Today’s teachers balance a multitude of expectations from students, administrators, and their communities. Between ensuring positive student outcomes, managing varying levels of parental engagement, and employee and budget shortages, the pressure on teachers can be intense—making the need for districts to prioritize teacher engagement vital. Teachers are not the only ones who benefit from increased enthusiasm for their careers—high levels of teacher engagement lead to positive outcomes districtwide for school communities, student achievement, teacher satisfaction, and teacher retention. Engaged teachers prioritize delivering quality education, seek out new ideas and best teaching practices, frequently monitor student progress and provide feedback, and modify their instruction to meet the needs of their students.
A recent survey conducted by Hanover found that teachers consistently reported high levels of interpersonal satisfaction with administration, colleagues, and students. However, engagement levels among teachers have reached their lowest level since 1989 with only 44% of all teachers indicating they were very satisfied with their job as a teacher. Teachers also report feelings of emotional exhaustion and burnout, with 41% of teachers leaving the profession within five years.
There are several opportunities for districts to increase teacher engagement through top-down initiatives that improve communication and district culture. Below are five fundamental strategic guidelines to increase teacher engagement.
Early and Frequent Communication
Effective communication between administrators and teachers is key to improving school and district outcomes. Districts should be transparent, proactive, and timely in their communications to include teachers in vital conversation as valued voices. While several communication platforms exist that can connect all key stakeholders, identifying how and when to most effectively use those channels can be a challenge.
First, administrators should identify the types of information that should be shared to all teachers. Time-critical school information like closings and new policies, acknowledgments of teacher and community achievements, leadership and education improvement ideas, and community outreach initiatives should be shared school-wide. Next, identify the channels that should be used to communicate each type of message. Channels can include:
- Website: Post all non-sensitive communications, including public relations content, while prominently listing any urgent alerts on the homepage. You may also consider creating a school blog to highlight achievements, profile teachers, and showcase school culture.
- Mobile Apps/Text Alerts: Use mobile platforms to push notifications for emergency alerts, special announcements, important reminders, and event promotions.
- Email: Email is a great tool to communicate all types of messages, though public relations pieces should be kept to the website and social media.
- Social Media: Share all types of messages, from urgent alerts to school campaigns, on social media. Avoid sharing forms, reserving important documentation for the website or email.
- Non-Digital Channels: It is important to take non-digital parents into account when sharing school announcements. Consider mailing printed newspapers, providing take-home packets for students to pass along to their guardians, posting flyers on campus, and advertising press releases or announcements on local television.
Clearly Communicated Initiatives and Processes
Communications should clearly address teacher expectations, project timelines, and dedicated resources that impact teacher-related initiatives. To achieve this, develop a communications plan instead of sending out communications on a one-off basis. A communications plan should identify which channels to use for the types of messages, determine the most relevant information to share with teachers, and experiment with multimedia to see if teachers respond better to certain messages in video or audio messages. Most importantly, the language used in the messaging should be direct, to-the-point, and as short as possible to ensure busy teachers can digest the information quickly.
For individual communications, show teachers that you respect their time by meeting in their classroom and having an open conversation free from distractions. Come into the meeting with a formal or informal agenda to keep the meeting direct and on track. In addition, administrators may offer weekly or frequent open-door office hours for teachers to stop by to ask questions and give feedback.
Engagement with the Larger Community
Schools are integral to their communities, making it important to encourage parents and community members to become partners in promoting school success. By making community engagement a priority, teachers can feel involved in their communities and build relationships by directly working with guardians on school initiatives.
The first step to making community engagement a priority is to set up an infrastructure to implement the commitment, developing a mission statement and plans, setting resources aside to prepare community members to step up as leaders, and establishing advisory groups composed of administrators, teachers, and community members to ensure that district goals are met. Inform the community of the initiatives you would like to set, then accept and respond to feedback through public forums, surveys, and focus groups. Using this information, work with your advisory group to set these targets, offer meaningful opportunities for all stakeholders to participate, and keep all members informed on any impacts of the initiative.
A Positive Professional Culture
A collaborative, professional culture that promotes mutual respect among all stakeholders should permeate the working school environment. Professional cultures aid educators in committing to their growth and development, while a focus on collaboration promotes shared ideas and information, leading to a stronger in-school community of more effective and engaged teachers.
A professional culture should expand beyond one-off staff seminars to provide a space for teachers to learn and share information on current education ideas, issues, and best practices. Keeping informed of the latest in education promotes teacher responsibility to further develop their curriculum and professional work. Share information on news in the education space with teachers in your communications and offer educational resources, like memberships to online journals, guest speakers, and online or in-person courses. In addition, promote faculty collaboration with mentorships between newer and more experienced teachers and offer learning communities where teachers can come together to learn about and implement new initiatives.
Strategic Initiative Alignment
Districts should streamline initiatives with other major school concerns to address the priorities of multiple stakeholders efficiently and proactively. Feedback from all stakeholders ensures that school initiatives address the needs of students, educators, and the community, while also involving new perspectives that can offer new ideas and note any overlooked areas. School-community partnership is an integral part of not only developing a stronger district, but further engaging teachers by providing leadership opportunities in school-wide initiatives and community engagement.
By establishing a school-site leadership team, districts can bring together key stakeholders to create a shared vision for the school and outline strategic initiatives. The team can inform stakeholders on school initiatives through its communication channels, then hold public forums to receive feedback that can align the initiative to the needs of students, educators, and the community. Citing the feedback, develop a plan with deadlines on when certain tasks should be completed, sharing the plan with all stakeholders and keeping them informed of any progress. Finally, take into account your existing school resources and abilities to ensure that you are setting sustainable and achievable goals that will impact stakeholders and the school environment long-term.