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Increasing Employee Retention or Reducing Attrition?

It may be that the two topics of retention and attrition seem to you to be the same thing. They are the "flip side" of each other alright. But when it comes to demonstrating the impact of induction and mentoring and to gaining support for your program, there is a critical difference. One concept works with non educators and the other does not. This paper is to help you think through this issue and to plan how to conduct your work so it increases support for your program by others.

Retention Solutions
The most frequent methods for increasing employee retention have been to provide orientation and some level of mentoring support and guidance, at least for novice educators if not all new employees. This author's reviews of such programs find that they do increase retention to some extent, perhaps as much as 15-20%. However, this "bump" is not as significant as is often desired, nor as high as a more comprehensive induction program can provide. A comprehensive induction approach can attain retention rates as high as 96% over five years. The induction program at Texas A & M at Corpus Christi is a great example of this significant level of retention, but there are many more such examples all over the nation. In fact, it could be argued that one would not even want a higher retention rate, for surely, not everyone who tries teaching should be kept as a teacher.

What a comprehensive induction program should provide will be discussed later in this article. Our goal at this point is to affirm the value of an effective program approach. Clearly, even when a district can not offer the top salary, it can still effectively compete for and keep the quality educators by treating them professionally and by expecting and supporting effective employee performance. After all, people become educators to make a difference in students' lives.

The more districts can demonstrate to candidates and new employees that the district can help them achieve their original goal for becoming an educator, the more effectively districts can recruit and retain those employees. However, such a statement is easier said then done. Never-the-less, there is now extensive documentation of the power of effective mentoring within a comprehensive induction program to increase teacher success and, thereby, to improve the ability of a district to attract and retain the best new employees. Simply stated, induction program success breeds teacher success, which breeds district success in attracting and retaining successful teachers, which increases the quality of teaching.

Funding New Employee Retention Efforts
The most typical way to provide a new employee support program has been a "common sense" approach, which is founded on two assumptions:

Since we all were once beginning educators, we all know what is needed to better support our recent new hires.

Every one accepts the value of increased support for new, and especially novice employees.
Each of these assumptions contain some element of truth of course. But experience has clearly demonstrated that each of these assumptions contain unexamined fatal flaws. Providing a program based on our own initial year experience ignores the dramatic changes in our profession which have occurred since that time and the fact that mentors, our very best teachers, do not feel they have all the answers as teachers themselves. This flaw has led to the wide spread discovery that "Not every good teacher makes a good mentor". It has also led to induction programs which have "eased the stress" for new educators and helped a bit with their retention, but not helped us to improve the quality of teaching or success of students.It's clear now that designing and providing mentoring and induction based primarily on our own professional experience and common sense is inadequate today.

Finding funding for "common sense" induction and mentoring incentives has been a challenge too. While induction programs seem so logical to educators, sadly, such programs are often perceived as less than essential by the non educators who are decision makers at the local school board, state or provincial policy, and legislative levels. This has led to inadequately supported and abbreviated programs which do not have the capacity to provide the desired results. It has also led to stronger programs while grant funding endures, but which cannot be sustained when the grant funds run out or become unavailable. Clearly, the case for common sense approaches to new employee support are not as compelling nor as valued as what we need.

A more recent approach has been to focus efforts to generate funding for new educator support programs on increasing employee retention. This ias an attempt to demonstrate one of the major benefits of effective induction, which is increased numbers of effective educators working with students. Many studies in every kind of demographic and geographic setting have shown the ability of effective induction programs to increase retention. Some examples of the impact of induction on educator retention include:

Texas A & M University, Corpus Christi, whose program has delivered a 96% retention rate after five years.

The New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Clara, which is direced by Ellen Moire and has reported about 95% retention after 3 years.

Others include the La Fource, Louisiana School District's Beginning Teacher Program, The Beginning Teacher Support Program at Governors State University in Illinois, and the Washoe County School District Induction Program at Reno Nevada.

As powerful a demonstration of "success" as these programs are for educators, many non educators still question the value of induction and even increased retention. This may be because the intended benefits of retention, improved teaching and student learning, are less concrete, although no educator doubts they occur. The bigger challenge has been that it ’s harder to demonstrate these benefits have occurred as a result of effective mentoring and induction.

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