I recently attended an ACEL presentation, “A synthesized model of teacher turnover” by Dr Hugh Gundlach. He and Gavin Slemp spent four years working on a meta-analysis on teacher turnover. This was of particular interest given our current situation in New South Wales and my research regarding supporting early career teachers. I'd like to highlight one of Hugh's points from his presentation: "Let them leave well." This was unpacked and explained. Do school leaders provide teachers with a positive experience when departing a school? The data presented indicated that teachers join the profession because of their passion for learning, working with young people, contributing to society and salary but given our current situation, I am curious to learn if the contribution to society and salary have changed as motivational factors. In my experience, individuals quit teaching or a particular school for several reasons such as the lack of stable employment, a partner's job transfer, or the need to care for ageing parents. One may also leave to learn, grow, and gain experience in other contexts or fields. It was suggested to me that there are instances when you need to move to improve or go to grow.
I recognise that an effective teacher leaving a school is detrimental to the students and the school community, while also increasing the principal's recruiting responsibility. This is especially true given the current teacher shortage. I am drawn back to the number one reason teachers leave or stay in the profession, which is job satisfaction. From the data findings, Hugh’s shared some of the questions principals could ask.
- Was the teacher’s departure voluntary?
- Is the teacher’s departure a loss for the school?
- Could the school have done anything to prevent the departure?
Now, before anyone questions why the school or principal is responsible, it is crucial to accept what is within one’s control. Responses are pivotal but what struck me most was the statement, “Let them leave well”. Stories were shared about supporting colleagues to gain a unique experience and to learn in another environment. We heard from a participant how one school could not provide the opportunity but said that the teacher was always welcome to return, which eventually happened. Teacher retention is of the utmost importance, and while some think that new government initiatives assist, I fear that they will backfire. Teachers need an increase in salary and a decrease in workload, but most of all they need to be respected as professionals.
Regarding the absence of support, I believe that schools and leaders will be forced to develop long-term strategies. For example, there may not be a current opportunity but by ensuring a “leave well” situation, they may just return with new knowledge and experiences to share. As the findings suggest, there is less research on moving schools than leaving the profession and less research on social approval, career structure and wellbeing. The persistent lack of professional respect may result because of government actions or inactions, society's lack of understanding, negative media coverage, and unfavourable working conditions, all of which must be addressed. Unfortunately, principals and leaders have limited options, but one thing they can do is guarantee that the classroom door remains ajar by ensuring effective teachers "leave well." Leaving is not necessarily a reflection of the family or school environment; sometimes it is a result of certain circumstances or the need for independence, wellbeing, or personal growth. If they leave on a positive note, they may be enticed to return to the classroom or the school in the future.
A few Reforms & Initiatives-