, formal pathways for teacher leadership that are supported by school administration.
The organization also highlighted "models to learn from," which include both local nonprofit organizations like the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago and nationally available teacher effectiveness programs, like the Building Assets, Reducing Risk (BARR) model.
"Promising practices" from research and exisiting programs drive the report's recommendations, which focus on identifying and implementing school structures that prioritize teacher learning, capacity-building strategies for principals, and flexible funding models to support teacher growth.
Going forward, said Milgrom-Elcott, the network plans to work to implement the recommendations with their partner organizations.