7 Strategies For Montessori Staff Retention
The pandemic, burnout, and changes in workplace culture and expectations has lead to staff retention challenges in the past few years. Many school leaders are not only struggling to find Montessori staff... they are struggling to keep current staff on their team. In Montessori especially, it is so valuable to have teachers who are happy, fulfilled, and want to remain a part of your school community so that they can continue to serve your students and families. When teachers are leaving sooner than expected, it is important to take note of the factors that caused them to walk away.
What can you do to maximize staff retention rates?
We’ve put together some strategies that can help you create a healthy workplace to keep your staff happy and on your team long term!
1. Have A Great Onboarding Strategy
Creating a healthy workplace culture is fundamental when it comes to staff retention. Having a great onboarding plan helps to make sure your new staff feels fully settled, understands the resources that are available to them, and is able to have their questions answered.
Many schools don't have an organized onboarding process for new staff. This can lead to problems in the future because those staff members did not receive the necessary support in the foundational stages. When a new child starts the classroom, there is a "settling in" stage. The child needs to adjust to new surroundings, understand the expectations of their environment, get to know their peers in the classroom, and get used to a new routine. A new member of staff is not that different. It is hugely helpful to have a step-by-step plan to help them get settled so that they can feel confident in their new workplace.
So... what does a good onboarding strategy include? Let's take a look at things you should consider:
- Have a special welcome planned. A great way to do this is to treat your new hire to a coffee or free breakfast in your office on the first day and just have a casual chat.
- Have a great employee handbook. Your employee handbook should clearly list everything they need to know about their role and school policies. Be sure to include the resources that are available to them as well.
- Arrange a way for new hires to meet the team properly. Create a checklist of everyone they need to greet, or simply host a team meeting where new hires can share a bit about themselves and what they'd love to gain from working at your school.
- Before a new school year begins, consider organizing an off-site social meeting, where all new and existing staff members can get to know each other outside of their classrooms and roles. It doesn't need to be elaborate - a hike or a picnic is perfect.
- Plan at least 3 onboarding meetings: 1 after the first day, another after the first week, and another after the first month. Make sure all of their questions are answered and see how you can help them feel more settled at your school.
2. Focus on Creating A List Of Substitutes and Alternates
So many teachers feel burnt out yet still struggle to take a day off... others have excessive absences because they have held off until they have reached a period of exhaustion. It is important for you to have a list of substitutes ready to step in and help when needed. This makes your current guides feel like it is okay if they step back to recover the energy they have lost.
Make sure your current staff knows that you have people willing to step in for them when needed. If excessive absences start to become a problem, then arrange a meeting to strategize how you can support them and make sure they have the energy to come to work.
Some ways to find a list of substitutes that could step in and help are:
- Have an eye out for parents who might be great in the classroom
- Contact local schools and universities to see if they have any students pursuing education who are looking for experience. This can be so helpful... and a great way to recruit future staff as well
- If staff left your school on good terms, ask them if they would be interested in coming back as occasional substitutes
- If you stay in touch with past alumni, ask them if they would be interested in volunteering or pursuing a career in education and want an opportunity to get some experience. Montessori students can evolve into amazing assistants or guides!
3. Re-Visit Your Time Off Offerings
The world is changing and newer generations really value having more time off and away from the workplace. It is difficult for schools because it is important that our teachers are there in the classroom... but when things change, it is important to keep up!
Some companies are offering their staff unlimited paid time off. This is pretty much impossible for Montessori schools, especially as many are non-profit organizations and simply do not have the capacity to offer this. With that said, schools can consider offering more unpaid time off. If teachers had the option to take a full week off every now and then to disconnect and fully re-charge, that could really help them be energized and present when they are back in the classroom.
When staff takes time off, they can fully disconnect and rest. As a school leader, you might even be able to spot when a teacher is in need of rest. Pull them aside for a one-on-one meeting and ask them if they would benefit from time off. It is important to give them the option and know that you support their need to rest and re-charge.
Well-rested, energized, and happy employees are essential to creating a healthy workplace where people want to stay on longer!
4. Highlight The Perks Of The Job And Create Special Moments
Many of us spend more time working than we do with our families or in our homes. This means that for most of us, our workplace becomes a second home. It is important that you make sure your staff feels comfortable in the workplace. Lead by example when it comes to setting workplace culture. Create ways for your staff to connect, but be clear of any expectations or boundaries. Develop meetings or socials that are purely for connecting, checking in, and creating opportunities for laughter and good memories. Workplaces that do this are more likely to have staff that feels a sense of safety, belonging, and fulfillment.
5. Avoid Meetings That Could Have Been Emails
Time is valuable! We already mentioned the cultural shift when it comes to wanting more time to disconnect from work. From a leadership standpoint, it is important to be selective and purposeful about what you ask from your staff... especially during times of high stress and anxiety. If you can get your point across in an email, don't hold an after-school meeting about it! Let your staff go home and read the email instead of making them stay an additional hour or two. These little changes can make all the difference in making sure your staff feel like they have time to themselves after a long day.
Be mindful of your staff's time and energy!
6. Prioritize Meaningful Check-Ins
It is not always enough to casually drop in during class and ask teachers if they "need a moment" or "are okay". It is important to be observant of your staff and ask them how they are doing with intention. This means active listening!
Active listening is key. Make sure you:
- Pay attention: Notice their body language, their tone, their patterns
- Withhold judgment: Listen without making assumptions and hear them clearly
- Reflect: Take a moment to stop and empathize
- Clarify: Repeat what they said back to them, make sure you heard correctly
- Summarize: Break it down
- Share: Give advice and offer a solution, try to find something that would make both parties feel good
7. Pay Your Staff More If You Can!
There are more Montessori job openings than qualified candidates available. This means that we are entering a stage where teachers hold a lot of the power in negotiations in the workplace. This is important to keep in mind when it comes to recruiting staff and retaining it: competitive salaries are important! It is clear that with the changes in the economy and inflation, costs of living are at an all-time high. This needs to be reflected in staff salaries.
The reality is that teaching is hard work and should be compensated as such. Many Montessori schools are non-profits and have a limited budget, but it is still important to check and make sure that your staff is happy with what they are earning. Have a clear and transparent budget in place for teacher salaries and how you plan to raise them over the years based on their experience, responsibilities, and degree or training.
If you are able to increase their wages annually, you should be doing so! Inflation alone means that their wage is worth less every year, so when it doesn't go up... they actually take a financial hit.
Consider raising tuitions if you can. A small rise in tuition every year or every other year is not abnormal. Your staff deserves it for their hard work!
When your staff feels valued and financially secure, they are less likely to leave their role at your school.
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