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Understanding why teachers leave: Developing a teacher exit survey

Understanding why teachers leave

By Marguerite Huber
August 21, 2019

Teachers can leave for many reasons. They might move to another school or district, take a new position for career advancement, or desire a different work environment. Or they may choose to leave the profession altogether.

A teacher exit survey is one way that districts and schools can better understand why teachers leave. The information can help education leaders analyze teacher mobility, reduce teacher turnover, and improve teacher retention. Since 2017, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest has been coaching staff at the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) on developing, testing, and implementing a teacher exit survey, as part of the state’s Plan to Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Teachers [2,036 KB PDF icon ].

Developing a teacher exit survey

As a foundation for the coaching, Jill Walston, Ph.D., the project co-lead and a principal researcher at REL Midwest, began by sharing an Ask A REL summary of recent research on teacher retention. “In that first session, we talked about surprising findings from the Ask A REL. It is not just the things some think about as the reason for a teacher leaving, such as salary or discipline issues. The research we looked at showed that school administration support, working conditions, and social aspects, such as collegial and collaborative relationships among teachers, can be important too,” Dr. Walston reflected.

“REL Midwest has been a key partner and coach in helping the department build our capacity for survey development and implementation. They are responsive to our state and local needs while maintaining integrity of survey development. The coaching sessions have strengthened our ability to communicate about the survey and built our capacity to support our local entities in engaging in exit survey work.”

—Cheryl Krohn, Ph.D., Center Strategic Administrator, Center for Teaching, Leading and Learning, Ohio Department of Education

After reviewing the research, REL Midwest and ODE staff worked to determine the survey content. Stakeholders, including superintendents, principals, and representatives from teacher associations, provided input, describing what they wanted to learn from exiting teachers and how they might use the data. In addition, REL Midwest staff shared best practices for survey creation and sample surveys as a guide.

Questions selected for Ohio’s teacher exit survey include how exiting teachers feel about their evaluations, what their plans are for the future, and their reasons for leaving. Other questions ask teachers about their school’s administration, facilities and resources, instructional support, management of student conduct, teacher leadership, professional learning, staff collaboration and collegiality, and use of time.

Test driving the survey with teachers

ODE tested the first draft of the survey with a group of teachers who had recently left their schools. The teachers also had the opportunity to provide feedback on the survey itself. After making refinements, ODE began piloting the survey with a group of districts in 2018. To support this phase, which is ongoing, REL Midwest has facilitated coaching sessions with ODE on developing effective messaging to districts, including ways to announce the survey, follow up with respondents, and maximize response rates.

Once the pilot is complete, REL Midwest researchers, in consultation with ODE, will analyze the results and help finalize the survey. An important piece of work still in progress is the development of guidance for Ohio districts on how to administer the survey, as they will be responsible for distributing it to exiting teachers.

Yinmei Wan, Ph.D., the project co-lead and a senior researcher at REL Midwest, summed up the work: “The coaching provided by REL Midwest has increased the capacity of ODE staff to create a high-quality survey that districts can administer to exiting teachers. It will also give ODE staff a skill set to build other surveys with sound practices that will help not only the state education agency, but also local education agencies.”

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Author information

Marguerite Huber Staff Picture

Marguerite Huber

Communications Associate | REL Midwest


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