By Jayne Helgevold, an Account Manager at DehlerPR
The annual cost of turnover in the US for the teaching profession is $8 billion. Not surprisingly, so much of what attracts and keeps employees in classrooms boils down to the basic tenets we teach in schools: Employees want to be respected for who they are and the work they do. According to a 2021 Pew Research Study, of those who quit jobs that year the top reasons came in as low pay (63%), no opportunities for advancement (63%) and feeling disrespected at work (57%). At least a third say each of these were major reasons why they left.
Whether you’re looking at retaining a seasoned veteran or recruiting a new college graduate, what you do now makes a difference in whether they choose your school or give it a pass. And you can’t be complacent with your current staff: You’re effectively recruiting them all over again, each year. You can boil down your recruiting efforts into two distinct categories that speak to the culture of your organization and how creative your district can be in recruiting.
Recruiting & Retaining Staff
What’s culture got to do with it?
Those who read our first blog will recall we discussed 10 ways to attract and retain resident students. Now it’s time to shift our focus to recruiting and retaining staff.
There is some hard math behind the challenge of recruiting and retaining staff in our schools. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of kindergarten and elementary school teachers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031 and about 5 percent for high school teachers for the same timeframe. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace those who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force.,  Adding salt to the wound, the annual cost of turnover in the US for the teaching profession is $8 billion. This is one set of statistics you don’t want your district to be a part of.
Not surprisingly, so much of what attracts and keeps employees in classrooms boils down to the basic tenets we teach in schools: Employees want to be respected for who they are and the work they do. Need proof? According to a 2021 Pew Research Study, of those who quit jobs that year the top reasons came in as low pay (63%), no opportunities for advancement (63%) and feeling disrespected at work (57%). At least a third say each of these were major reasons why they left.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS) identified poor staff cooperation and little say over setting curriculum or what was taught in class as top aggravating factors for leaving the classroom (2019a) and having more professional supports and opportunities, such as a mentor, a teacher induction program, useful subject-specific professional development, and preparation to handle discipline issues as top factors for staying. (2019c)
The Economic Policy Institute report, as informed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2015-2015 National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Challenging working environments (‘school climates’), showed that especially in high-poverty schools, a perceived lack of support by administration, coupled with a feeling of little influence within and outside the classroom played a significant role in the teacher shortage. (Fig. 1) These feelings of a lack of support and agency in their jobs were found to be a significant contributor to dissatisfaction in teaching in their current location and plans to leave the profession altogether. (Fig. 2)
Fig.1 & 2 SOURCE: The Economic Policy Institute report, as informed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2015-2015 National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Challenging working environments (‘school climates’) Note: The data for this survey was collected on a national level and may not apply directly to how you operate within your own school. However, it is instructive to consider how your staff perceives your oversight.
Whether recruiting or retaining staff, the needs are similar.
While the emphasis on each of the following considerations may vary, depending on whether you’re looking at retaining a seasoned veteran or recruiting a new college graduate, each plays a role. What you do now makes a difference in if they choose your school or give it a pass. And consider this: Each year, you’re effectively recruiting your current employees to choose your district all over again. Make your efforts count.
To get started, consider your recruiting and retention efforts as fitting into two categories: Culture and Creative. Let’s look at how each works.
Oftentimes an organization’s culture has as much to do with a recruit’s decision as the impact on their pocketbook (within reason). Culture is the heart and soul of your district. It can reflect positively or negatively on who you are, but the good news is that you have more control over your district’s culture than you may think, and there are things you can do right away to make sure what you aspire to be is reflected internally and externally in your district’s culture.
From consistent messaging via a strategic communications plan, informed by a solid communications audit, such as those available through DehlerPR, to “walking the walk” when times get tough, a clear mission and vision, along with a shared purpose throughout your district is a show of strength and unity to both recruits and current staff, along with the community you serve.
Clear Mission, Vision & Shared Purpose
You need to know who you are and where you’re going as an organization before you can expect your employees and recruits to stand behind you. How clearly are you able to articulate your mission and vision to others? More importantly, how well are you living it? Is your leadership able to bring that mission to every member of your school community, from the Superintendent throughout the schools and to your families?
If your purpose isn’t communicated clearly and succinctly, it doesn’t matter how amazing your school is. No one will hear your message to be able to get behind you and share your vision with a sense of purpose. We all want to make a difference. Help everyone, including staff and recruits make the connections they need to see themselves making that difference in your schools.
Diversity & Inclusion
Do the faces of your staff reflect those of your students? The Minnesota Department of Education finds that in Minnesota, only 5.9 percent of the teacher workforce identifies as teachers of color or American Indian teachers; whereas 36.7 percent of students identify as students of color or American Indian students. Staff may also notice the lack of diversity in your district when deciding whether to be a part of your team.
Recruiting with an eye for diversity can be a challenge, and with that in mind the MDE provides tools and resources that are regularly updated, including a list of all the funded programs that can be used locally to diversify your workforce. Check with your Department of Education for tools and resources specific to your location.
