Strategies for Improving Teacher Retention in Your School
Today, schools are faced with heightened challenges brought on by special education teachers and related service providers leaving the profession at faster rates than new hires are entering it. Staff shortages can lead to disruptions in learning for students, and it’s essential to find ways to support and retain the teachers who make a difference in their lives.
Let’s talk about some strategies that can help to offset the burdens fueled by staff shortages, from professional development and mentorship to higher pay and providing high-quality curriculum resources.
What Are the Main Challenges of Teacher Retention?
Before we delve into the solutions for improving teacher retention, it’s crucial to understand the challenges that special educators, like yourself, face. By recognizing these hurdles, a supportive environment that inspires teachers to stay in their roles can flourish!
Challenge 1: Many teachers, especially those newer to special education, may feel overwhelmed or isolated in their roles. How many times have you heard, “I feel like I’m on an island in special education,” from a special educator or related service provider? Lack of adequate support from colleagues, administrators, and support staff is a top contributor to burnout and turnover.
Challenge 2: In order for educators to maintain engaged and motivated, defined opportunities for professional growth should exist. Limited access to professional development and mentorship can leave teachers feeling stagnant in their careers with limited room to grow professionally.
Challenge 3: As with any profession, fair compensation is a significant factor in job satisfaction. Many special education teachers feel that their salaries don’t adequately reflect the complexity and demands of their roles.
Challenge 4: The large workload for special educators can be intense, with mounting paperwork, back-to-back meetings, and delivering individualized instruction for all students. Having to juggle such a demanding schedule can lead to stress and burnout for anyone if not managed effectively. We’ll touch more on this in-depth a bit further down in the blog!
Challenge 5: In order to effectively meet the personalized needs of students, teachers need access to the appropriate resources. When barriers to adequate resources exist, the ability to provide the high-quality education special education students deserve is lacking.
Those 5 challenges alone outline some, but not all, of the challenges surrounding teacher retention in special education departments today. What are some practical strategies to improve teacher retention in your school or district? Let’s walk through this together.
Professional Development and Mentorship
As we mentioned earlier, having access to consistent, high-quality professional learning opportunities and mentorship can make all of the difference in teacher retention. Why? Because great PD coupled with a great mentor will help educators grow both personally and professionally – a win-win! So, what steps can schools and districts take to support their educators with PD and mentorship?
Continuous Learning Through Professional Development
Special education is a dynamic field, and it’s essential for teachers to stay up to date on the latest evidence-based practices, instructional techniques, and research. Professional development opportunities will support you as an educator to:
Broaden your knowledge base, exposing you to new tools and approaches that will better support your students.
Keep pace with changes in policy, legislation, and best practices to ensure compliance and efficacy in your teaching.
Develop a deeper understanding of individualized learning needs, ensuring you are well equipped to provide equitable and inclusive learning opportunities.
Network with other special education professionals, encouraging collaboration and the ability to share ideas among one another.
Schools and districts can support professional development by:
Designating time during the school year for dedicated professional development activities.
Offering workshops, seminars, or conferences focused on specific topics related to your role as a special educator.
Providing funding or stipends, when available, for teachers to attend external professional development events.
Encouraging collaboration with local universities or organizations to create specialized training programs.
How Does Mentorship Promote Teacher Retention?
Let’s take a walk down memory lane for a moment. Think back to a time when you first started a new job. Were you ever given a mentor? What about when you were student teaching…did you think of your lead teacher as a mentor? It’s likely that in one case or another, you have experienced a form of mentorship that has helped drive you down a path toward success in some facet of life – personally or professionally.
Having a mentor as a special educator is one way to navigate some of the challenges experienced day in and day out. A mentor can help walk you through the fires and instill a newfound sense of confidence and support. Additionally, mentorship programs can offer:
Emotional support and encouragement, as you can lean on your mentor for guidance
Practical advice based on the mentor’s experiences, helping you tackle day-to-day challenges more effectively.
