Teacher morale and retention

Teacher morale and retention

The key issues relating to teacher recruitment and retention were considered by our CEO Sue Williamson and Professor John Howson in a conversation last term. It is significant that teachers are striking for better working conditions due to a perceived crisis in education, a crisis of teacher retention most likely linked to low morale and high workload. A large number of teachers don’t stay beyond the five-year mark according to DfE figures.

In its report of September 2019: ‘New evidence on teachers’ working hours in England. An empirical analysis of four datasets’, UCL’s Institute of Education noted:

“Spending too long at work is negatively associated with job satisfaction well-being and mental and physical health.” Going on to say: “The structure of working hours, also has an influence on individuals above and beyond the total number of hours worked, with evenings and weekends providing important opportunities to recover from work …. During term-time, teaching feels very intense and education researchers have long emphasised the emotional and relational demands of working with pupils.”

In England it is recognised in the TALIS survey data 2018 that teachers work unusually long hours … longer hours in fact than teachers in almost every other country covered by the data.

Unfortunately, this is not a ‘new’ conclusion either as this extract from Linda Lumsden’s report Teacher Morale in 1998 exclaims: “Teachers are being stretched to the limit. Expectations placed on them seem to be expanding exponentially.”

So, what is morale and why does it matter? Morale has been thought of variously as a feeling, a state of mind, a mental attitude, and an emotional attitude (Mendel 1987). It matters because it has an influence on pupil attitudes and learning, on pupil achievement, and on teacher health and wellbeing.

Low morale creeps up on teachers, little by little over time, so one of the first things we can do is to recognise it so we can then help to alleviate some of its causes. School leaders can directly influence the wellbeing of teachers, one notable champion of teacher wellbeing is Martyn Reah who established Teacher 5-a-day in 2014. The balance is key here, we all know of well-meaning leaders adding wellbeing activities to an already straining workload, thereby adding to the problem. This is where something such as Martyn Reah’s 5-a-day comes into its own – it is centred on teacher choice, with leadership enabling these choices to come to life. In teacher-5-a-day teachers are asked to commit to five things that will boost their wellbeing, it is a leader’s job to ensure these things can happen.

In Daniel Pink’s book Drive (the surprising truth about what motivates us) the three tenets of Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy are put forward as the underpinning principles of intrinsic motivation.

I have been privileged to lead on the SSAT’s Lead Practitioner accreditation programme, and over the years I have seen many teachers, support staff and leaders flourish in finding their ‘mojo’ through the framework. In part it helps teachers to rekindle that spark they had when first setting out in education, the spark that when nurtured through being given a degree of agency over small-scale research on what works for their teaching, for the teaching practice of others and importantly in enabling learners to make more progress, turns into a flame that lights the way of their purpose as an educator.

A simple fix then for morale, teacher and support staff recruitment and retention? Of course not, but it can help and as Michael Kimber from The Cornerstone Academy Trust eloquently points out in the clip below: “LP accreditation is an opportunity to develop yourself, taking your development in a direction that really benefits you.”

LP accreditation can be one of the jigsaw pieces in our drive to raise morale, increase retention and in short, make schools those exciting, lively, and enjoyable places we know they can be.

Find out more about Lead Practitioner


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