January 11, 2017 Terry Freedman

Technology as a tool for teacher retention

With technology playing a larger and larger part in the day-to-day working of a school, have you ever stopped to think of the cost of not using technology, or making poor use of what you have?

Let’s take an example. In one school I visited I sat down at a computer, and it took 15 minutes for me to log in, because the network was so slow. Just me, on my own. Can you imagine what it would have been like had I wanted to have a class of 30 pupils working on a computer or laptop?

This kind of thing has two unfortunate consequences.

One is that teachers will tend not to use the technology with their classes if they can possibly help it. So there’s potentially a hidden cost to the pupils in terms of better understanding of some concepts, or of simply being able to do the work required by some subjects. Both of these can have a detrimental effect on grades. 

Another consequence is that teachers will do their lesson preparation at home rather than in school, even if in theory they have time in school.

You might think that these costs are highly theoretical and therefore have no financial effect, but if a teacher decides to throw in the towel because of them, then the school will incur the very real financial cost of recruiting a replacement.

To give you an idea of what those costs might be, here’s what it cost me to recruit a member of staff 13 years ago, adjusted for today’s prices.

Half day with two members of staff to draw up a job specification: £1200 in salary
Advertising: £950
Half day drawing up a shortlist: £1200
Day interviewing candidates: £2400

That comes to around £5,700, and that’s before even looking at candidates’ expenses. (Even if you say that you already have a job specification ready, when a member of staff leaves the school has an opportunity to revisit the job spec to see if it should be updated, so it’s still a legitimate expense.)

Let’s say that your school has wonderful technology that doesn’t take an age to drag itself into life. The next question is, is it used to best effect as far as saving teacher time is concerned? Here are a few suggestions you might consider, if they are not already in place. 

Implement a system in which teachers are notified when they log in to the network, rather than by email. That is much more efficient for some things, and saves the teacher from having to trawl through emails to see if anything has cropped up that they need to know about now.

If you want all worksheets and memos etc to have a whole school look (ie displaying the school logo, using the school colour scheme and so on), Devise a school template for people to use. It’s an uneconomic use of teachers’ time to make everyone format their own documents all the time.

Make sure it’s easy to contact parents when things happen. It’s nice for parents to receive an end-of-term report saying that Annie has done well. It’s even nicer for them to receive a text message at the end of the lesson saying so. That kind of immediacy is helpful in helping parents to feel engaged, and for building and cementing relationships. 

Also, make sure things are joined up. If Annie misbehaves, it should be very quick and easy to flag that up in the system and to send her parents a text message saying what’s happened. It shouldn’t be the case that the teacher has to spend half an hour filling out a form, and then another half an hour writing to the child’s parents. There’s no need for that kind of time-wasting in this day and age.

I’ve met a few teachers for whom a school’s technology is make or break when it comes to taking on a post in another school. “If the technology there isn’t as good as what I’ve got now”, they say in effect, “then I don’t really want to move.” 

In conclusion, the quality of the technology in a school, and the way it’s set up for teachers’ use, can be either a help or a hindrance when it comes to teacher retention. It’s up to the school to make the right choice.

terryfreedman.jpg Terry Freedman writes about educational Computing, and other topics, on his website ICT & Computing in Education, and his newsletter, Digital Education.