Becoming the “School of Choice” for Faculty

In a challenging hiring environment, schools would do well to survey faculty on employee satisfaction to identify areas of improvement and move the needle on employee retention.

Apr 27, 2022

2022 NBOA Annual Meeting presenters Vanessa Calderon, Sherry Krebsbach and Greg Miles
Photo above: 2022 NBOA Annual Meeting presenters Vanessa Calderon, Sherry Krebsbach and Greg Miles (from left).

A staggering 55% of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned, according to the latest National Education Association (NEA) survey. This news represents a significant increase from 33% who were thinking about leaving when polled in August 2021, and is true for educators regardless of age or years working in a school. While less research has been done on the impacts of the Great Resignation on independent schools, NAIS reported that posted job openings increased 32% from 2019 to 2021.

To better understand how teachers are experiencing independent school education in this new era, school leaders from the 2021-2022 Leadership Academy cohort surveyed faculty members at their schools about professional satisfaction and morale, school culture, and other timely matters. The survey, which was conducted in early January 2022, collected responses from 166 K-12 teachers from La Jolla Country Day School , Parker SchoolSoundview School, Saint John's Preparatory School and Waterford School.

Here are four key findings from their research:

  1. Teachers are feeling good about the cultures in their schools.

Seven out of 10 teachers surveyed said that school culture is highly important to them. And when it comes to their experiences, teachers are overwhelmingly happy with their school’s culture:

  • 78% of respondents rated their school’s culture as good or very good at creating a welcoming environment.
  • 77% of respondents rated their feeling a part of the community as high or very high.
  • 63% of respondents rated their school as good or very good at creating a fair environment for faculty.

School leaders found that the following strategies were most effective for improving school culture:

  • Provide ways for administrators to better connect with faculty.
  • Remove the stigma of staying at home.
  • Encourage restorative time.
  • Provide wellness support.
  1. Teachers are satisfied with the professional development opportunities at their schools.

Despite rumblings of the Great Resignation, nine out of 10 teachers surveyed say they feel committed to the teaching profession. Eight out of 10 teachers surveyed say they feel committed to teaching at their current school. The majority (69%) of respondents rated professional development as important or very important factors to staying at their schools. Fortunately, 78% of respondents say they feel supported or very supported in pursuing their personal and professional goals at their school. 

When asked what makes teaching at an independent school worthwhile, respondents ranked the following:

  • School culture
  • Parent support
  • Small class sizes
  • Personal relationships with peers
  • Parent support
  • Mission-centered focus
  1. However, many teachers are struggling with work-life balance and continue to find the COVID-19 pandemic disruptive to their school experiences.

In response to the question, “What do you consider to be the greatest challenge in your teaching career?” faculty had this to say:

  • “I can hardly spend one-on-one time with students.”
  • “I am being asked to do more in an already-challenging work environment.”
  • “I am having trouble with work-life balance with all the extra duties that were piled onto us during COVID, and parent expectations have never been higher.”
  • “Given the safety precautions I have to take and how much more has been added to my plate, how am I supposed to teach online and in person, enforce all these safety protocols, while taking care of my health and my family’s health at the same time?”
  • “There has been a lot of turnover, and I feel like everyone is either brand new or has one foot out the door. I miss feeling like I am part of something bigger.”
  1. Teachers are unsatisfied with their pay and concerned about wage equality.

Nine out of 10 respondents said that they are worried about compensation and benefits. When asked to identify areas where faculty felt their school was lacking, respondents ranked the following:

  • Lower salaries as compared to the public schools in the area.
  • Pay inequality.
  • Responsibilities are distributed unequally.
  • Unclear expectations.

This data is aggregated and may provide a window into larger trends among independent school faculty, but the most valuable data in terms of your schools’ decision-making will be the data you collect at your own school. It’s also important to understand that a survey may capture only a moment in time, due to the changing nature of the pandemic and other moving parts in a school and the educational marketplace. A survey at the end of the school year or after the lifting of certain pandemic restrictions, for example, might yield different feelings than one mid-school year or before the lifting of restrictions.

For more on conducting a climate survey, see these past Net Assets articles: “Powering On: The Business Office’s Role in Conflict Management” and “Strategies: Survey Says.”



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