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Keeping Excellent Teachers at Rocketship

At this time of year, teachers at Rocketship and around the country are looking ahead to the 2015-16 school year, and in some cases, making decisions about whether to return for another year. We believe keeping great teachers over time is crucial to providing our Rocketeers an outstanding education and building deep meaningful relationships with families. We also know we can’t rely only on teachers’ devotion to their students and colleagues to drive their re-commitment to teaching each year. This year, I’ve been fortunate to partner with many Rocketship teachers and staff members to work on ways to value and support teachers to stay in the profession and at Rocketship.

My own career in education started over ten years ago in the Bronx. As with many first year teachers, my year was a roller coaster of amazing highs (Luis turned in an amazing five paragraph essay – on time!) and deep lows (Melinda was still reading at a third grade level after months of tutoring and intervention). I was overwhelmed by an extremely demanding workload of planning, grading, meeting with parents, and  keeping up with my alternative certification credentialing program – all while learning how to teach. At the same time, I saw a stark contrast between myself and my college friends in different fields. They were working hard launching careers as well, but they spent a lot of time pushing paper around, following their bosses’ directives and fetching coffee. Many of them worked long hours, but at the end of the day, they found themselves asking “What’s the point?” Through all the soul-searching I did my first year of teaching – and every year of the past decade I have worked in and around public education – I have never asked this question. On my toughest days, days when I questioned my own impact and competency to teach, I knew I was working on something that mattered. My students were counting on me. There was always a point.

The work our teachers do is far too important to ever be easy, but it’s our firm belief that with continued improvement and changes, it can also be deeply fulfilling, rewarding, joyful, and sustainable over many years. Through researching best practices outside of Rocketship, analyzing staff surveys and informal feedback and partnering with our new Teacher Advisory Group (made up of 12 experienced Rocketship teachers), we’ve identified three key levers to help teachers stay at Rocketship longer:

Using Teacher Time Efficiently

One of the biggest barriers to keeping great teachers is ensuring teacher time is used efficiently and teachers have time to sustain rich lives outside of school too. (As a new parent, this issue is especially close to my heart!) We have lots of work to do in this area, but this year have implemented steps like requiring early release for teachers at least one of the four PD days per month, and protecting teacher planning time. We’re also reviewing how our teachers spend their time with a detailed time study that nearly 50% of our teachers participated in. We’re using this information to target resources, curricular supports and policy changes that help teachers focus on student learning.

Building Strong Management Practice in School Leaders

In all fields, working for an inspiring and supportive leader is instrumental in keeping great staff. We keep our management ratios low so leaders can provide comprehensive 1:1 coaching and support to teachers.  Recently, we added a bi-annual manager effectiveness survey to give managers feedback early (in October) and ensure teacher voices are being heard. Moving forward, we’re also investing deeply in training and coaching for school leaders, to help them leverage best practices to serve students and staff and give teachers voice and leadership on campus.

Providing Teachers Competitive Compensation & a Fulfilling Career Path

We believe teachers deserve competitive compensation for their hard work. We also believe in performance pay that rewards effective teachers. This year, we’ve made it a priority to make this system more transparent and equitable and provide teachers important information about salary increases well before the end of the year. We also introduced a PD fund for teachers entering their third year or beyond at Rocketship to take advantage of exciting external PD opportunities and language study. Finally, we’re refining career paths and development opportunities for teacher leadership, including Grade Level Lead positions and Rising Leaders, a new program starting in 2015-16.

We have a long way to go, but we’re listening and making changes. The importance of our mission and our teachers’ commitment to it means this work won’t ever be easy, but we firmly believe it can and must be fulfilling, exciting and sustainable for teachers at all stages of life and over many years.

Meg joined Rocketship in 2010 and recently transitioned from the Leadership Development team to her current role as Associate Director of Talent Management. Meg started her career in education as a middle school English teacher and Teach for America Corps Member in the Bronx ten years ago and has worked in education ever since, with a focus on ensuring all students have access to outstanding teachers and school leaders. Meg holds a B.A. in comparative literature from Brown University and M.Ed. in education policy from Stanford. When she’s not working, Meg loves to hike, cook and spend time with her husband, Harry, and one-year-old daughter, Siena. 

Published on April 22, 2015