Guest post by Melissa D. Hensley

Central High School, an 800-student school in rural Woodstock, VA, has felt the effects of the national teacher shortage this year. We replaced a third of our staff as teachers left for higher paying jobs or relocated to take positions closer to their family. This high turnover rate alarmed us and caused our staff to discuss the impact of teacher turnover and develop a teacher-led strategic plan to increase retention. These efforts have led to a renewed commitment from our teachers to support each other and strengthen our school community. 

Our faculty began by identifying key factors that are preventing them from being the best teachers they can be. The analysis revealed that teachers need support designed to meet their specific professional development goals, and they also need time to get to know one another to develop and maintain a collaborative environment where they could work and feel comfortable asking each other for help.

“Blockheads” Are Better than One

The “Blockhead” program was developed and named by the faculty to address individualized professional development. “Blockheads” are teachers who have a common planning period and agree to meet as a team at least once a month to identify and discuss areas of interest and concern. Teams are structured to include a variety of subjects, grade levels, and new and veteran teachers, which helps to provide additional assistance for new teachers. At the onset of the school year, each team established norms and a formal goal and measurement tool for its impact on student learning. Our faculty is in the first year of implementation of this teacher-led program; however, immediate feedback has been positive.

This Mug’s for You

Another goal for our faculty was to find a way to meet the staff’s social and emotional needs to aid in stress relief and build team camaraderie. Staff members take a reinforcement survey, which identifies what motivates them. To see this survey, click here. Our administrative team and the school’s social committee use the results of the survey to select appropriate individual and group rewards for the staff, such as positive notes, coupons for jeans days, no-duty days, and more. We also created the “I’ve Been Mugged” program, where one teacher gives another teacher a mug filled with things identified on the reinforcement survey. The “mugged” teachers are then asked to “mug” someone else who has not yet received a mug.

Teachers taking intentional steps to support one another professionally, socially, and emotionally has resulted in the most positive start to a school year that I have experienced in my 20-plus years as a school administrator. It is our hope that more supported and motivated teachers will lead to higher retention rates and a stronger overall school community.

What does your school do to help motivate and retain teachers?

Melissa D. Hensley serves as the principal of Central High School, located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley in Woodstock, VA. She is the 2016 Virginia Secondary Principal of the Year and a 2017 National Principal of the Year Finalist. Central High School is a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School for Exemplary Academic Performance.

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