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Want to Improve Teacher Morale? Give Them the Right Tools for Success

FEBRUARY 13, 2023

What keeps teachers in the classroom? When teachers have the tools, resources, and training they need to be successful, job satisfaction soars—and so do student achievement rates.

What Makes Teachers Leave the Classroom?

It’s no secret that the U.S. is in the midst of a national teacher shortage—one that has only grown since the start of the COVID pandemic. According to some surveys, more than half of educators are considering exiting the profession before their anticipated retirement date. Each year, more than 200,000 teachers leave the classroom, with nearly two-thirds leaving for reasons other than retirement. 

A 2022 study from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University found that there were at least 36,000 vacant teaching positions and another 163,000 positions filled by underqualified teachers. With many states turning to alternate credentialing systems (many with minimal training) to fill the gap, this is a problem that will only grow in the foreseeable future. 

There are numerous reasons that teachers leave the profession—low pay, poor work-life balance, increased class sizes, the stresses and administrative demands of mandatory testing, and personal reasons, to name a few. Many of these factors may be out of the hands of individual principals and administrators. But other factors may be easier to address. According to the Learning Policy Institute, the top three reasons teachers leave are: 

  • Inadequate preparation 
  • Lack of support for new teachers
  • Challenging working conditions

In other words, teachers feel like they don’t have the tools and support to do their jobs and do them effectively. Nearly all teachers enter the profession because they truly want to make a difference and see their students succeed. When they feel unable to reach those goals, burnout and disillusionment can be quick to follow. As one educator expressed to a New York Times columnist: “Teachers are not only burnt out and under-compensated, they are also demoralized. They are being asked to do things in the name of teaching that they believe are mis-educational and harmful to students and the profession. What made this work good for them is no longer accessible.”

What Can Administrators Do?

While many issues must be addressed on a systemic level, there are important steps school and district leaders can take to improve teacher morale and retention rates. Administrative support—including training and mentoring, instructional resources, clear communication, and effective leadership—is one of the biggest factors determining teacher retention rates. Providing teachers with effective instructional tools, along with adequate training and support, can go a long way toward increasing teacher effectiveness and, as a result, job satisfaction.

High-Quality Instructional Resources and Strategies

To be effective, teachers need the right tools for the job—starting with curriculum resources and instructional strategies that meet the needs of their students. Teachers who are equipped with instructional materials and strategies that are effective, appropriate and engaging will see better results from their students, which in turn reignites their own enthusiasm for the job. 

Thinking Maps connection: Thinking Maps have been proven to raise student achievement levels. With Thinking Maps, teachers have a set of simple yet effective teaching and learning tools that work across all grade levels and content areas to improve student comprehension, engagement and metacognition. Portable, student-owned cognitive strategies save valuable time for teachers; instead of “reinventing the wheel” by teaching students how to learn with each lesson, they can spend more time engaging deeply with their material. 

Both new and experienced teachers benefit from having proven, effective strategies that act as a foundation for teaching and learning. The core principles of Thinking Maps are simple for both students and teachers to grasp and implement (even for early learners). At the same time, their grounding in cognitive science makes them a powerful learning tool for even highly complex subjects at the secondary level and beyond.

Strategically Chosen Professional Learning Activities

Teachers need access to high-quality professional learning opportunities to build new skills, stay on top of educational research and trends, implement new curriculum programs or district policies, and learn new strategies to better meet the needs of their students. To be effective, professional learning must be tightly aligned with the specific needs of teachers and students in the school. It must also be part of an ongoing culture of continuous learning that includes not only theory but also ongoing modeling, practice and coaching. 

Professional learning is especially critical for new teachers—particularly the many teachers who are entering the classroom through alternative certification routes. These teachers may not have the deep background in cognitive theory, educational practice and child development usually imparted through teacher colleges. Even if they have specialized subject matter expertise in their field, they will need substantial support in developing the instructional and classroom management skills needed for effective teaching. 

Thinking Maps connection: Thinking Maps provides high-quality professional learning aligned with the Four-Part Learning Cycle and the Learning Forward Standards. Thinking Maps training raises the capacity of teachers of all experience levels to meet the needs of their students. The strategies teachers learn in training can be applied with students of all backgrounds and ability levels and across all grades and content areas. Teachers also come away with a deeper understanding of how the brain encodes, stores and retrieves information and how to apply cognitive science to improve learning outcomes.

Ongoing Mentoring and Job-Embedded Training

“One and done” professional learning rarely impacts teacher behavior or student outcomes. To create meaningful, lasting change, learning must be supported through ongoing mentoring and job-embedded training. Instructional coaches and teacher-driven Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) can help to build a strong school culture and support transformational change. 

Thinking Maps connection: Our recommended training and rollout plan is aligned with Learning Forward recommendations for ongoing, job-embedded training. In one recommended rollout model, teacher representatives from each grade level attend an in-depth “Training of Trainers” to create a cohort of teacher leaders well-versed in Thinking Maps and the cognitive science behind them. Rollout to the rest of the school community is completed over an extended 8-week period that includes introduction, modeling, and application of each of the eight Thinking Maps. The model is further supported by anywhere, anytime learning through the Thinking Maps Learning Community (TMLC).

Clear Communication and Leadership

Teacher morale, job satisfaction, and retention are closely tied to leadership style and the perceived level of support they have from their administrators. Factors that lead to greater satisfaction include:

  • A proactive approach to reaching out and supporting new teachers.
  • Shared, collaborative discussion and decision-making around issues important to the school community, including student achievement goals, curriculum and resource selection, and professional development planning.
  • Open communication channels between teachers and administrators and clear communication from the leadership team around policies, goals, available resources, and issues of concern.
  • A commitment to growth and learning at all levels—including students, teachers, and administrators.
  • Support for teachers’ concerns, as shown by a willingness to listen, assignment of adequate resources to address concerns, protection from unreasonable demands, and fair application of personnel policies.

Thinking Maps connection: Thinking Maps are an ideal vehicle for collaborative discussion, goal setting and problem-solving. School leadership teams can use Thinking Maps (either offline in shared meetings or online via Map Builder) to gather feedback and ideas, share data and findings, and communicate plans and policies. Thinking Maps also offers Leadership Training for school and district leaders. 

A Positive, Shared and Collaborative School Culture

School culture is closely tied to leadership style; school leaders will generally set the tone for the community as a whole. A cohesive culture—characterized by a shared vision and goals, mutual respect and support among all staff members, and a strong sense of belonging—is an important element of teacher recruiting and retention. We all want to feel like we are on the same team and our contributions are valued. For many teachers, a positive school culture is even more important than compensation levels in making job decisions. 

Thinking Maps connection: Thinking Maps act as a common visual “Language for Learning” used across all grade levels and content areas. In this way, the Maps become part of the shared culture of the school. For many Thinking Maps schools, implementing Thinking Maps has been a catalyst that brings teachers and students together around shared learning goals. See how Thinking Maps impacts school culture at Pace Brantley and Desert Rose.

Curious about how Thinking Maps could impact school culture, teacher satisfaction, and student achievement at your school? Talk to a Thinking Maps representative.

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