Retaining Teachers – and Adding to the Joy of the Work While They are With Us

August 1, 2023


Anna Besser and Liat Zaidenberg


As another school year comes to a close, many of us take stock of which teachers are returning for the following year. As Jewish education leaders, consultants, and coaches, we begin to ask ourselves: How do we retain teachers? How do we recruit teachers? These were the big questions we asked ourselves as we planned a session we led with colleagues for the MTEI Graduate Conference, in December of 2022.

With three key MTEI Principles in mind – Learning Rooted in Collaborative Inquiry, Intentional Creation of Community, and Teachers Learn and Learners Teach – we planned a session using the GLU (Group Level Understanding) format. We chose this process to get input from our colleagues and to make visible needs, challenges and assets regarding teacher recruitment and retention and to generate ideas for next steps. Participants in the session expressed a few overarching values that guide them in retaining teachers.
● Building and maintaining relationships
● Listening
● Creating a sense of belonging
● Involving teachers in decision making – collaborate in vision building and articulating shared values

Following the MTEI Graduate Conference, Mindy Gold invited us to hold a Zoom roundtable discussion on teacher retention with fellow MTEI colleagues. In advance, we asked participants to read The Stay Interview: How it Can Help School Hold Onto Valuable Staff by Elizabeth Heubeck and the CASJE study by Helen Chernikoff. During the roundtable, we discussed the overarching values that guide us in retaining teachers. Along with those values, much of the conversation focused on the idea of a “stay interview”. We have all heard of “exit interviews.” The idea of the “stay interview” is to talk to teachers long before they think of leaving – and the process itself may encourage them to stay! The Stay Interview: How it Can Help School Hold Onto Valuable Staff, suggests that stay interviews should take place during the school year as they can “elicit powerful information from employees considered ‘enthusiastic stayers’. In turn, you can use this input to ensure their continued job engagement and retention.”

Our MTEI colleagues asked for a follow up roundtable to focus specifically on stay interview criteria – what to ask, who to ask, when to ask. We looked together at the Stay Interview Quick Guide. As the group explored the guideline, we realized that we might learn a lot by role playing a “stay interview”. So, on the spot, one of our colleagues volunteered to be interviewed. Keeping in mind our MTEI principles of learning rooted in collaborative inquiry, each of us got a chance to ask questions from the guide and add our own.

After the spontaneous interview, we reflected on the experience. One of our takeaways was that it is not enough to conduct the interview. We realized that we need to be open to hearing what is being expressed and to exploring what next steps can/should be taken to retain that staff person. Another takeaway was to consider doing these interviews early in the school year to benefit the school in creating a culture of listening and belonging, as these interviews help teachers feel seen and heard.

Teacher retention is such a significant issue in Jewish schools; it is important that we find practices that both increase the chances that our staff will choose to stay, and also that we deepen the sense of belonging while they are at the school. We believe that the ‘stay interview’ can contribute in both of these ways.

Anna will be implementing stay interviews with several of her teachers. She hopes to complete them by mid-November; we’re excited to see how it turns out! We are looking forward to exploring the next steps of teacher retention.