Opportunities for observation and feedback, promoting growth and reflection.
A sense of belonging and camaraderie, as you will feel more connected to your colleagues and the broader school community – leading to an increase in teacher retention.
Schools and districts can establish successful mentorship programs by:
Pairing new teachers with experienced educators who teach similar student populations.
Providing training for mentors, ensuring they have the skills and knowledge to effectively support their mentees.
Creating structured opportunities for mentor-mentee meetings, discussions, and collaborative planning.
Encouraging informal interactions between mentors and mentees, fostering a sense of trust and rapport.
By investing in professional development and mentorship, schools and districts can empower their special education teachers to grow, thrive, and remain committed to their students and their profession.
Balancing Workload Management and Fostering a Supportive Environment in Special Education
It can take a toll on you when you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, right? Having the support from your district to manage your workload in a supportive environment can relieve some of the pressures felt.
How can your school help support you as an educator strike a balance between effectively managing your workload, while doing so in an environment that promotes a nurturing atmosphere for professional growth?
Managing Workload for Special Education Teachers
Lesson planning, paperwork and IEP meetings likely make up a big chunk of your work week. To help manage your workload, schools and districts can:
Streamline administrative tasks by providing user-friendly systems and tools to reduce the time spent on paperwork and reporting.
Hire additional support staff, such as paraprofessionals or instructional aides, to share the responsibilities of providing individualized instruction and managing classroom logistics.
Carve out time within the school day for special education teachers to collaborate with general education teachers, plan lessons, and attend to other professional responsibilities. A planning period that is actually used for just that (not covering another classroom or diving into paperwork!) is beneficial for ALL educators!
Encourage a healthy work-life balance by promoting self-care, setting boundaries, and providing resources for stress management and wellness.
Creating a Supportive Environment for Special Education Teachers
There is something to be said about creating a company culture that teachers can rave about. There is also something to be said about creating a company culture so great that teachers don’t want to leave! Here are some ways to foster a supportive environment for special education teachers:
Create an open door communication policy between staff, administrators, and parents/guardians to ensure everyone is working towards common goals and the success of students.
Establish a ‘There is no I in team’ motto’ to encourage collaboration and a shared purpose among teachers, support staff, and administrators.
Recognize and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of special education teachers, highlighting their essential role in the school community.
Provide opportunities for teachers to share their expertise, ideas, and concerns in decision-making processes, demonstrating that their input is valued, respected and necessary for student success.
These tips can lead to a more supportive atmosphere, which in turn, can help to improve teacher retention and the overall educational experience for students.
Boosting Teacher Retention with TeachTown’s enCORE Software
With current staffing shortages, teachers are often lacking the resources and planning time needed to effectively teach their students. Students with disabilities require specially designed instruction, and in some cases, teachers are unable to meet those needs due to many of the reasons previously mentioned.
Providing teachers with a strong, high-quality curriculum, like TeachTown’s enCORE, is one way to help offset burdens that may be caused by staff shortages. To meet the needs of busy, overburdened, and oftentimes, burnt-out teachers, enCORE’s key features include:
Comprehensive, differentiated, and scripted lesson plans that provide new and veteran teachers alike with anchored instruction rooted in evidence-based teaching practices
This means that first-year teachers, paraprofessionals, leave replacements and substitutes can all provide high-quality instruction thanks to a curated, step-by-step guide that ensures consistent and effective implementation
Lesson plans, student-facing materials and assessments that are adapted and aligned to general education state standards to facilitate easy inclusion opportunities and ensure FAPE
Integrated technology for IEP goal alignment, data collection and real-time tracking for both small group and individual lesson formats
Technology-based small group sessions that differentiate content for individual students and automates data collection
Teachers can choose to target IEP goals and/or specific objectives aligned to state standards depending on the student, day or session
Independent practice sessions with automated data collection for both IEP goals and state-standard aligned content.