As schools across the country plan to finish the year strong, there is also work to build the team for the following year. The field of education is continuing to embark on uncharted territory with the educator pipeline challenges. To operate as we’ve always done and expect to get the same results is more than crazy; it’s dangerous. We live in a completely different world than before pre-pandemic, and the workforce has drastically changed. The time to think differently is now, and the school systems thinking outside of the box will succeed with staffing the best educators, while those continuing to operate with the same tactics will fall further behind. I don’t enjoy writing about this because every school, every system, and every community deserves the best educators in every classroom. After all, it benefits the students they serve. But the problem is that we don’t live during an ideal time and must lead differently to make that dream happen.
The blog post is titled ‘Acquiring and KEEPING Talent’ for a reason. Talent is what we’re looking for and what we have in most of our classrooms already. So how would your mindset shift when someone refers to you as ‘talent.’ Would you feel a little more valued and committed to the work? Teachers are the most incredible talent we have in education. They make miracles and magic happen daily and develop the next generation of talent. So, if we’re going to acquire, attract and retain talent, you must think differently. Below are three moves to consider during this hiring season:
Remove barriers. What do I mean by this? First, each school system should reflect on its practices and procedures that might deter a potential future applicant.
The dreaded application. When people have to navigate multiple tabs, upload artifacts, and get references, they might opt out of the process, close the application, and move on to the next. Why would we need all of this documentation to screen applicants when we have very few applicants? An effective strategy to address this is the ‘One-minute Application.” Create a Google Form that asks who the applicant is, what positions they’re interested in, and how to contact them. Then have a staff member (more than likely a campus leader) schedule a virtual meeting to see if the person is a potential fit for your desired role. If the person is fit for the position and wants to move forward with the role, then have them complete the necessary paperwork required for the district.
Give compensation information from the beginning. Another outside-of-the-box strategy we need to implement is to get applicants the information they need to decide before they go through the whole interviewing process. The worst thing that happens in the hiring process is when a team does all the work to get someone to fill their position, and then the person backs out when they talk with the district office about their compensation. A way forward is to provide an estimated compensation package in the initial conversion or screening process. Create a salary calculator with the base pay, potential stipends, and other compensation. Use this calculator to estimate possible compensation for each applicant, and if they’re content with the amount, move them on to the next stage of the selection process.
Re-think staffing. What if the applicants don’t exist? This is a genuine question that is haunting school systems all over the country. Typically, systems have strict staffing guidelines and teacher-student ratios. These pre-pandemic policies have to be reconfigured to the current reality. Would you rather students learn from the most effective teacher versus someone just filling a spot because we had an open FTE? The data is staggering when it comes to how many classrooms are being filled with non-certified teachers. Not to say these educators aren’t doing their best and, in some cases doing great things, but we have to look at how we can leverage effective teachers to reach more students.
Increase student caseload and pay. If you have a highly effective teacher, why can’t we have them teach all students? What do I mean by this? For example, if I have two 5th-grade math teaching positions and one is filled with a very effective teacher, I could rethink my schedule to ensure this teacher teaches 5th-grade math to all 5th graders with a paraprofessional to help manage the larger groups. The money we had budgeted for the additional FTE would pay for the paraprofessional and a stipend for the teacher who took on a larger student roster. This approach would ensure I provide my 5th graders with the best learning experience and reward the teacher for being effective.
Retain the people you have. The best strategy to build the team for the following year is to keep the team you have. This should be simple, but the retention rates for schools nationwide are lower than we have ever seen. While many seek to recruit, the same energy should be put into keeping the people already on the team. The work of retention at the campus level boils down to culture (are we a committed team working towards a purposeful goal), value (how I view my worth and how I am treated by the people I work with and for), workload (are there too many things to do in a day that keep me from ensuring students are learning), and support (when I need something or someone do they respond).
Stay Interviews. Meet 1-1 with staff members to ask questions about why they stay and what would make the school an even better place to work. Many systems do exit interviews, but that is an autopsy to determine what went wrong. Many more people stay than leave. We need to get their insights to see what is working and what is not. This process communicates to the remaining people that we value their opinion and commitment to our campus. The data from these interviews can be analyzed for trends to address potential improvement opportunities.
Let them create the culture they want. Leaders spend so much time trying to figure out how to improve the culture, but most of the time, it is absent from the people who are the staff's dominant contributors to the way of life on campus. Why can’t we turn the creation and continuous improvement of the campus culture over to the team? Create a culture coalition responsible for analyzing the current culture, creating an action plan, and leading the implementation. This empowerment will only make more commitment to the culture, campus, and outcomes.
De-implementation. Schools always add more things but rarely take things off teachers' plates. The explosion of responsibilities during the pandemic caused chaos that led to many teachers leaving the profession. There are only so many things a person can do well. When we look at ensuring students are learning, each campus needs to determine the few things that contribute the most to learning for their students. All other things need to be strategically abandoned or de-implemented. A note for leaders, when you de-implement, it is essential to communicate what is being de-implemented and why. Here is a de-implementation tracker for leaders to use alongside their teams to focus on the right work.
The time to do things differently in how we approach staffing our schools is yesterday, but if you’re not there yet, there is still time to change. It would be best if you changed because this challenge will only get worse before it gets better, and unfortunately, the students in the classroom this year and in future years can’t suffer because we hoped for different results but kept doing the same thing. Good luck with building your team of talent! Remember to Remove, Re-think, and Retain!