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How can schools bring out the best in their teachers?

In a rapidly shifting educational environment, and in the face of a teacher shortage, how can schools support and keep their teachers inspired?

NEWS 7 Mar 2024

Schools are a complex network of values, processes and systems and at the heart of this network are people. They keep the school functioning and create and influence the education experiences and outcomes of every student.

With staff being so central to a school’s growth and success, enabling and supporting every person to do their best work is non-negotiable.

But how do you provide that support to teachers in a rapidly shifting educational environment, and in the face of a teacher shortage that shows no signs of being resolved any time soon?

Recruit ‘right fit’ teachers from the beginning

Schools need to do a better job of selling their story to teachers who are in the job market and looking for new possibilities and pathways, says Anna Sever, Deputy Principal (Teaching & Learning) at Haileybury. Attracting teachers who are the ‘right fit’ involves promoting a school’s values, achievements and aspirations front and centre, so quality teachers who want more than ‘good enough’ want to be part of that journey.

Hire for values alignment not skills, because skills can be taught, says Anna.

“In an interview, I’ll often ask ‘what three words come to mind when you walk into a high-performing classroom?’ or ‘what three words would you use to describe a high-performing head of department?’ You start to see what a high-performing culture looks like in the interviewee’s mind,” she says.

Asking prospective teachers to do a demonstration lesson is also valuable in seeing how they interact with students in the classroom, and whether they have the right high-impact teaching strategies such as setting a learning intention and providing quality feedback to students.

Build in flexibility

Creating flexibility should be on a spectrum from online, to hybrid and on campus, and every teacher needs this opportunity in some shape or form. A 2023 teacher information day organised by Haileybury Pangea, Haileybury’s online campus, saw 500 teachers register to find out more about online teaching opportunities. During the session, more than 150 questions were posed by teachers from across the country who wanted to balance their profession with life outside school.

Deliver opportunities for learning and growth

Bespoke professional learning experiences, leadership development courses, master degrees, coaching, peer observations and graduate support – good schools are strategic in how they support ongoing teacher development and help cultivate experts in their craft.

Brilliant pedagogy with high-impact teaching strategies, explicit instruction, harnessing technology, and inspirational and engaging learning environments all help teachers to keep bringing their best professional selves to work.

A targeted professional development program backed by leadership development courses covering topics such as how to have difficult but critical conversations and how to take the next step in leaderships are part and parcel of helping staff be their best. Opportunities to take on positions of responsibility, and giving people trust and autonomy is also an important piece of the professional development puzzle.

Put people at the centre

Ensuring people are placed front and centre of any decisions made by school leadership is an essential for schools who want to attract and retain brilliant and passionate teachers.

Effective school leaders need to use empathy and a people-centric lens when problem solving to deliver an engaging, creative and supportive working environment for teachers and all school staff.

“School leaders can’t implement a new system or change from the top down – it’s not going to work. Strategies such as stakeholder workshops that garner feedback and allow teachers to have a voice build empathy with those who will have to use a new system or be impacted by change. It’s important step in ensuring teachers feel valued”
Anna Sever, Deputy Principal (Teaching & Learning)

On a change curve, the laggards and early adopters both bring something important to the table by challenging and questioning change. Both need to be part of any change process and embraced for it to be successful.

Build positive creative tension

Creating positive tension empowers people to make their own decisions and have a go. Strong leaders don’t micro-manage but instead collect effective people around them who they trust to do their best work every day.

Good school leaders encourage teachers to have autonomy while also understanding the parameters they operate within. High expectations are balanced with people being allowed to fail and learn when trying something different.

“When leaders give autonomy and trust to their team, it cascades. It enables teachers to feel confident to make the best decisions they can and not second guess themselves. If you don’t give people autonomy, they can’t grow and create. Schools are better organisations when they make mistakes, own them and learn from them.”

Encouraging staff to share their full spectrum of opinions helps bring out the best in everyone and listening to differences of opinion and understanding why people may resist change is an opportunity for teachers to grow and work towards better outcomes for those that matter most, our staff and students.