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School Climate

Teacher Retention: 5 Effective Strategies for Retaining High-Quality Staff

Nick Woolf
Nick Woolf
Teacher Retention: 5 Effective Strategies for Retaining High-Quality Staff



In recent years, the K-12 education sector has faced an unprecedented challenge: a significant increase in teacher turnover. This escalating trend has led to a marked rise in educators leaving the profession. Recent findings, including a 2022 poll by the National Education Association (NEA) revealed that 55% of educators planned to leave their job sooner than expected, largely due to pandemic-induced stress.

Losing experienced teachers not only means losing valuable mentors and role models for students, but it can also lead to several other impacts on the education system, such as:

Addressing teacher turnover is a critical aspect of stabilizing our education system and ensuring all students have access to a high quality education. Educational leaders are being tasked with developing new and innovative teacher retention strategies to stem the tide of turnover. This requires a focus that extends beyond only financial incentives, and considers the factors that foster a culture of appreciation, connection, and support within their respective school communities.

This article will delve into the landscape of staff retention in K-12 and unpack what the research says about retaining high-quality educators. It will also cover a set of strategies focused on teacher engagement that district and school leaders can consider putting into practice. 


Table of Contents: 

  1. Understanding the Current Landscape of Teacher Retention
  2. What the Research Says About Retaining High-Quality Educators
  3. Case Study: How Kentucky Districts Elevate Educator Voice to Understand Working Conditions
  4. Five Teacher Retention Strategies to Enhance School Climate and Collective Efficacy
  5. Next Steps for District Leaders

Key Takeaways:

  • The landscape of teacher retention is marked by a slew of challenges, including declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs and a significant rise in teacher turnover. This is exacerbated by factors such as inadequate pay, lack of support, and the demanding nature of the teaching profession in the face of social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties among students.
  • Effective leadership and comprehensive support systems are pivotal in addressing teacher turnover, emphasizing the need for schools to cultivate a culture of appreciation, connection, and collective efficacy to retain educators.
  • Strategies aimed at enhancing teacher engagement, adult SEL, and staff well-being (such as acknowledging achievements, creating networks of support, and carving out time for authentic and personalized self-care), are essential for creating a positive work environment.
  • The success of initiatives such as the Impact Kentucky Survey demonstrates the power of innovative solutions informed by educator feedback, underscoring the importance of understanding and improving working conditions to boost teacher satisfaction and retention.

Understanding the Current Landscape of Teacher Retention

Several recent reports underscore the significance of the teacher retention challenge facing school districts across the country. Teacher preparation programs are seeing declining enrollments, and current teachers are quitting their jobs at a higher annual rate than at any point in the previous two decades

Issues such as inadequate pay, lack of support, and challenging working conditions play a significant role. All of this comes against the backdrop of an increase in social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties and worsening general mental well-being for young people who experienced the pandemic.

These realities have made the field of teaching increasingly demanding and, for many, unsustainable.

A number of recent studies paint a stark picture:

  • Research from the RAND Corporation highlights a significant rise in public school teacher turnover, particularly in urban and high-poverty districts. High teacher turnover is not just about teachers moving between schools; many are leaving the profession altogether.
  • Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and University of South Carolina collaborated to pursue an organizational analysis study focused on teacher retention. They found that current challenges with teacher quality, turnover, and shortages in rural areas are part of a broader, nationwide crisis impacting the teaching profession across rural and urban communities.
  • The EdWeek Research Center's Teacher Morale Index reflects that nearly half of teachers (49%) feel that their morale worsened over the past year (while only 32% of school leaders perceived this decline).  
  • The majority of teacher education programs across the country do not address any of the five core social-emotional learning competencies despite a clear need to cultivate these skills in the educator workforce to prepare them to support the needs of their future students., according to a Learning Policy Institute study.
  • A recent publication from McKinsey reported that nearly a third of K-12 educators in the United States are thinking of leaving their jobs, with teachers citing "unreasonable expectations" and "an inability to protect their well-being" as top factors.
  • A 2023 report from Chalkbeat echoes this trend in the teacher workforce, noting that the reasons for leaving are complex and multifaceted. Among the primary factors contributing to this turnover are burnout and stress exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges have put a strain on educators, leading to a reevaluation of their career paths.

