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The power of 1:1 meetings and how to implement them in your district

Alissa Christensen
January 4, 2024

Dedicated to retaining teachers in his school district, Brian White, the Head of Human Resources at Auburn-Washburn Schools, is finding success through an intentional, district-wide focus on personal connections by implementing a one-on-one meetings system and framework that starts as soon as a new teacher begins in their district.

Having previously worked in human resources in the private sector, Brian brought unique and valuable  knowledge of employee engagement and retention to his newest role.

"What I have learned is that retention is different for everyone, making it a very personal experience. The only way to understand and support individual retention is through personal conversations, and that's where one-on-ones come into play. By knowing what is important to each person, we can learn how to support them on a personal level."

How did he get started? It all stemmed from a simple survey to understand the staff in the district better. 

“We received a ton of great information. We noticed that many of our teachers expressed their intention to leave the profession in 3-5 years, which was a huge concern for us, given the existing teacher shortage. So, we asked ourselves how we could change and positively act on that. We decided to focus on one-on-ones. Our hopes are that between human resources and our principals that we will see a positive impact on our 5-year retention with our new staff.”

Each year, Brian and his team meet all the new hires and start developing a trusting relationship with them. “We work with them when they first start out and then train our principals to transfer the process to them. Everything we learn from our initial contact with the educators in the first semester is shared with the principal for their future meetings.”

Built around the timeline of a teacher’s first semester, here’s an example cadence and set of questions Brian and his team use with their new educators. 

First Two Weeks: 

  • How often would you like to meet with your principal?
  • How do you prefer to be recognized?
  • Do you have everything you need?
  • Is there anything specific you require from us?
  • Do you have any questions from our new staff meeting?
  • What don’t you know, and how can we assist you?

30-Day Mark:

  • How have the first few weeks been? 
  • Provide feedback and ask for feedback?
  • Do you have everything you need?

90-Day Mark:

  • What do they enjoy or have enjoyed during this process?
  • What factors might cause them to consider leaving?
  • What support do they need that they might not be receiving?

At the beginning of the second semester, the principals take on the responsibility of conducting one-on-one meetings. They continue observations and goal-setting with their educators, but the nature of the one-on-one conversations in these individual meetings is distinct with questions like: 

  • How are you doing? 
  • How can I support you as a leader?
  • How can I help you progress in your journey as an educator?

With teacher retention as a main objective and focus, Brian collaborates closely with Chelsea Clark, the district’s Recruiting and Retention Specialist, to make teachers in their district feel heard and valued. “We aligned it with our district strategy, and our superintendent gave us the green light to proceed. Through these one-on-one meetings, we've opened up numerous communication channels, which are vital to the workplace and overall work environment. This has proven to be incredibly helpful and impactful."

Where do you begin? Here's Brian’s three pieces of advice:

  1. In education, it is important that you bring numbers and statistics. Our principals were shocked by the number of teachers we were losing in the first five years, despite having a very strong school district. 
  2. You have to lead by example, but being open to training is equally important. We wanted our principals to be effective with their one-on-one meetings, we provided training to give them the tools to be successful. 
  3. Telling stories helps to bring everything together and build relationships. What has proven successful for me is discussing our role as educators for children and using that to emphasize why we should extend the same care to our employees—they have similar needs. 

He knew his challenge of making an impact on teacher retention in his district couldn’t be fixed overnight, but by starting small and rallying his team around a simple, attainable framework was a place to start. 

“If you want to motivate and inspire employees, helping them feel good about their work and achieve success, the approach remains the same: it's built on relationships and understanding. One-on-ones serve as a great way to accomplish that."

Looking for additional resources on how to begin 1:1s at your school? Check out our free guide! 
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