Blog Series

A New Year, a New Start: Keeping Your Heroes Happy (Dealing with Teacher Turnover, Shortages, and Motivation)

by Voyager Sopris Learning on Jan 17, 2019

  • Professional Development
Theresa McKee


Everyone wants to feel fulfilled and happy with their work, to believe they make a difference. This is more than a good feeling or earning a high salary. This is efficacy and it is critical for teachers’ success. When an entire school faculty has efficacy, it is called Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE), which is “the collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students” (Hattie, J. Visible Learning Plus).

If you are familiar with John Hattie’s work, you know CTE is ranked as the No. 1 influencer for student achievement. CTE should be the goal of every school administrator who wants to ensure all students reach their full potential. Unfortunately, the challenges educators face each day tend to negatively impact efficacy, individually and collectively.

As a 15-year veteran public school teacher and administrator, I have seen firsthand how the obstacles teachers face reduce efficacy and may even erode job performance. Hammered by high-stakes testing, poorly funded classrooms, the effects of poverty on students, and, of course, very low pay and undervalued careers, it is no wonder 2018 saw a growing number of statewide teacher strikes or protests. More are expected in 2019.

Consequently, staff morale is even more at the forefront of administrators’ minds. Teacher shortages remain high, so retention is a must for school administrators. Just as heroic teachers inspire our students to reach their potential, leaders who intentionally strive to build efficacy and inspire educators can be our teachers’ champions, too.

Of course, building efficacy and celebrating our heroes requires thoughtfulness and planning. So, I polled education leaders I have worked with throughout the years (and personally witnessed their efforts to counter the negativity and strive for positive, collective efficacy) for input. As I spoke with these leaders across large, small, urban, and suburban districts in Virginia, several recurring themes stood out: continuous professional development, inclusive decision making, altruism, and celebrating successes, both big and small. These themes are not new, but interweaving them can lead to powerful CTE and create improvements in the workplace.

Dr. Michael Cromartie, chief of schools for Portsmouth Public Schools, said, “Highly skilled teachers are in great demand across the country and in many instances the demands for strong teachers are most dire in urban school divisions like Portsmouth.”

“We work to keep our teachers connected to the altruistic reasons they entered the field,” he said. “I believe we do a really good job promoting our value for quality teaching at the building and district level through ongoing professional development in the content areas and continuing education incentives. Specifically, we work to enlist our teachers as our most fundamental partners, setting practices and policy that preserve and emphasize instructional time, provide current and proven instructional technology and online learning, promote partnerships with business and post-secondary education organizations, and strategically reintroduce career and technical education opportunities. The magic is showing them they are critical to advancing each initiative every day.”

In Norfolk Schools, another urban district, Dr. Michael Cataldo, executive director of curriculum and instruction said, “We have really focused on retaining (and recruiting) high-quality teachers. We acknowledge what we as administrators can and can’t control in our schools. Administrators may not control salaries, parent demands, etc., but they can control how valued and appreciated their teachers feel. It starts with the principals and their APs…They have to think of creative and frequent ways to support their teachers.” 

“Motivation needs to be something that is always on the mind of the leadership team,” Cataldo said. “I constantly think about how we can use our time to appreciate our best teachers. In the words of the great Zig Ziglar, ‘People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing—that's why we recommend it daily.’ For example, teachers always love the precious commodity of time. When I was a principal, if I could provide a teacher with coverage of a class or cover one of their duties, that always goes with that teacher. In every school division there are only two jobs…You are either a teacher or a teacher supporter.”

Ashley Rehyer, director of student services in Poquoson, VA, also focuses on intrinsic rewards to motivate teachers, which is typically why educators enter the field in the first place.

“We take the time to emphasize the progress that students are showing,” she said. “If teachers feel as if the work they are doing is making a difference for the students that need it the most, they tend to stay motivated and encouraged by the growth that students are demonstrating.” 

Professional, collaborative learning activities also play a part in motivation, Rehyer said.

“Another thing we have done is implement professional learning communities,” she said. “Participating in these collaborative activities with colleagues who are doing similar work helps teachers feel connected and a part of a larger community that is working in the best interest of our students. In the area of special education, we have made it a point to highlight an inspiring instructional practice each quarter. This spotlight gets shared at our local Special Education Advisory Council meeting. Examples of those we’ve recognized may be an inclusive practice like providing our students with more significant disabilities more opportunities to participate in the band program or vocational programming like the coffee cart and print shop simulation experiences that are in place for our middle school students to learn and practice job skills.”