With so many teachers leaving their jobs for various reasons, it's essential to dig deeper into what research tells us about why teachers are leaving—and what can be done to keep them.

Download Panorama's Teacher Retention Survey

What the Research Says About Retaining High-Quality Educators

The topic of increasing teacher retention is a complex, multifaceted issue that has been studied extensively over the past several decades. Recognizing the importance of working conditions in this context is pivotal; numerous studies have shown that factors such as leadership, support, and resources play a critical role in a teacher's decision to stay in or leave the profession.

A 2023 report from Penn State University sheds light on the critical role of leadership in teacher retention. The study emphasizes that schools with strong, supportive leadership see lower rates of teacher turnover. Key findings include:

  • Leadership styles significantly impact teacher job satisfaction and commitment.
  • Teachers who feel valued and supported by their administration are less likely to leave.
  • Schools with higher levels of teacher collaboration and professional development opportunities foster greater retention.

Moreover, a 2017 research brief from the Learning Policy Institute offers an in-depth analysis of how working conditions influence teacher decisions to stay or leave the profession. Their report highlights:

  • Competitive salaries and benefits are pivotal to increasing teacher retention.
  • The importance of adequate resources and manageable class sizes.
  • The role of teacher preparation and mentoring in early career stages.

Research published in the Journal of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies brings additional dimensions to the discussion:

  • In a 2020 study, a University of Missouri professor explored the burden of teacher attrition on both students as well as school leaders. 
  • Semi-structured interviews revealed that a focus on policies that encourage teacher voice and promote a supportive onboarding (induction) program.
  • The study also revealed that high-quality professional development can help to counteract external societal, economic, and regional factors on teacher turnover rates.

In sum, these studies converge on a few critical points: leadership quality, working conditions, competitive compensation, and the overall school culture are pivotal in retaining high-quality educators. As districts grapple with these challenges, these insights can guide targeted, effective retention strategies.

Case Study: How Kentucky Districts Elevate Educator Voice to Understand Working Conditions

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) work on teacher retention offers a notable example of how understanding and improving working conditions can have a positive impact. The centerpiece of this effort is the statewide working conditions survey, Impact Kentucky. The state partners with Panorama Education to administer this survey every two years.

Fostering school environments in which educators can thrive in the long term is a key focus throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Impact Kentucky Survey is designed to elevate the voices of educators, and capture their feedback about topics related to working conditions such as:

  • School Climate 
  • Feedback and Coaching
  • Resources
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Teacher Engagement
  • Staff-Leader Relationships


The survey aims to identify areas of strength and improvement that districts can focus on. By allocating resources to these areas, districts improve both teacher satisfaction and, consequently, student outcomes. According to the KDE, results from the most recent iteration of the Impact Kentucky Survey (administered during the 2023-24 school year) revealed that more educators are feeling positive about the teaching profession:

  • Educators responded 78% favorable to questions about staff-leadership relationships
  • Notable increases were observed in responses related to emotional well-being and belonging, with a 7% increase from 2021

This proactive and teacher-centric approach serves as a model for other states and districts. It demonstrates the tangible benefits of understanding and working to create the working conditions all educators deserve. 

Five Teacher Retention Strategies to Enhance School Climate and Collective Efficacy

Teacher retention is influenced by a variety of factors—some of which extend beyond the day-to-day control of district and school leaders, such as broader issues of salary and hours. However, there are several crucial areas within their direct locus of control, such as fostering a positive work environment, creating systems of support for teachers, and celebrating success through recognition programs. 

Let’s explore five teacher retention strategies that can be implemented by district administrators, school leaders, or other meeting facilitators in PLCs or as part of broader staff retention and engagement efforts.


1. Plus-Delta-Solution (PDS) Protocol 

The plus-delta-solution protocol is a framework that empowers colleagues to collaboratively solve problems while building a supportive and productive team environment. 

