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How to Increase Teacher Retention with Inspiring School Design

Posted on Dec 5, 2016, by Mike Brown

According to a 2003 report by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, “a third of America’s new teachers leave teaching sometime during their first three years… almost half may leave during the first five years”. In 2016 that trend shows no signs of changing; in fact, 8% of all teachers leave their jobs every single year (source).

One of the biggest problems (aside from poor pay and career development opportunities) is the professional environment and working conditions:

“Where the problems with working conditions are serious enough to impinge on the work of teachers, they result in higher absenteeism, reduced levels of effort, lower effectiveness in the classroom, low morale and reduced job satisfaction.” – Working in Urban Schools

Featured image: Hanford-Dole Elementary, Salisbury, North Carolina, USA

The Impact of Poor School Design

Research has repeatedly shown that classroom design has a significant impact on student performance, and it goes without saying that your school facilities are just as important for teachers, too:

“Creating a professional environment where the best teachers are excited to work makes a big difference [to teacher retention]” – The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools

However, only 32 to 45% of teachers at low-achieving schools said that their school was a “good place to teach and learn” (source), compared with 70 to 82% at high-achieving schools, highlighting the link between working conditions and student achievement.

The same things that improve learning environments for students also contribute to a good teaching environment for teachers:

Teachers spend the majority of their time in their classrooms, so inspiring classroom design is crucial for providing a pleasant and healthy working environment. But as well as creating an aesthetically pleasing classroom design, there are more practical issues to consider, that greatly affect teacher and student comfort levels:

“Teachers seemed to hold a basic expectation that they would be able to control light levels, sun penetration, acoustic conditions, temperature, and ventilation in their classrooms.” – Do School Facilities Affect Academic Outcomes?

So let’s take a closer look at how your school can improve each of these three factors, to create an inspiring school design that supports teaching and learning, and creates a healthy working environment for teaching staff.

3 Ways to Improve Your School Design and Boost Teacher Retention

1) Building Conditions

School facilities are an important source of school pride, for students and teachers alike. If your school facilities have fallen into a state of disrepair, it’s likely that this will be having a negative impact on your teachers’ morale.

Fortunately, studies have shown that building repairs and renovations have an immediate impact, giving teachers “a renewed sense of hope, of commitment that the district cared about what went on in that building” (source).

It may mean expanding your maintenance team, or hiring contractors for more extensive renovation and repair work, but taking care of your school facilities makes a statement: that you will look after and take pride not only in your school, but in your teachers and students, too.

2)  Acoustics

Teachers have identified noise levels as one of the most important environmental factors that affects their teaching. Therefore, it’s vital that you take steps during a facilities renovation to improve classroom acoustics by lowering ambient noise levels as much possible. This could include:

  • Installing enhanced acoustical ceiling tiles
  • Installing sound-control doors
  • Installing cushion backed carpet, which absorbs 50% more noise than hard-back carpet, and 4x more noise than hard surface flooring.

Learn more about improving classroom acoustics, to boost student achievement levels and improve teacher retention.

3) Indoor Air Quality

Poor indoor air quality can lead to a range of health problems: allergies, nose and throat infections, headaches; as well as increasing fatigue which, although not a health problem, can have a similarly detrimental effect on teaching and learning.

In fact, in a 2002 study found that 26% of Chicago public school teachers, and more than 30% of Washington, D.C. teachers reported health problems caused by the school facility (source): “Most of these problems were related to poor indoor air quality, with teachers reporting that asthma and other respiratory problems were the main adverse health effect.”

To improve indoor air quality, the best thing you can do is ensure that your HVAC system is serviced regularly, and that filters are regularly changed to prevent the build-up of contaminants that could make their way back into the ventilation system.

Additionally, carpet is great at filtering allergen particles out of the floor, by trapping them in the carpet fibers. Regular vacuuming will then remove those dust and allergen particles, and further improve indoor air quality. In fact, studies show that the breathing zone over a hard floor can contain almost 9 times more breathable particulates than the air over a carpeted floor.

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Mike Brown

Written by Mike Brown