From a mental health and loneliness epidemic to pitched battles over polarizing topics, such as Critical Race Theory, and the staggering impacts of gun violence and social media on adolescents, teachers are placed in the middle of compounding crises while also managing residual effects of a global pandemic. These crises are taking a toll. And teachers are leaving the profession at unprecedented rates.
What is the long-term solution to teacher burnout? Instead of piecing together makeshift policies, greater attention must be paid to sustainable retention strategies that prioritize teacher wellbeing. Cultivating positive educator-to-educator relationships –– across faculty, staff, and administrators –– may be a good place to start.
Positive faculty and staff relationships are the bedrock of successful schools with high retention during tumultuous times. While existing research suggests strong relationships between educators lead to greater self-efficacy and job satisfaction, little research unpacks how school leaders foster these relationships.
In the spring of 2022, Search Institute began researching the mechanisms underlying positive educator-to-educator relationships. Through focus groups and interviews with 72 teachers, paraprofessionals, instructional coaches, and administrators employed in public, private, and charter schools across the nation, our team found the following actions can lay a foundation for educators to cultivate strong relationships with each other:
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. There are a number of ways in which schools can push toward inclusive relationships between educators. At the core of relationally rich organizations is robust leadership that prioritizes respect, collegiality, collaboration, and consistently moving towards a common vision. As one participant in our study said, "The building administrators I think do a lot to setting the tone and modeling good relationships and building the culture…community amongst staff."
Relationships are powerful, and building a relationship-rich environment for young people, as well as practitioners and educators, can require policy, priority and mind-set shifts. The co-creation and implementation of solutions like the Educator-to-Educator Relationships Framework Project allows Search Institute to work with educators and practitioners to create a framework, applied resources, and measurement tools that are designed to positively impact, empower and strengthen faculty and staff relationships.
Melanie Muskin is a PhD student in Human Development and Social Policy in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Melanie’s academic research is informed by a prior career in New York City schools where she served as a teacher, elementary school assistant principal, director of a citywide professional development initiative, and head of a center-based preschool. Melanie is working on the Educator-to-Educator Relationships Framework Project as one of Search Institute’s 2023 Summer Scholars.