Tools to Hone Your Teacher Retention Strategies

Two educators wear masks.

By Mara Schanfield, Fausto Lopez, and Lisa Lachlan-Haché

December 22, 2020

Although the nation has experienced teacher shortages in specific subjects and schools for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased speculation of long-term impacts on the teaching profession. The latest pundits and polls suggest shifting trends: decreased enrollment in educator preparation programs, less interest in staying in the profession, and more inquiries about early retirement. Underlying all these shifts are, of course, significant changes to teachers’ working conditions: changing schooling formats; emphasis on remote learning; health risks; new protocols for health and safety; new or exacerbated student needs, such as significant learning losses; and deepened social and emotional needs.

Over the years, districts and states have worked to tackle teacher shortages creatively using a variety of incentives, mentorship initiatives, trainings, and leadership programs. But how can education leaders discern which of these efforts are actually improving teacher retention? The imminent effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the teacher workforce make answering this question even more urgent. Although none of us knows precisely what a postpandemic future may hold, a recent Region 9 Comprehensive Center (R9CC) project with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) offers some lessons and tools for states and other districts to consider as they grapple with this issue.

The Trouble With Too Much Data

As the third largest district in the country, CPS houses a multitude of programs and initiatives intended to develop and support teachers across the pipeline and encourage retention. At the front end, CPS built a teacher residency program to prepare its own teachers. CPS also provides induction programming and mentoring to build the capacity of new teachers, as well as instructional coaching for teachers to hone their craft. To keep veteran teachers engaged, CPS offers them new roles such as mentor or multi-classroom leader. These efforts—along with specialized district-level positions like the education engagement manager, who focuses on teacher appreciation—aim to recruit and engage teachers.

These programs are coordinated by different offices, have varying priorities, and are funded by diverse sources. Therefore, identifying common measures proves challenging because CPS programs differ in scale, stages of operation, and deliverables. But if data collection is not coordinated or streamlined, CPS staff realized the tools and strategies used by the programs could be unnecessarily duplicative and place an undue burden on school staff. To measure progress, program leaders need to access and analyze timely data. Although all the programs collect their own formal and informal data throughout the year for reporting and monitoring, CPS program leaders would benefit from access to reliable, accurate, and consistent data that are broadly aligned across programs.

Program Profiles and Data Inventory Help Streamline Data Collection and Reduce Burden on Educators

At R9CC, our team of experts uses evidence-based resources to support districts like CPS to assess and ultimately strengthen their educator talent management systems. To help CPS discern which strategies are helping programs meet their retention goals, we collectively examined eight major teacher retention programs. Through this process, we sought to understand the data they currently collect and their measures of success, and to identify essential formative and summative data required to monitor and improve the impact of each retention strategy. We started by charting the key components of each program based on informal interviews with program leads. Documenting this information highlighted an opportunity to centralize the details of each program to allow comparison of data collection tools and methods.

Using a Program Profile Template

A program profile is a visual organizer that can quickly build shared understanding so teams can efficiently review, compare, and collaborate across programs. To create a program profile template for your state or district, consider the following guiding questions:

 

  • What is this program or strategy designed to do?
  • What activities define our program?
  • What are the direct results of the program component(s)?
  • How will we know if what we are doing is working?
  • What are we currently collecting, documenting, or measuring?
  • How are we measuring the progress toward our objectives?

The resulting program profiles provide an easy-to-use one-page summary that highlights the components of each program, including the purpose and method of data collection. During the project, the profiles became a tool to organize and connect the components of a program with the implementation and impact objectives while capturing the evaluation components of each program (for example, how the program is collecting, documenting, or measuring progress). This tool also became useful to look across programs for common metrics, identify gaps, and streamline data collection. The benefit of program profiles is that they establish a common language that allows program leads to collaborate more easily.

As we began identifying gaps and overlaps to streamline data collection approaches, another tool emerged: a data inventory. The inventory expanded upon the “data collection strategies methods” section of the profile. It was designed to capture additional details on how data are collected in each program as well as to house links to corresponding tools (such as surveys). We built the data inventory tool as a shared spreadsheet that can be accessed anywhere, by anyone on the CPS team, and updated in real-time to help programs learn from each other and identify ongoing collaborative opportunities through a shared data hub. It facilitates sharing best practices and offers access to common tools, surveys, and reports used by various teacher retention programs.

Together, these tools help the programs succeed by identifying opportunities to share, streamline, and ultimately reduce the data collection burden on teachers and administrators. Their use also provides opportunities for programs to review common tools, surveys, and reports used by programs to meet their aim.

