Educate78 is continuing to focus on – and provide funding for – teacher retention strategies because we know great teachers are essential to student success. Our Teacher Retention grants empower teachers to change the conditions at their school that are preventing teachers like themselves from staying. Oakland teachers know best what is needed in their schools to improve teacher success and retention, and we want you to hear straight from them: How did they identify the need at their school site? How are they using the funding, and what are some of the successes so far?

Other entries in this series:

In this blog, we hear from Luis Torres, a 5th and 6th grade math teacher at Lazear Charter Academy. Lazear received funding to support a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum to increase both teacher retention at a high-needs school and students’ academic success by reducing their emotional stress.

What is the focus issue your site is seeking to address with the support of a Teacher Retention Grant?

We believe investing in a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum will accelerate students’ academic success by reducing their emotional stress. The benefits will lead to a better school culture, academic success, and student engagement, which will lead to a higher retention of staffing.

How did you identify this as a need at your site?

The vast majority of students at Lazear Charter Academy face high levels of stress outside of school that includes violence, dislocation, poverty, and crime, and are unable to process and cope with the negative long-term effect of stress on their well-being and success.

In the past three years, we’ve had over 90 percent of our homeroom teachers specifically identify intervention and support with Tier II/III students as a direct causation for the decision to leave the school or for their low level of satisfaction at our school site. Evidence was collected through exit interviews, the School Climate Assessment Instrument (SCAI) report, post-Lazear surveys, and Gallup Q12 surveys.

How are you using the retention grant money?

We identified a researched backed program, TOOLBOX, as a means of developing our students personal and resiliency skills and also help teachers meet the needs of our Tier II/III students, an area focus for our school and cause of teacher burnout.

What are some of the key successes or areas of progress so far?

We have seen a decrease in referrals this year in grades that are implementing TOOLBOX.

Why advice do you have for other schools looking to increase teacher engagement and retention?

Each Oakland school is unique and has it’s own challenges. I would recommend schools digging deep into their data and identifying issues that you have control and can change at your site.

Every child goes through some form of stress and trauma. Coping with trauma and stress is a necessity in order to maintain a healthy learning environment. Without SEL tools and resources, we are disregarding our students’ basic needs and further creating a toxic environment that is hard to maintain for both students and teachers.