How to use stay interviews to retain and motivate teachers

A tiny man in a suit holding on to an ankle walking away

As many schools face issues with staff retention, some headteachers are turning to stay interviews to improve staff engagement and well-being. A stay interview is a conversation with a staff member who has chosen to remain. Unlike exit interviews, where people say why they are leaving, in stay interviews, people say why they are staying. They give school leaders the opportunity to show teachers they are valued and find out how they can help develop and retain them. ‘Recruitment issues continue to be a massive concern in the education sector,’ comments Mumin Humayun, head of school at The Stockwood Park Academy (TSPA) in Luton. ‘We struggle to retain our best staff in our profession, with many choosing to leave before five years.’

Appreciated teachers stay longer

Mumin believes effective stay interviews are a valuable way to keep staff on board. ‘Finding out what makes teachers love the job enough to stay is important because it can be used to ensure they continue to be engaged in your organisation and stay even longer. Often the reasons why people stay are not obvious. No one knows because nobody has ever asked them!’

Stay interviews also allow Mumin to thank staff and show appreciation. ‘Teachers feel valued, especially if senior leaders recognise and respond to what interviewees say. Colleagues feel that they are contributing to the ongoing success of an organisation.’

At TSPA, the interviews happen midway through the school year. ‘If you do them early, you can hopefully stop people from leaving, especially if you listen, recognise and respond to what is communicated,’ says Mumin.

Identify individuals’ career goals

Arti Patel is assistant principal (community) at TSPA and has worked there for eight years. ‘I found the experience of having a stay interview really valuable. I was able to discuss my career pathway and which direction I would like to take. My role is extremely niche to this Trust, so I was able to discuss next steps.’

She agrees that stay interviews help teachers feel valued. ‘I feel that it provides an opportunity for staff to talk about the direction of their careers. I feel the head of school is able to see more of the puzzle and able to guide staff, or seek opportunities to keep staff they wish to stay.’

Stay interviews don’t cost money, and require only time and some skills development

In her case, she had a measurable result following her interview. ‘I spoke to Mumin regarding my next steps and understood I needed varied experiences to help me excel with the next stage of my career. I was added to the behaviour team and now lead strategically on elements of personal development. Had it not been for the stay interview, I may not have been able to voice this.’

While initially doubtful, Paul O’Sullivan, associate vice principal at TSPA, also found his stay interview helpful. ‘It allowed me to be honest and transparent as to why I was staying but similarly why (at one point) I was looking for new opportunities.’ The conversations raised are crucial in retaining teachers, but also help in succession planning and career development, he adds. The school was able to support him in developing specific areas of school leadership. ‘I know my place and part in the organisation. There is a lot to be said for that as it stops me questioning my role and my school.’

A forward-thinking education sector

Another fan of stay interviews is Mark Solomons, chief executive of Welbee, an organisation that supports well-being in the education sector. ‘Stay interviews are used in the corporate world and in forward-thinking businesses. In my previous career in retail banking, I used them to keep connected with staff as a feedback mechanism, along with surveys, chats and meetings, all of which help people stay in jobs that are tough.’

Stay interviews could be part of the solution to the retention crisis, he says. ‘Stay interviews don’t cost money, and require only time and some skills development.’ Mark says leaders can use this time to understand pressure points and see if they can fix things. ‘If we can’t, then we can explain why and offer alternatives. We want teachers to know that someone is listening and caring, and that they can feel ownership in any outcomes. We must create an environment where people want to work.’

Gather vital information

Ask these key questions to get insightful feedback from long-serving teachers.

  • Why have you worked at this school for as long as you have?
  • What motivates you in your current role?
  • If you could change one part of your job, what would it be and why?
  • Do you feel your current role fully utilises your skills and talents?
  • What have you learned since working at this school?
  • Is there anything new you would like to learn in the next year?
  • Do you feel supported in your career goals?
  • What one thing would make your job more satisfying?
  • What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
  • What did you love in your last position that you are not doing now?
  • If you changed your role completely, what would you miss the most?
  • What would make you stay longer in this school?
  • Would you recommend this school as a place of work to a friend or former colleague?

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