Building Program Staff Capacity Through Internal Data Seminars

Collaboration can seem difficult in the middle of a pandemic with competing priorities and virtual-only meetings. After we surmounted busy schedules and conquered a few best practices for virtual engagement, we brought the CPS program leads together for a strategic data seminar. When program leaders have an opportunity to learn from each other, the tide rises as they are inspired by the commonalities across programs (such as goals, structures, evaluation, and data use) and can share data collection tools, methods, and key findings.

During the seminar, program leads used the program profiles to identify strengths, gaps, overlaps, and opportunities to streamline data collection methods while building the capacity of programs to collaborate along the way.

At the seminar, we asked:

  • What seems to be most common across these data? Are there overlaps on what is being collected? What do you notice in reviewing the other programs’ profiles?
  • What data are most useful or essential to all of us?
  • How might we work together better across programs to streamline data collection? What could be combined?
  • How might we reduce the burden for district and school staff? What should or needs to be distinct?

Data Seminar Topics

These learning opportunities are designed to help program leaders use data strategically in their programs:

 

  1. Identifying gaps and overlaps, and streamlining data collection
  2. Accessing CPS data for your program
  3. Building evaluation plans rooted in data
  4. Selecting data aligned to purpose
  5. Teacher retention in CPS
  6. Dream data: Discussion on collecting data you wish you had, forming actionable research questions, and measuring hard-to-measure data

At the end of the seminar, program leads expressed a desire for ongoing collaboration so they can become more familiar with each other’s programs, engage in reciprocal learning, and share lessons learned. To build on this great start, the CPS teacher retention data scientist and talent data analyst are in the process of orchestrating a series of internal seminars to increase the capacity of program leaders to review, analyze, and monitor data indicators, and build infrastructure for ongoing collaboration.

Although districts vary in their programming, we offer these tools to help others identify the right data to measure the effectiveness of their teacher retention efforts. We hope that lessons learned from this project highlight the importance of streamlining data collection methods while building the capacity of great leaders to collaborate along the way. And, ultimately, convergence and collaboration at the district level will improve the experiences of the very teachers and school staff the programs intend to support.

Tools and Lessons Learned to Inform Your Teacher Retention Strategy

This project demonstrates one way to reduce the burden on teachers and leaders—through streamlined planning, coordination, and data collection. R9CC supported CPS in the examination of strengths and the assessment of needs in areas such as data collection methods, measures of success, best practices, and support systems connected to teacher retention.

If you are considering undertaking these activities in your own state or district, here are some tools to guide you through the process:

  • Program profiles provide one-page summaries of each program aligned to the interview protocol to help highlight program components. This tool is helpful for programs to collaboratively identify gaps and opportunities for streamlining data collection. The final product allows for programs to compare and identify opportunities for alignment. Guidance on how to use program profiles and a blank program profile template are available for download.
  • A data inventory gives a repository of what data are being collected, how, and when. It is used to access actual data or for staff to borrow data collection tools from other programs. The structure of this spreadsheet will be context dependent, but below are potential items to consider including as spreadsheet column headings. See the program profile guidance document linked above for an example inventory.
    • Program/strategy
    • Metric name
    • Metric details
    • Data collection type
    • Audience
    • Collection frequency
    • Years of collection
    • Point of contact

If you would like to delve deeper into this topic, consider the following related resources from our partners at the Center on Great Teachers at AIR:

These tools and resources can help your team streamline data collection and hone your teacher retention strategies. If you use these tools, we’d love to hear about it. This process has reinforced for us the value of building human capacity to discuss, analyze, and develop program-level data strategies that support monitoring and program improvement. Valuing and leveraging human capacity as much as we do data makes all the difference in effecting systems change to retain effective educators.

Mara Schanfield leads the Region 9 Comprehensive Center’s teacher retention project with Chicago Public Schools and is a senior technical assistance consultant at the American Institutes for Research. Schanfield, a licensed school counselor, has more than 15 years of experience supporting students, educators, and social and emotional learning in school and out-of-school time settings.

Fausto López leads the Region 9 Comprehensive Center’s Social and Emotional Learning Community of Practice project with the Illinois State Board of Education and is a senior technical assistance consultant at the American Institutes for Research.

Lisa Lachlan-Haché, EdD, is a content expert for the Region 9 Comprehensive Center’s project with Chicago Public Schools and director of strategic partnerships for the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at AIR.

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.