  • Focus Area: Teacher Engagement, Creating Safe and Supportive Spaces


  • Click here to download the facilitator guide for this strategy.
  • Other materials needed: chart paper, pens/pencils

Facilitator Instructions:

  1. Begin with a brief introduction of the workshop objectives and the importance of collaborative problem-solving in educational settings.
  2. Allow team members to state and agree upon the problem they will address. Use prompts to facilitate this discussion if needed.
  3. Individually, team members write down the positives (pluses) and challenges (deltas) related to the problem on post-it notes.
  4. In small groups, team members discuss their pluses and deltas, compiling them into a "PDS chart."
  5. Teams work on developing solutions, documenting them on post-it notes, followed by group discussions to refine these ideas.
  6. Wrap up the workshop with a group reflection on the process and discuss steps for implementing the identified solutions.

2. Kudos Corner

A program that enables staff members to publicly acknowledge and celebrate their colleagues’ contributions and achievements, fostering a culture of appreciation and respect within the school community.

  • Focus Area: Teacher Engagement, Recognition


  • Create a Kudos Corner in a common staff area with materials for writing and posting acknowledgments.
  • Provide kudos cards, a bulletin board, or a digital platform for sharing acknowledgments.

Facilitator Instructions:

Program Introduction:

  • At a staff meeting, the school leader introduces Kudos Corner, explaining its purpose to foster a culture of recognition and appreciation.
  • For example, you might share: We are excited to launch 'Kudos Corner,' a new initiative to celebrate the fantastic work each of you does every day. This is an opportunity for us all to acknowledge the hard work, creativity, and dedication that our colleagues contribute to our school community. Whether it's a helpful gesture, a successful project, or consistent excellence in teaching, let's make sure these efforts don't go unnoticed.

How to Participate:

  • Explain the process of writing kudos cards or submitting digital acknowledgments.
  • Encourage staff to think about specific instances or qualities they appreciate in their colleagues.
  • Provide examples: I want to thank [Name] for going above and beyond in organizing the science fair, or Kudos to [Name] for their innovative approach to remote teaching.

Posting and Sharing Acknowledgments

  • Demonstrate how to post acknowledgments on the bulletin board or submit them digitally.
  • Discuss how these acknowledgments will be shared with the school community, either through physical display or digital showcase.

Maintaining Engagement

  • Schedule regular reminders in staff meetings or newsletters to encourage ongoing participation.
  • Share examples of recent kudos to inspire others and keep the momentum.

(Optional) Monthly Celebration

  • Plan a brief, informal monthly gathering to highlight and celebrate the kudos of the month.
  • Use this time to read out some of the kudos cards, especially those that exemplify the school's values and spirit.

3. Self-Care Circle

This practice helps guide staff members through a reflection on ways that they can practice self-care.

  • Focus Area: Teacher and Staff Well-being


  • Click here to download the facilitator guide for this strategy.
  • Arrange chairs in a circle.
  • Select a “talking piece” item that can be passed around the circle.

Facilitator Instructions:

As keeper of the circle, you will welcome everyone to the circle, explain its purpose, and perform the opening and closing portions.

  1. Seat all participants in a circle and welcome everyone to the space. You might consider opening the circle with a question, a quote, or a mindfulness moment.
  2. Share that the purpose of the circle is to encourage self-care in all domains and dimensions.
  3. Use a talking piece that can be passed sequentially around the circle. Each person that receives the talking piece has the option to speak or pass.
  4. Pose the below questions for each round before passing the talking piece.
    • Round 1: Share something that has brought you joy and happiness recently.
    • Round 2: Share some of your goals in terms of self-care practices.
    • Round 3: What is most challenging to you in terms of self-care?
    • Check-Out Round: What is something you learned during this circle?
  5. Close the circle with a brief quote or affirmation.

4. Instructional Rounds

Instructional Rounds are a practice that allow teachers to observe other educators and share feedback to learn from one another. When teachers conduct instructional rounds, they focus on defining and unpacking why a problem of practice persists—and on what they can do about it.

  • Focus Area: Teacher Growth Mindset, Collective Efficacy


  • Click here to download the facilitator guide for this strategy.

