The Teacher Retention and Professional Development Conference, 2021, was organised to address growing concerns around international teacher recruitment, retention and professional development. The conference attracted exceptional presenters and discussion facilitators, as well as high-level educational leadership participants. The conference committee built in extensive opportunities for interaction and networking throughout and after the conference. The conference was a huge success.
The conference introduced many thoughts and ideas that gained consensus throughout the day. And, through much formal and informal discussion, some of those thoughts even became accepted as new realities. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more time consuming and more expensive to attract new teachers into international education. International travel has introduced increased complexities. Relocation now brings new questions and fears with regard to relocating, working and living in a new culture. It has also become more difficult to retain the quality teachers that we have. To address these new challenges, it is imperative that we increase our investment in teacher welfare, teacher engagement and professional development.
Each teacher brings an amazing wealth of talents and experience to the classroom. It is important that school leaders understand the passions of their teachers and then empower them to bring that passion, creativity and experimentation to their students. Understanding comes through listening and listening and listening. We need to listen to understand, not to respond. Teachers need to be heard and need to feel that their leaders will support them when their creativity and experimentation may not go as planned.
Teacher engagement is key to teacher attraction and retention
There was a strong consensus that staff well-being and staff retention are strongly linked. If school leaders want to retain their quality teachers, they must invest wisely in the well-being of teachers in their professional, personal and everyday lives. Leadership teams must be honest and authentic in that support. School leaders need to listen and understand the hopes, dreams and fears of their teachers. It was also agreed that teachers also need to take responsibility for their own well-being; teachers need to be taught that well-being journeys require moldability and malleability and need frequent adaptations. Well-being does not just happen; well-being requires skills that need to be learned and developed. Well-being and resilience are two sides of the same coin.
The conference recognised the tremendous workload of teachers this past year. Teachers need a generous amount of non-teaching time to be at their best when in front of students. It is the role of the school leaders to listen and watch and understand how far each teacher is stretched and then support the teacher so that some of that stretch is relaxed.
Professional development activities need to ensure teacher engagement and need to support teacher autonomy. Engagement and autonomy will encourage motivation that will bring experimentation and change to teaching methods and student learning results.
Professional development must be aligned and integrated with the needs of the teacher, the school and the learning community
It was agreed that we need to learn more about encouraging teachers to champion their own professional development. Professional development must be aligned and integrated with the needs of the teacher, the school and the learning community. It must focus on school improvement, staff growth and student learning. Professional development must focus on some change, some transformation, with an identified end in mind. It is critical to identify teacher strengths and talents and then provide opportunities to grow those strengths and talents.
Teacher engagement is key to teacher attraction and retention. The engagement of new teachers should begin shortly after their contract is signed and needs to continue actively and purposefully until that first day of school. Teachers need to be engaged in the formation and implementation of the school plan. Induction and engagement need to continue throughout the school year.
Although educators have been tied traditionally to the concept of a two-year teaching contract, school leaders need to think about recruiting to support the needs of the school long-term plan, thinking in terms of recruiting right and then retaining those right choices for four or five years. The school cannot afford to be turning over a large percentage of its staff every year. The world has changed and will continue to change. The pandemic is not going away anytime soon, and it is our role to move forward with better practices through these opportunities for change. Keep the great things that we have been doing and integrate the good things we have learned these past eighteen months.
If wise teacher recruitment is paramount to the success of a learning community, retention of the right teachers must be next in importance, and engagement of teachers is integral to teacher retention and staff well-being. The conference provided rich opportunities for sharing and discussing ideas, networking, and future collaborative professional development.
The conference also ended with a set of questions encompassing “where do we go from here?” How can we better engage teachers throughout our professional activities? How can we meet the changing needs around teacher well-being? How can we promote autonomous, yet directed, professional development? How can we ensure that teachers have a transformational experience while enriching our learning community? Do we need a new way of thinking to assist us with attracting and recruiting quality teachers?
The Outstanding Schools Middle East team is working hard to bring more events and conferences to the education community. The Outstanding Schools Middle East flagship event has now been announced and will be taking place from 12 to 14 October 2021.
The OSME 2021 event is a three-day conference with over 80 speakers set to share their opinions, best practice and expert advice on four different conference streams: Teaching and Learning, Wellbeing and Inclusion, Leadership and Management and Workforce and CPD. You can find out more about the upcoming event here and register early to secure your place.