7 min read

5 Signs Your Educators Have Checked Out (And How to Grow Engagement)

5 Signs Your Educators Have Checked Out (And How to Grow Engagement)

Summer vacation is coming soon—that magical time when we assume educators will be revived from their fatiguing schedule and then return to the classroom excited and fully engaged in the school’s mission. Right? But what if this cycle is a myth, or if disengagement is not self-correcting?

When leaders see signs of disengagement, they might think that teachers will get over it, after the next holiday or summer break. However, there is ample evidence to suggest disengagement is not a temporary problem that will automatically resolve itself. While those signs may ebb and flow over the school year, engagement is an ongoing state of being rather than a temporary feeling.

To be sure, there is a seasonal cycle of energy that educators bring to their classrooms. In the spring, there are teachers who are tired. And why wouldn’t they be? Teaching is exhausting work. But it is a myth that a tired teacher is checked out, or a “quiet quitter.” Tired may just mean tired, and that is not the same as leaving the school’s mission in the rearview mirror despite still showing up to work every day.

Does the difference matter? You bet it does! The cost of quiet quitting is high, especially in an educational setting where a teacher is under contract and may continue to do the bare minimum in their classroom for months until the term is over. An extended time of disengagement will impact other faculty and staff, students, and families too. When a teacher checks out, there are significant implications, and we can assume that colleagues and parents see it too.

So what do we do? First, leaders at all levels should learn to recognize the signs of quiet quitting, or disengagement, among your faculty. And take proactive steps to care for and fully engage teachers who are at risk of checking out.

Signs of Quiet Quitting

How do you know that you have disengaged teachers who have quietly quit bringing energy to their classrooms? Since people are quiet about their internal decision to check out, you won’t necessarily hear disengaged teachers talking specifically about their intentions. But notice who seems disinterested during planning and strategy meetings. Those at risk of disengagement may exhibit a lack of passion for the mission and vision of your school. They are not cheerleading for the cause and seem disconnected from the school’s goals. They may exhibit a lack of energy for new ideas. Your quiet quitters may display their disengagement by not volunteering for new projects or helping out at school events. Simply put, they may pull back from any voluntary, discretionary effort not explicitly required of their role.

The cyclical nature of academic jobs means that teachers who are disengaged may occupy space at your school for a number of months before they actually quit. In other types of jobs, an employee might give 2 weeks’ notice, or be actively looking for another job at any time of the year. In education, since contracts are usually for an academic year, someone who has decided not to return next year may just be filling time and doing the minimum for the months left on their contract. This lack of commitment impacts the students and families in their classes, and the other faculty who are actively engaged.

Sometimes “quiet quitting” gets loud and infects the culture for other employees. While disengaged workers may not share anything at a team meeting, some may be quite vocal about their displeasure during a “meeting outside the meeting, on the sidewalk.” This grumbling impacts others, even if leaders never hear about it. A disengaged employee may impact as many as eight to ten of their colleagues. There is the ripple effect, and it is a costly one.

Actively Pursue Engagement

Leaders have the responsibility to actively monitor and grow engagement as they shepherd their team well.

Quiet quitting doesn’t just go away after the next holiday break when teachers have a chance to catch their breath. 

That sort of thinking is naïve at best, and negligent shepherding at worst.

In Scripture, we see a high standard for both leaders and teachers. Christian schools share a mission to disciple and equip students for a lifelong journey of faith and learning. As part of this, leaders are called to shepherd their flock well, which includes faculty, staff, students, and families (1 Peter 5:2). And teachers are called to do their part to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12).

Serving in Christian education is a high calling, as leaders and teachers are equipping students to live out their faith and increase in knowledge and wisdom. Christian schools are raising up the next generation of Christians to impact the world for Christ. All this in a culture that desperately needs the hope of Jesus. There is urgency to this work.

In the recently released State of the Christian Workplace report, Best Christian Workplaces reported on engagement within Christian Education (K-12). In 2023, 53% of Christian school staff were engaged, 40% were neutral, and 7% were disengaged. Generally speaking, engagement among Christian school employees has declined over the last few years. And fewer employees would recommend that others join the profession. This decline is a call to action for leaders.

While it may be difficult to turn around those who are already disengaged, the large proportion of employees who are neutral are definitely “in play” and can be reached by intentional effort at engagement.

Three specific areas to increase engagement and build a flourishing workplace culture include caring for teachers’ needs, healthy communication, and rewarding compensation.

Caring For Teachers’ Needs

Teachers enter their profession because they want to make a difference in the lives of their students. And many persevere through hard seasons, because of this commitment to students. A caring leader will help identify barriers that are frustrating their faculty and work to create an atmosphere of flourishing.