Facilitator Instructions:

  1. Organize a network of 10-30 members. Consider creating groups of teachers based on subjects they teach, the grade level they teach, or other criteria. These educators will be working together over time to improve student achievement. It is important to include administrators from the district and school when possible alongside classroom teachers and instructional coaches.
  2. Define problem(s) of practice. What are some areas that your network would like to focus on solving? Use data about student academic performance and/or social-emotional development to specify topics or domains to focus on. Consider these example problems of practice for inspiration.
  3. Select a teacher to observe. It is recommended to select a member of the network that is a classroom teacher. Once the teacher to observe is selected, provide members of the network with:
    • The name of the teacher they will observe during this instructional round
    • The subject and grave level that they teach
    • The list of teachers who are invited to reserve. Consider limiting the invitation list to 3-5 teachers per session.
    • A copy of the lesson plan (if available)
  4. Create a focus sheet for teachers participating in the round. This document is designed to help observing members of the network take notes on important parts of the lesson. It should be clear that teachers are encouraged to only note what they observe during the instructional period; not to make inferences or annotate personal opinions. A focus sheet might include:
    • Problems of practice
    • Specific things to look for (e.g., student engagement, instructional strategies, classroom management techniques)
    • Types of notes teachers should take while observing
  5. Debrief. Once the instructional period and observation have concluded, teachers should debrief with each other and discuss strong points of the lesson, effective teaching strategies, and moments that fostered student engagement. Consider the following best practices when debriefing:
    • Try to begin questions with the phrase: I am wondering... to ensure we focus on positive reflections versus opinions.
    • Review notes and discuss patterns in the observed teacher's instructional habits. What specific strategies had a direct impact on student achievement? What led to students being engaged in the lesson?
    • Based on what was observed, have the teachers predict what students would know and be able to do, and where they may continue to have questions and need help following the lesson.
  6. After several sessions of instructional rounds, reflect on potential positive changes. After the network has observed several teachers, the group can work to identify recurring patterns that might be contributing to the problem(s) of practice.

5. Vision Mapping

Vision Mapping is a strategy designed to engage staff members in creating a shared vision for their work environment. This practice encourages collective brainstorming and alignment of goals, fostering a sense of ownership and unity among the team.

  • Focus Area: School and Classroom Climate, Building Adult Capacity


  • Gather large sheets of poster paper, markers, and post-it notes.
  • Arrange a comfortable space conducive to group discussion and brainstorming.

Facilitator Instructions:

  1. Begin by discussing the importance of having a shared vision and how it contributes to a cohesive and productive work environment.
  2. Ask each participant to reflect on their personal vision for the team or work environment. They should consider what elements they believe are crucial for a thriving and supportive space.
  3. Split into small groups. Each group discusses and notes down key ideas for a shared vision on the large paper/whiteboard.
  4. Reconvene as a whole group. Each small group presents their ideas. Together, create a 'Vision Map' that combines the most resonant ideas from each group.
  5. Discuss how this shared vision can be translated into actionable steps. Encourage participants to identify ways they can contribute to achieving this vision.
  6. End with a reflective discussion on how the activity felt and the importance of working towards a common goal.

Frequently Asked Questions: 

1. Where can I learn more about federal funding or competitive grants that are available for supporting teacher retention efforts?
Panorama works with schools and districts across the country to provide advise and guidance when it comes to identifying and applying for funding opportunities related to teacher retention and other related topics. Visit our funding page to learn more.

2. Where are the strategies in this article from?
The five strategies outlined in this piece are from Playbook, Panorama's professional learning library. Playbook connects educators 800+ instructional resources across behavior, academics, attendance, life skills, family engagement, and more. Playbook includes a set of strategies specifically designed for school leaders to use with staff members to focus on topics such as recognition, mindfulness, self-care, creating supportive spaces, and peer support.


Next Steps for District Leaders

It is evident that multifaceted strategies are required to address the complex landscape of teacher retention in K-12 education. For district administrators, school leaders, and state education officials, the task ahead is clear, but challenging. It involves a commitment to understanding the unique needs of their educators, implementing research-backed strategies, and continuously evaluating the effectiveness of these approaches. By doing so, we can create the safe and supportive work environments needed to retain teachers and enrich the learning experience for students.

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