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Irreplaceable teachers are defined as the top 20 percent who produce five to six months of additional learning with students. A report by The New Teacher Project (TNTP), “The Irreplaceables,” studies four districts encompassing 90,000 teachers, 2,100 schools, and 1.4 million students to focus on the experiences of exceptional teachers. From this report there is much we can learn about retaining the best teachers in our schools.

Following are five ways principals can keep their irreplaceable teachers:

  1. Establish high expectations early in the year. The best teachers want clarity. Use meetings and orientation at the start of the year to rally teachers around a clear and specific definition of what excellent teaching represents. Set goals for making the school a better place for learning and working. Observe classrooms regularly and be clear that ineffective teaching is not an option.
  2. Recognize success publicly and frequently. Look for bright spots and don’t make success a secret. Set aside time at meetings to celebrate teachers who are exceptional or have achieved notable milestones. Keep your praise sincere, but don’t praise everyone all the time. There is a significant difference between a leader and a cheerleader.
  3. Treat your best teachers like they are irreplaceable. Successful principals make it hard for great teachers to leave their schools. List the teachers who are most critical to your school’s success and spend quality time with them. Get to know their interests and professional development needs, help them access resources, and give them opportunities to grow professionally. Involve the irreplaceables in decision-making and ensure other school leaders understand their value and respect them.
  4. Have “stay conversations” before the winter break. Many teachers start to think about what’s next around the holidays. Set time aside after Thanks-giving to talk to your irreplaceables and your rising stars about continuing to teach in your school next year. Tell them you believe they are irreplaceable and let them know how much you want them to return. If they are considering other options, ask what you can do to convince them to stay.
  5. Don’t tolerate poor teaching. Principals who hold the line on good teaching keep more of their top teachers. Invariably, some teachers will struggle despite good intentions and hard work. Be honest about their weaknesses, and give them regular feedback and time to improve. Set reasonable limits on how long they have to show significant improvement (months, not years). However difficult it may be, don’t allow ineffective teachers to linger.

Article appears in monthly NorthStar for Principals.

The New Teacher Project (TNTP). (2012, July 30). The irreplaceables: Understanding the real retention crisis in America’s urban schools. Brooklyn, NY: Author. Retrieved from http://tntp.org/publications/view/the-irreplaceables-understanding-the-real-retention-crisis



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