An annual Employee Engagement Survey provides clear, actionable data to help leaders keep an eye on the health of their employees.

Just as educators regularly assess their students to determine progress and areas of need, leaders who regularly assess the health of their workplace can actively take steps toward improvement.

A teacher, or an entire workplace, will not drift toward engagement, rather entropy means that the drift is toward disengagement, unless specific steps are taken to address problem areas. This is part of what is involved in shepherding, and it takes intentionality, compassion, and a significant investment in relationship-building. Too often leaders deprioritize this level of care, which only heightens the risk of quiet quitting.

Healthy Communication

Healthy communication is a two-way process of listening to input and sharing information. Leaders who communicate well are able to reinforce vision and strategy with clarity. And they actively seek input from those whose day-to-day jobs are affected by decisions.

When I interview faculty during Discovery Groups (our version of small focus groups, using the Appreciative Inquiry technique), I often hear that decisions are made “down the hall” by administrators and boards with no direct perspective from those most affected by these choices. Even a simple scheduling change made by administrators to achieve a board-mandated goal may have unintended consequences as the change ripples through existing program offerings. This leads to a disconnect between teachers and administrators and reduces trust and engagement.

Best Christian Workplaces’ Employee Engagement Survey includes several questions related to healthy communication and decision-making. Engaged employees perceive that their input is valued. In flourishing workplaces, leaders involve faculty and staff in decisions that affect them, they seek and act on those suggestions, and they explain the reasons behind major decisions.

To be clear, this is not about putting decisions to a vote—leaders must lead. But, wise leaders recognize that effective decision-making requires good input. Such input comes from multiple perspectives, and most certainly should include those closest to where decisions will be implemented. Once a decision is made, leaders should proactively share their thought processes and conclusions with those who will be impacted. Simple information-sharing can go a long way toward addressing key questions. How does the decision reflect the school’s core values and advance the mission? How does it align with existing priorities and what resources may need to be diverted? What could go wrong and how have we worked to mitigate potential problems? As simple as this may be, I hear all too often of faculty and staff learning of decisions from parents (and even students) first. This lack of communication only justifies quiet quitting for many, and it is so easily avoided.

Rewarding Compensation

The conventional wisdom is that educators don’t go into teaching for the money. If any did, the reality has surely set in during their first year on the job. There are many intrinsic rewards for those committed to the profession. At the same time, teachers do need to buy groceries, fill their gas tanks, and pay for housing. So over time, especially in an inflationary cycle, compensation that doesn’t keep up with the cost of living can sap motivation from teachers. All this, while we recognize that faculty are asked to do more and more to keep up with increasing demands from those they serve. Today’s parents have high expectations for the educational experience and this places added pressure on teachers to spend more of their own time and money to keep up. Too many leaders have accepted this as just the reality of education, allowing an already heavy financial burden to worsen.

One of the measurements on Best Christian Workplaces’ Employee Engagement Survey is related to how an organization rewards its top performers. For many teachers, salary increases are based on years of service and level of education. While pay-for-performance has been complicated to implement in union-based public education systems, Christian schools are not bound to a step-system mentality. If compensation shows up as an area of concern in your assessment of employee engagement, what would it look like to implement performance-based raises for your school? At the very least, what would it look like if the most experienced teachers were not “capped” within the pay scale? In most other professions, the thought of the most experienced employees hitting an intentionally designed pay ceiling regardless of how they perform is unfathomable. But in education, it is often just part of the sacrifice. Must it be? In flourishing schools, high performers know leaders recognize their performance. It would be exceedingly rare for a well-recognized, well-rewarded high performer to check out or quietly quit.

Best Christian Workplaces has a Rewarding Compensation Flourish Guide available to guide you through designing an equitable, competitive compensation plan to drive your engagement and cause your culture to flourish.

Next Steps

You can assess the health of your faculty and staff and take concrete steps to engage those who are quietly (or actively) disengaged or neutral.

  • Care for the well-being of your faculty and staff by identifying barriers to their engagement.
  • Practice healthy communication that includes both listening and sharing information.
  • Focus on rewarding compensation for your faculty and staff, meeting their financial needs while providing incentives to maintain high performance over the long haul.

Schools that exhibit higher levels of employee engagement have employees who are excited to come to work and eager to invest themselves in a thriving school. Engaged faculty and staff put everything they have into their work. They share a passion for the mission that is infectious—attracting and rallying others to join in the cause—including prospective families, future teachers, and even donors. Students respond to this energy (often increasing learning outcomes), and parents and volunteers also catch the vision, allowing many in the school’s growing circle of influence to flourish as well. Be encouraged, leaders, to have engagement conversations now and throughout the year.



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