Last week I had the honor of being a facilitator at the K12 Educational Leaders Asia 2016 Conference. PDacademia was also a media sponsor, where we supported the conference by promoting it to our educator network in Asia. During my time in Singapore, I also had the opportunity to do a few school visits,, largely in the capacity as a curious Council of International Schools (CIS) Affiliated Consultant. Reflecting on those discussions at the conference and the school visits, the underlying theme and line of learning for myself was about Teacher Retention.
Firstly, my belief about retaining excellent staff starts with hiring staff that align with the values of the organization and that believe in the organizations core purpose. Not all schools have the same core purpose, and simply educating kids or improving student learning are not sufficient as core purposes. Soon I will be publishing a much longer article related to the Vision and Mission of the school, but here is a spoiler – to hire staff with the intention of retaining them, we need to hire with the school in mind, not the position. Teaching skills can be improved but attitudes are difficult to change.
Unfortunately, its the hiring process where everything goes horrifically wrong. For schools, big and small, the fault largely lies with Senior Leadership letting department heads own this process with very little oversight or training. The training that would probably be most helpful is questioning skills. One of the discussions that I found most refreshing, was an emphasis on asking more dispositional questions and the training and support educators required to develop that type of questioning. To do this successfully, you require an intimate knowledge of and the ability to communicate the culture of your school. To attain that level of awareness, you need to have regular discussions with peers that reflect on that topic, defining the school culture.
Two additional presents I received from this trip came from my school visits. The first visit was with UWCSEA’s Centre for International Education, where I saw a department within the school that was able to effectively reach across the whole school, all departments, Academic and Non-Academic, to connect with the professional learning needs of all staff. Anecdotally speaking, the director commented that the Centre is a large incentive to job applicants and that their newly appointed Head of Schools was once a participant at the Centre. Coincidentally, I have found that training and support are two of the top 3 incentives teachers require when deciding to stay with a school.
The second present was visiting a school CIS supposedly dubbed the most inclusive school in Asia. I don’t have a link to this claim, but after visiting the school, I immediately knew how it could be true. The motto for Nexus International School is Embracing Diversity and Challenging Minds. The head of school, Stuart Martin, without question, is a very eccentric gentleman, but his introduction to the school was incredibly refreshing, as he didn’t hold back any punches. We later toured one of the ‘pods’ and I had the opportunity to experience how the needs of all learners could be addressed in a school without walls, and that every mind, including the staffs, was being challenged.
The Pod will have to be a story for another time, but how the Pod promotes retention, was the gift. I listed training and support as two of the three top reasons teachers will stay with a school. The third, not money, is working in an environment where they can connect beliefs to practice. The Pod enabled teachers to challenge each others thinking, try something new without fear of failure and collaborate with a number of stakeholders to achieve the Pod. Training was a collaborative method and the support from Stuart was without question, even when Stuart was willing to let parents leave the school that initially resisted the change in learning environment.