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7 Ways SEL Improves Teacher Retention

One of the biggest challenges schools and districts face is teacher retention. Teachers and school staff are leaving the education field at high rates. This issue, which was a concern before the pandemic, has become a crisis. The challenges created by COVID have prompted many educators to rethink their careers and have shined a brighter light on issues like low pay and stressful working conditions.

How can we better support teachers so they retain the passion and drive that led them to teaching? How can we equip educators and support staff to persevere through tough times?

Increasing teachers’ pay is an obvious first step. But beyond inadequate financial compensation, teachers face other challenges like navigating frequently changing testing and accountability systems, a lack of administrative support, and stressful working conditions.

A less obvious step to solving the teacher retention problem is social and emotional learning (SEL). By developing school cultures that foster trust, care, and engagement, districts can create healthy and happy work environments and strengthen staff retention. And, just like students, educators can benefit from strengthening their social-emotional skills. SEL can assist them in managing stress and emotional fatigue, creating strong relationships with students and peers, and becoming resilient to the many challenges they face.

Here are seven ways to start supporting teachers and staff with SEL.

1. Continually and consistently check in with staff.

Especially in these precarious times, regular check-ins give educators and staff a sense of connection and continuity. This can be as simple as 15-minute bi-weekly meetings in which staff share about their successes and challenges, ask questions, or bring attention to issues they’re facing. These regular meetings will show your staff that you care about them, value their experiences, and want to support them.

2. Teach staff self-care and stress management skills.

High stress levels contribute to teacher absenteeism and high turnover rates. Stress also can negatively impact a person’s health and well-being and contributes to poor teaching performance and high rates of burnout.

But research shows that when teachers are able to effectively manage stress and the demands of teaching, their health and well-being improve and they are less likely to leave their profession. They are also more effective at creating optimal learning environments for students by reducing classroom conflict and behavior incidents, promoting cooperation and effective communication, and building supportive relationships with students.

Here are 10 tips for teaching effective stress management skills to staff.

3. Train staff in building healthy relationships.

Strong relationships are an important cornerstone of any SEL program. Teachers and staff need to know how to build healthy and trusting relationships with students. When students believe educators care about them, they are more likely to enjoy school, perform well, and follow class rules and policies.

Teachers can also benefit from strong peer relationships. Help them establish a professional support network of peers, colleagues, coaches, and mentors, and encourage regular and consistent communication with this network to share advice, trade ideas, and talk through challenges. Co-workers, friends, and family can also provide invaluable support by lending an ear on especially difficult days. 

4. Encourage teacher voice and choice.

Promoting student voice and choice is a well-known practice used to increase student motivation and engagement. Teachers can also benefit from this empowerment! Increasing teacher participation in school decision-making can improve their sense of agency, value, and motivation.

5. Cultivate a mentoring program.

All educators and staff can benefit from mentoring. Mentoring can be a set of structured supports, or it can be an informal buddy system. While it has commonly been used to support new teachers, in the age of the pandemic, mentoring can provide much-needed emotional and professional supports for all staff. Effective mentoring programs contribute to healthier and happier teachers, and they have been shown to improve retention.

Establish a mentorship program for your staff. You can utilize veteran teachers’ knowledge and expertise to support new teachers, but be sure to provide veteran teachers with supports too. Veteran teachers are leaving education at alarming rates and are especially in need of supports right now. Consider identifying senior faculty members who have collaborative and cooperative skills and can commit time to the mentoring initiative.

6. Coach, coach, coach!

Coaching is like mentoring, but it’s more structured and provides a defined plan for professional improvement. Coaching goes beyond training and addresses teachers’ stress, resilience, and emotional needs. Consider setting up a coaching program in your school or district. Be sure to select trained coaches, create a targeted coaching strategy, and continually evaluate the impact of your program.

7. Meet teachers and staff where they are.

Teachers are very busy people! It’s important to be mindful of adding more to their already full plates. When starting a new SEL program for educators, start slow and make sure staff understand the benefits of SEL. Here are five tips to increase teacher buy-in for SEL.

Teachers and staff need additional supports to get through the challenges they face. SEL can help by creating a positive and nurturing school culture where teachers and staff have the resilience and emotional skills needed to maintain their passion for teaching for years to come.

We truly believe in the importance of providing SEL for educators. Our Educator Social-Emotional Reflection & Training (EdSERT) tool includes professional development and strategies to support the social-emotional competence and well-being of all educators.

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