Offering continuing professional development as well as frequently celebrating teachers is a recurring theme among education leaders. Amy Marchigiani, vice president of academics at An Achievable Dream, an education nonprofit that has partnered with three Virginia school districts, emphasizes that students, particularly disadvantaged students, thrive on relationships created with their teachers and supporting staff members and nurtured throughout many years. “Therefore, it is imperative that we provide an environment that not only students, but also teachers, call their home,” she said. “A home where teachers feel fulfilled by what they provide to ensure the growth and success of their school and where they can continue to grow as professionals in their field.” An Achievable Dream continually provides opportunities for professional growth and advancement through trainings by leading experts across the nation and by fostering a shared culture of lifelong learning.

Dr. Marchigiani continued, “Leadership is critical in any organization and our belief system implores that we provide the resources for teachers to build these skills through ongoing professional development. Identifying key educators throughout the building to foster the culture of the school each year ensures that teachers feel a sense of belonging and ownership. And, finally, ensuring that teachers and staff feel appreciated throughout the year while we celebrate small, medium, and larger accomplishments creates an environment full of positivity.” An Achievable Dream is a nationally recognized K–12 program dedicated to the belief that all children can learn and succeed regardless of their socioeconomic background. An Achievable Dream High School has a 100 percent on-time graduation rate. Ninety-five percent of graduates attend college and 5 percent join the military.

Michael Evans, a retired principal and district leader, continues his work with principals as a national consultant. His no-nonsense approach focuses on recognizing teachers individually and collectively. Teachers need to feel like they have a voice in the decision-making process. When it comes to the daily grind of working in a school, he advises that leaders should bring those stakeholders to the table who will be impacted by a leader’s decision. He said, “This will allow teachers to be a part of the plan and guarantee better execution of it.”  

Schooling is hard work and teachers often are called upon to do more than teach. As a principal, Evans always encouraged his teachers, whenever asked to get involved with school committees or groups, to see it as an opportunity to showcase their talent, not as another thing they are being asked to do. “Your input may be the difference maker” is his signature motivational phrase.

Assistant Superintendent John Caggiano takes a systems approach when planning Hampton City Schools’ new teacher induction program. Beyond structuring a New Teacher Summit prior to the opening of school, his team maps out ongoing learning opportunities throughout the school year. “In our division, first-year teachers come together to participate in three New Teacher Conventions that are spread throughout the first three quarters of the school year. In addition to various central office staff conducting trainings during the conventions, this model provides an opportune time for this group of teachers to collaborate. And, this induction process does not conclude at the end of a new teacher's first year with us. Our induction plan evolves over a three-year period with the goal of growing teacher leaders during this period of time.”

Dr. Caggiano said he believes it is important for central office staff to view teacher support through Robert Greenleaf's philosophy of servant leadership—another form of using altruism to build collective efficacy. He cited an example of a creative initiative the department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment began, which focuses on “giving teachers back their Sundays.”

“Operating with this mindset, we approach the design and development of our curricula through the lens of a first-year teacher,” he said. “What would a first-year teacher need to see or want to have at his or her disposal? For example, can we embed video links of master teachers in our division into our curriculum providing guidance on how to use a particular instructional strategy or how to pace through the next unit of instruction?”

Whether nurturing your teachers in the day-to-day work of education, providing meaningful and relevant professional development, or celebrating teacher success in big and small ways, the importance of ensuring teachers are equipped to face barriers to success is critical for strong teacher efficacy. When teachers feel valued, they can become even more motivated to fight the good fight for their students, despite the challenges. Perhaps sharing these leaders’ ideas and efforts may spark more for those continuing the important work of valuing our teachers and building their efficacy for increasing student achievement.


Hattie, John. Visible Learning Plus. https://visible-learning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-hattie/


By Theresa McKee, M.Ed.
Voyager Sopris Learning Regional Vice President, North

LETRS® professional development, authored by literacy experts Louisa C. Moats, Ed.D., and Carol Tolman, Ed.D., prepares teachers for the challenging work of teaching reading. LETRS is designed to help teachers increase literacy skills, change reading outcomes, and set students on a lifelong path to success. Make an impact in your district today. Learn More

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