Building a Great Teaching Team: Wisdom from Teachers
By Deva Dalporto
Great Teachers = Great Schools
In Hollywood they say casting is everything. If you pick the right actors to star in your movie, odds are better it will be a box office blockbuster. Same holds true for schools. If the staff and teachers are great, odds are much higher the school will be great. A great place to learn and work. So how does a principal find and maintain a stellar teaching staff? We surveyed 274 principals and assistant principals from private, public, and parochial schools across the U.S. to find out.
Hiring Great Teachers
Hire Who You Know
You know the old adage: it’s not what you know, but who you know. When it comes to hiring teachers, this appears to be true. Ninety-two percent of the principals and assistant principals we surveyed said they give first consideration to candidates they know personally or are recommended by someone they know. Seventy-one percent said they rely on recommendations from colleagues when hiring new teachers, 60% said they give student teachers a shot, and 47% of principals give subs more consideration than the average anonymous applicant. Only a quarter of those surveyed said they give first consideration to “off-the-street” candidates. One administrator even said she gives high consideration to candidates referred by parents. In short, when hiring teachers go with who you know!
Top Qualities Administrators Look for in Teaching Candidates
A passion for teaching was the number one quality administrators look for in new teaching candidates. Eighty percent of respondents said it tops their list. One administrator said, “During the interview process you can truly see the person loves to work with children and will do anything and everything to ensure students are successful.”
The second quality principals look for when hiring are interpersonal or “soft” skills. Sixty percent mentioned this is a must in their teaching candidates. Soft skills like “resiliency,” “self-confidence,” “reflectiveness,” “flexibility,” “common sense,” and the “ability to build rapport with students, staff, and parents” were called out as incredibly important. And this holds true even more so at public schools, where 62% (versus 43% of religious school principals) noted it as a top priority.
Rounding off the top three qualities was expertise in their field. Thirty-nine percent felt it was an important quality in teachers. Interestingly, only 13% said having an advanced degree was important, so it seems the expertise administrators value is hands-on experience. “Over the years, those with teaching experience and student interaction have always been better staff than those with the higher degrees,” said one administrator. “Many have the very minimum in degrees; yet they seem to go above and beyond in reaching their students.”
Best Ways to Attract Good Teachers
When asked how to attract good teachers, most of the administrators we surveyed said you need to “be a school where people want to work.” A good reputation is key. “The best ways to attract good teachers,” said one principal, “is to have a school recognized for high standards, enriched curriculum, teacher support, pleasant working environment, and opportunities to voice opinions.” If your school is known for being a great school with a positive work environment, happy teachers, and a solid community, good people will want to work there.
Other administrators stated that if you want to attract great teachers, you need to offer competitive salary and benefit packages. “Competitive salaries and benefits make a positive first impression when teachers come to interview with you,” said one principal. If you don’t have any wiggle room when it comes to salary, offering other perks like flexibility, assistance with continuing education, or professional development can also help attract good teachers.
Retaining Great Teachers
According to our survey, the number one way to retain good teachers is to be supportive. Make them feel valued and appreciated. If you want to keep teachers, you need to “provide support for them and give them the utmost respect.”
It’s also important to build trust. Listen to them. Have an open-door policy. Know they can come to you with any problem—personal or professional—and have your ear.
And it goes without saying that creating a safe, positive work environment where teachers can thrive is a must. Create a school culture based on mutual respect. Having camaraderie amongst the staff is vital. To retain great teachers, morale must be high. If people are happy, they’ll do their best and stick around.
Teaching is an incredibly rewarding job, but let’s be honest, it can be very demanding and stressful. One of the best ways to help teachers deal with the pressure is to facilitate camaraderie amongst the staff. When teachers feel supported and part of the school community, they can handle the demands of the job better. One respondent summed it up like this, “The single most important thing to do to retain good teachers is to have a positive culture/climate on your campus where the staff are enthusiastic, positive, and supportive of each other as they work together to accomplish the goals of the district.”
All of the principals we surveyed felt that the responsibility for facilitating this camaraderie lies squarely on their shoulders. Eighty-six percent said the principal plays a “very important” role, and 14% said he or she plays a “somewhat important” role in it. Not a single respondent answered “not too” or “not at all” important.
Staff parties/luncheons and meetings were cited as the two most effective ways to facilitate camaraderie. “Taking time to share ‘good news’ at staff meetings … promotes a sense of family,” said one administrator.
At public schools, teacher team-building exercises were a popular way to help the staff connect; while at parochial schools, retreats were mentioned by nearly half the respondents.
One would think perks and parties are the best ways to build morale, but according to our survey, the best way to boost teacher morale is to involve them in decision-making and value them. Eighty-seven percent said involving teachers in team building and problem solving is the way to go. Eighty-two percent said inviting teachers to help shape school curriculum is vital, and 75% said involving teachers in creating policies that affect them is a good way to build morale. “Ask for their input,” said one administrator. “Make them a part of the process.”
Being supportive is also incredibly important. Eighty-two percent of the administrators we surveyed said “offering support and coaching” is a great way to boost morale—being available to the staff to answer questions, checking in on them, and offering support for both personal and work-related issues. According to one of the respondents, “Going into their classroom during their prep period and giving (teachers) the opportunity to share one-on-one” is a great way to offer support. You can go to them or have an open-door policy so that teachers will come to you and share their thoughts and feelings.
Many respondents mentioned that giving teachers personal notes and positive letters to let them know they are valued and appreciated builds morale. And one administrator said the key to success is to have chocolate on hand 24/7. Lots of chocolate!
Creating a Good Work Environment
As with building morale, the best way to create a good work environment, according to the administrators we surveyed, is to stand behind and support the staff. “Listen to them,” said one principal. “Always have an ear for their needs.”
Seventy-two percent of administrators said improving student behavior is vital to creating a good work environment. One respondent said they “follow the golden rule school-wide.” Teachers, students, administrators—everyone is expected to treat one another with kindness and respect.
Safety is also a major concern. Seventy-two percent of respondents said providing a safe work environment is key.
Seventy percent of assistant principals felt giving teachers adequate time for lesson planning and grading is a great way to create a positive culture. This was a bigger issue at public schools (70%) than religious schools (43%).
Offering professional development opportunities was also cited as one of the top five ways to create a positive work environment.
And private school administrators were much more likely (71%) than public school principals (40%) to offer flexibility when teachers request time off.
The best ways to motivate teachers, according to our findings, are to celebrate and praise them. “Brag about their accomplishments inside and outside of the school,” suggested one principal. Give them prizes for a job well done.
Feed them! It sounds silly, but offering little perks like lunch or snacks at meetings is a great way to keep your team motivated and happy.
It’s also important to get out of your office. If you’re on campus engaged with your staff and working alongside them, they will be more motivated to do their best. “I ensure that if they need help with students or parents, I am involved so they are never left on an island,” said one administrator.
And finally, be positive yourself! If you smile, the staff will smile with you!