The Republic of Palau is an independent, sovereign country in the western Pacific Ocean that has a Compact of Free Association (COFA) agreement with the United States. Through the Compact, Palau is eligible to receive support from the U.S. Department of Education and participate in the Regional Educational Laboratory and Comprehensive Center programs. To learn more about Palau and the COFA, see this REL Pacific infographic from the series Getting to Know Pacific Island Students from the Freely Associated States.
Many school systems across the United States and the Pacific Region experience challenges in recruiting and retaining a sufficient number of qualified educators to provide all students with high-quality instruction.1 In the Republic of Palau, my home country, geographical isolation and economic realities further constrain teacher development efforts, a situation not uncommon to other jurisdictions in the REL Pacific area. A substantial number of local Palauan teachers do not have a four–year degree, and most of the degrees they do have are outside of subject matter content or pedagogy. As a result, Palau public and private schools frequently recruit teachers from off-island, be it from other Pacific jurisdictions or the United States. Given Palau's geographic isolation and socio-economics, this is a challenging effort for Palau's school systems. Non-Palauan teachers often spend only a few years teaching in the country before returning home.
REL Pacific's conversations with the Palau Ministry of Education (MOE), Palau Community College (PCC), and private schools led to the inclusion of six private schools in the Palau Partnership to Support Teacher Effectiveness. In Palau, private schools serve 26 percent of the country's students, and they serve an important function of the country's education mandate.2 These private schools face similar teacher recruitment, development, and retention issues as the MOE schools and other school systems in the Pacific. Based on this situation—and the added struggle of private schools, which each operate as their own systems, providing systemic, sustainable professional development opportunities for their existing teachers—the high-leverage need of teacher training and retention has become the focus of the partnership between REL Pacific and Palau.
Within the partnership, private schools and REL Pacific are developing and will launch plans to address systemic change at the individual school level, while working together to learn from each other. The overall long-term goals of the partnership include:
For the private schools in particular, REL Pacific support includes:
For examples of promising approaches and strategies for increasing K–12 teacher retention, check out this REL Pacific infographic.
Each school is unique in its operation, curriculum, and context, and the private school partners are now collaborating in a way they haven't before, studying and learning together about teacher development and retention. With REL Pacific facilitating communication, training, coaching, and sharing of expertise and resources, the private school teams are creating solution approaches contextualized to their schools. Partners have expressed interest in exploring system improvements that could lead to change in the following areas:
For most of the private school partners, creating a "Grow Your Own" teacher program is of high interest. Geographic isolation and financial constraints currently limit potential educators' access to viable teacher-prep programs (generally located off-island), and current teachers' lack of access to sustainable, systemic professional development. Aware of the issue, PCC is committed to helping improve the situation for schools across Palau. By investigating solutions together with REL Pacific, PCC and the private schools hope to be able to recruit more local Palauans into education careers and give them the preparation, training, and ongoing support they need to be effective teachers.
The potential here is that as partners develop, implement, and scale up their solutions, they can support the development of a sustained systemic approach for teacher recruitment, development, and retention across all Palau schools, and perhaps inform similar efforts by other education systems across the region.
Sinton Soalablai, Ed.D., is a regional liaison at McREL International and supports REL Pacific research studies and training, coaching, and technical support sessions for K–12 educators and school leaders. As part of his 30-year career in education prior to joining McREL, Dr. Soalablai served for eight years as the Minister of Education in the Republic of Palau.
1 Lieberman, M. (2022, July 28). The outlook is bad for school hiring this fall. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/the-outlook-is-bad-for-school-hiring-this-fall/2022/07
2 Republic of Palau National Government. (n.d.). Public and private elementary and secondary school enrollment by school year: 2003-2004 to 2021-2022. https://www.palaugov.pw/executive-branch/ministries/finance/budgetandplanning/education-statistics/
3 Lazarev, V., Toby, M., Zacamy, J., Lin, L., & Newman, D. (2017). Indicators of successful teacher recruitment and retention in Oklahoma rural school districts. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/rel/Products/Publication/3872
Sinton Soalablai, Ed.D.