SuperEval Blog

Keep Your Top Teachers: Simple Strategies for School Districts to Retain their Best and Brightest

October 6th, 2017

Employee turnoverConsider these statistics from the article “Revolving Door Of Teachers Costs Schools Billions Every Year” featured on NPR.org1 in 2015:

  • Each year there are thousands of teachers who begin their career. Over the next five years, nearly half will transfer to a new school or leave teaching altogether.
  • Richard Ingersoll, who has studied retention in education for years, says teacher turnover costs school districts upwards of $2.2 billion a year.

This information sheds light on a significant issue that many school districts across our nation are facing: the challenge of retaining top talent.

As a school leader you might be thinking, “But wait! Not all turnover is bad!” And you’d be correct—some turnover is advantageous. Fresh-faced teachers are great because they bring new ideas, teaching techniques, and enthusiasm into our classrooms. And new teachers cost less initially than veteran teachers. Plus, when low performing teachers decide to leave, it makes room for top talent.

However, the benefits of turnover are only one side of the coin. If you look at the vast amount of research from subject experts such as Ingersoll, you’ll see that the financial and non-financial costs of turnover outweigh the benefits. And when you zero in on keeping your top talent (a.k.a. the best and brightest) from jumping ship, you’ll see that trying to refill these gaps is quite an undertaking.

Before we look at how to keep teachers on board, let’s look at the main reasons why teachers decide to leave. Below is a chart contained in the September 2016 report, Solving the Teacher Shortage How to Attract and Retain Excellent Educators2:

What can we learn from the above figure?

If you dismiss the first two reasons which are personal in nature (and that you have no control over) – life situations and career change, you’ll see that the next 7 reasons why are directly related to a teacher’s dissatisfaction with working conditions and administration, “including school leadership, professional collaboration and shared decision-making, accountability systems, and resources for teaching and learning3.” Surprisingly, salary only accounts for 13%.

If you want to create a district with an enthusiastic and loyal teaching staff, you must pay attention to your retention efforts.

The following are some simple tactics your district can employ to avoid losing your top talent.

  1. Develop your district’s onboarding process. One of the groups that have the highest turnover rates are teachers who are just starting his/her career. Create mentoring and supervision of new teachers by having experienced teachers in the same subject area or grade, mentor, coach, and provide supervision. Orientations, retreats, periodic check-ins, and offering classroom assistance to new teachers will help improve overall morale.
  2. Create better workplace conditions. A study from the Peabody Journal of Education revealed “that the way in which teachers perceive their schools’ working conditions and environment were the most significant predictors of beginning teacher’s morale, career choice commitment and plans to stay in teaching.4” Yes, upper echelon schools probably have more perks, technology and aesthetically pleasing work environments; however, working conditions aren’t always about what you can see and touch. This is where a creating a positive workplace culture comes in. Your district culture should at the very least foster a sense of trust, respect, and safety.
  3. Empower teachers. One way that you can show teachers trust is by giving him/her more control over how to best manage his/her classroom.
  4. Provide ongoing support. Create opportunities for professional growth to ensure that teaching staff is given the opportunity to thrive and mature within your school district.
  5. Encourage diversity. In our nation, most public school students are children of color, but studies show that most teachers, over 80% or so, are white5. What does this have to do with retention? Minority teachers are more likely to work in high-poverty and/or low-performing schools. Working conditions in these schools can be challenging due to lack of resources and a revolving door of teachers and leadership staff. Some teachers of color decide to leave because they feel isolated or stereotyped working in a non-diverse workplace. A diverse teaching staff isn’t just good for the student, but it’s good for the district. Diversity challenges the thinking and assumptions of its members.

Now it’s your turn! What has turnover been like in your district? What are you doing to keep your best and brightest engaged and on board? Share your ideas in our comments section.


1. Phillips, O. (2015, March 30). Revolving Door Of Teachers Costs Schools Billions Every Year. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/03/30/395322012/the-hidden-costs-of-teacher-turnover

2. Podolsky, A., Darling-Hammond, L., Bishop, J., & Kini, T. (2016, September 15). Solving the Teacher Shortage How to Attract and Retain Excellent Educators. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/solving-teacher-shortage-brief

3. Podolsky, A., Darling-Hammond, L., Bishop, J., & Kini, T. (2016, September 15). Solving the Teacher Shortage How to Attract and Retain Excellent Educators. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/solving-teacher-shortage-brief

4. Blalock, K. (n.d.). Proven Strategies for Increasing Teacher Retention Rates. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.recruiting.com/blog/the-best-strategies-for-increasing-teacher-retention-rates

5. Neason, A. (2014, December 17). Why Black Teachers Don’t Stay. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from http://www.slate.com/blogs/schooled/2014/12/17/teacher_diversity_accomplishing_it_is_not_just_about_recruitment_it_s_about.html

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