Holding Onto Millennial Teachers: Voice, Choice, and Opportunity
This is the fourth piece in a series called Holding onto Millennial Teachers: Learning About Why They Stay. The series explores what motivates them to stay and how those meeting their motivational needs can generate talent pipeline and retention strategies in even the hardest to staff schools.
Since strategically retaining teachers today means strategically retaining Millennials, it is critical to explore how Millennials engage with their work and apply that to the organizational systems in schools. Millennials want to have a voice, to contribute ideas, direction, and a more active role in the management and execution of their work as individuals or in a small group.
In fact, Millennials surveyed across industries prior to COVID-19 highly valued leadership opportunities and having a voice in decision-making bodies. In their book, What Millennials Want from Work, Jennifer Deal and Alec Levenson found that having influence and autonomy in the workplace are key to retaining employees. Before the pandemic, research showed that schools that provide teachers with that level of professionalism in terms of classroom discretion and autonomy, as well as schools with higher levels of faculty input into school decision making, had significantly lower levels of teacher turnover.
Millennials also want to have opportunities to learn and grow. A recent Deloitte study shows a strong correlation between those who plan to stay in their current jobs and those who said their companies deliver the best on talent development, and diversity and inclusion. It is worth noting that, again, across industries, 94% of employees surveyed recently by LinkedIn said that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. The modern organization needs to meet learners where they already are — aligning development opportunities with employee aspirations, and engaging them through the platforms where they are already spending their time.
Adult learning and development expert, Ellie Drago-Severson, says that providing leadership roles is a powerful form of professional development for teachers. It is clear that such opportunities to learn and grow particularly appeal to Millennials: A 2018 Gallup Poll showed that 59% of Millennial job seekers, compared with 44% of Gen Xers and 41% of Baby Boomers, reported that opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job.
These wants reflect current research in the field of adult learning and leadership as well. Again citing Ellie Drago-Severson, her Four Pillars for Adult Learning — teaming, providing leadership roles, engaging in collegial inquiry, and mentoring — provide such a framework for leadership development in schools. Millennial teachers, like many teachers, are looking to break out of the isolating nature of traditional teaching and forge relationships, support one another, and challenge each other to grow in ways that promote lifelong learning.
So, how do we do this? How do we provide teacher’s with voice, choice and opportunities given the constraints of what schools currently are and can do? First, check out Powerful Practices #1 and #2 from my first post in this series. Those are focused on VOICE by leveraging adult learning through reflection. Powerful Practice #3, in my second post, also about VOICE, offers how to engage in common texts about equity. For some guidance about CHOICE, check out Powerful Practice #4 which discusses how to differentiate professional learning pathways.
Below, I dive into OPPORTUNITY to provide yet another tool to add to your ever-growing retention toolbox.
Powerful Practice #5: Providing Leadership Opportunities
Some examples of traditional and formal roles that teachers have historically taken on to flex their leadership muscles include grade team leader, department chair, mentor for new teacher(s), and data specialist. But leadership opportunities do not have to be formal or traditional. Opportunities to lead can come in other forms.
Opportunities to Shine
Shout out one teacher a week in your weekly update, or each day in your morning memo or morning huddle by naming that teacher’s instructional superpower, describing an example of that superpower in action, and challenging the rest of the staff to try it out in their classrooms.
Teachers can lead by writing. Open opportunities for them to write short blog posts or articles for your school or district-level website or newsletter. These pieces can cover social-emotional learning, creating a learning environment, how to plan effectively, or if the platform is appropriate for this, teacher “life hacks.”
Opportunities to Develop Colleagues
Consider providing your teachers with opportunities to show what they do well. Recognize their strengths and put them on display! Identifying lab sites or model classrooms is one way to do this. Lab site teachers always have an open door and are regularly modeling new or specific teaching strategies.
Another way to do this is to have teachers lead professional development sessions after school or during professional learning days. Teacher-led PD creates choice for sessions because you can run several sessions concurrently. This is a great way to spread best practices and to support teachers in developing facilitation skills.
Opportunities to Innovate
Teachers can lead by problem-solving. If a teacher comes to you with a concern about a process, system, or structure, offer them the option of leading a working group to try and solve the problem. Support them in working towards consensus. Give them space to prototype and iterate. Then… implement their solution!
Related, given everything we’ve learned from remote schooling, teachers can innovate by adapting some of the effective pieces of distance learning for in-person learning. Leading by innovating might look like integrating ed tech into the classroom in new ways, or it might look like using zoom to bring in guest speakers.
This is a lot of work. Why bother?
Providing teachers with informal opportunities to lead is critical to growing their leadership skills in low-stakes ways while laying the foundation for a distributed leadership model. These opportunities also make people feel valued, professionally respected, and recognized as experts in something — all feelings that contribute to retention!
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