8 Tips to Improve Teacher Retention with Social-Emotional Skills

Schools and districts are working hard to improve teacher retention. The high number of teachers and school staff leaving the education field was a problem before the pandemic, and it has increased considerably in recent years. Staffing shortages have become a crisis in many districts.

How can we better support teachers so they retain the passion and drive that led them to teaching? How can we equip educators and support staff to persevere through tough times?

Increasing teachers’ pay is an obvious first step. But beyond inadequate financial compensation, teachers face other challenges like navigating frequently changing testing and accountability systems, a lack of administrative support, and stressful working conditions.

Social-emotional skills can help solve many of the challenges teachers face.

By developing school cultures that foster trust, care, and engagement, districts can create healthy and happy work environments and strengthen staff retention. And, just like students, educators can benefit from strengthening their social and emotional skills. SEL can assist them in managing stress and emotional fatigue, creating strong relationships with students and peers, and becoming resilient to the many challenges they face.

It’s critical to support teachers and staff throughout the year with SEL. Here are eight ways to get started.

1. Consistently check in with staff.

Regular check-ins give educators and staff a sense of connection and continuity. This can be as simple as 15-minute bi-weekly meetings in which staff share about their successes and challenges, ask questions, or bring attention to issues they’re facing. Hosting these regular meetings will show your staff that you care about them, value their experiences, and want to support them.

2. Teach staff self-care and stress management skills.

High stress levels contribute to teacher absenteeism and high turnover rates. Stress also can negatively impact a person’s health and well-being and contributes to high rates of burnout.

But research shows that when teachers are able to effectively manage stress and the demands of teaching, their health and well-being improve and they are less likely to leave their profession. They are also more effective at reducing classroom conflict and behavior incidents, promoting cooperation and effective communication, and building supportive relationships with students.

Here are 10 tips for teaching effective stress management skills to staff.

3. Train staff to build healthy relationships.

Strong relationships are an important cornerstone of any SEL program. Teachers and staff need to know how to build healthy and trusting relationships with students. When students believe educators care about them, they are more likely to enjoy school, perform well, and follow class rules and policies. In addition, new research shows that strong teacher-student relationships can improve teaching practices

Teachers also benefit from strong peer relationships. Educator SEL encourages adults to establish a professional support network of colleagues, coaches, and mentors, and encourages consistent communication with this network to share advice, trade ideas, and talk through challenges. 

4. Encourage teacher voice and choice.

Promoting student voice and choice is a well-known practice used to increase student motivation and engagement. Teachers can also benefit from this empowerment! Many teachers want to be involved in school-wide decisions, and increasing teacher participation in decision-making improves their sense of agency, value, and motivation.

5. Cultivate a mentoring program.

All educators and staff can benefit from mentoring. Mentoring can be a set of structured supports, or it can be an informal buddy system. While it has commonly been used to support new teachers, in the age of the pandemic, mentoring can provide much-needed emotional and professional support for all staff. Effective mentoring programs contribute to healthier and happier teachers who are more likely to remain in their field.

Establish a mentorship program for your staff. You can utilize veteran teachers’ knowledge and expertise to support new teachers, but be sure to provide veteran teachers with supports too. Veteran teachers are leaving education at alarming rates and are especially in need of supports right now. Consider identifying senior faculty members who have collaborative and cooperative skills and can commit time to the mentoring initiative.

6. Coach, coach, coach!

Coaching is one of the best—yet often most underutilized—tools to support teachers. Coaching is like mentoring, but it’s more structured and provides a defined plan for professional improvement. Coaching goes beyond training and addresses teachers’ stress, resilience, and emotional needs. Consider setting up a coaching program in your school or district. Select trained coaches, create a targeted coaching strategy, and continually evaluate the impact of your program.

7. Show teachers and support staff that you care.

Just like students, educators are more likely to perform well and succeed when they feel valued and believe school leadership cares about them. Finding ways to show teachers that you care about them goes a long way toward boosting morale and improving school culture. A few simple ways to show your appreciation are to surprise teachers with coffee and donuts or an afternoon snack, write personalized thank you notes, or take over a supervision duty for a day.

8. Meet teachers and staff where they are.

Teachers are very busy people! It’s important to be mindful of adding more to their already full plates. When starting a new SEL program for educators, be sure to give them time to learn about the program and prep during their normal work hours. Start slow and make sure staff understand the benefits of SEL. Here are five tips to increase teacher buy-in for SEL.

Teachers and staff need additional supports to get through the challenges they face. SEL can help by creating a positive and nurturing school culture where teachers and staff have the resilience and emotional skills needed to maintain their passion for teaching for years to come.

We truly believe in the importance of providing SEL for educators. Our Educator Social-Emotional Reflection & Training (EdSERT) tool includes professional development and strategies to support the social and emotional competence and well-being of all educators.

Contact our SEL advisors today to learn more.