“If you don’t know where you’re going,” the old adage observes, “how can you know when you’ve arrived?” Not surprisingly, staff named strong leadership as an important factor in job satisfaction and, by extension, whether they stayed on the job. “Leadership is a contact sport,” observes Harvard Business Review authors Hise Gibson and MaShon Wilson in their article, “Your Best Employees Are Burning Out: A Framework for Retaining Talent.” ”It requires leaders to be present, engaged, and accountable.”
Leadership Opportunities & Opportunities for Advancement
In addition to looking to the organization for strength and leadership, staff look to the organization to provide leadership opportunities. Be it pursuing an advanced degree or simply continuing education in leadership, it’s not enough for staff to learn about advances in leadership; make sure you are providing opportunities for staff to apply what they’re learning. Promote from within when it’s possible and celebrate advancements so staff and the community can see how much you value the contributions of your team.
Emphasis on Mental Health
Fostering a culture of resilience is one way to help your staff’s emotional well-being. The book Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguliar shares these insights on resilience in the workplace. “By cultivating resilience in schools, we help ensure that we are working in, teaching in, and leading organizations where every child thrives, and where the potential of every child is recognized and nurtured.”
Safe & Healthy Workplace
Same goes for building safety and security; it isn’t a “benefit.” It’s a part of an organization’s culture. The most obvious of these steps is a general wellness program and promotion of an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, to provide aid to staff in times of basic financial or mental health needs.
But even building improvements can make a difference in staff satisfaction and retention. “Working conditions in schools can be affected by access to technology and supplies, as well as basic amenities such as air conditioning,” a recent School of Education blog recognized.  While enhancing comfort, basic environmental and technological upgrades provide for the ability to beef up security systems and promote overall well-being.
“A strong understanding of fire code compliance, OSHA regulations, and occupation type are all needed to make safe, compliant Emergency Evacuation Maps,” notes John Bauman, Project Coordinator, Resource Training & Solutions, an education service cooperative in Minnesota, in his article “Plan, Protect, Save Lives.” In a day where evacuation plans are even more top-of-mind for staff, providing that extra level of peace-of-mind is an added plus in your retention efforts. If your district is unable to take on the job of completing the tasks of evacuation plans, safety inspections, sampling for hazardous materials, and health and safety training, there are organizations that can provide insight and experience to assist you in providing your staff with not only a productive work environment, but a safe one, as well.
Your district may not be able to provide an outsized salary package, but maybe you have something else to offer that you hadn’t thought of before. Take a short inventory of what you have to offer that can really set your district apart from the pack. Ask your newcomers and your veterans questions like, “What makes our district great?” and “What could we offer to make you want to stay for the duration?”
Solid Mentoring & Development Programs
At this point all districts have some form of a mentoring program. But what makes yours stand out? How can you describe what makes your program unique to prospective employees in a way that is most appealing? What about your mentoring program is beneficial to your mentors, as well as the mentees? Do you offer opportunities for larger social group “mixers” where mentors and mentees can meet in less formal settings and simply get to know one another better and make new connections and synergies that might not happen otherwise? Get creative with your programs and add more value to an already great opportunity.
Robust Recognition Program
In the previously noted Economic Policy Institute Report, 67.7% of respondents felt they were not recognized for a job well done. Is your recognition program little more than a gift certificate and a plaque? You can do better. Let your staff know they’ve been seen. Find ways to recognize staff members in ways as unique as they are. Enlist the help of your students and staff to help make truly one-of-a-kind gifts. Make personalized recognition programs that reflect the unique impact each person has made on the culture of your school.
Community Specific ProgramsWhat is the greatest need in your community? Affordable childcare or housing? Support for the “sandwich generation” who are caregivers for children and their parents? Something else? Odds are whatever is the greatest need in your community at large is also a need for your staff.
Create a problem-solving team of district leaders and staff and try to tackle some of your problems from the inside out, be it brainstorming unique childcare solutions or housing connections for new recruits, or a support group for frazzled “in-betweeners.” Your leadership doesn’t need to solve every problem, but noticing there are challenges and being willing to step in and walk with staff goes a long way in building a culture of collaboration.
Princeton Thinks Out of the Box to Solve Spanish Immersion Staffing
Princeton Schools, a district about an hour north of Minneapolis, had been employing traditional methods for filling positions for their Spanish Immersion Program with little luck. “We’re fortunate enough to be close to the Twin Cities, which is in our favor, but we were still having trouble,” Superintendent Ben Barton recently reflected. “I can’t even imagine how difficult it is to recruit for these positions farther outstate.”
Barton and his team found a solution to their staffing needs by reaching across the globe through the Minnesota Department of Education’s Visiting Teacher Program, which recruits and vets qualified teachers from Spain and Mexico to teach in Minnesota schools on temporary visas of 3 years, with the option of an additional 2 years.
Jason Senne, the District’s Director of Human Resources, noted that while he initially didn’t know much about the program, it has helped with a staffing need in the district. “Certainly, we try to recruit and hire U.S. citizens, for continuity’s sake, but sometimes, there’s just no one to fill that need, and having this program has made the difference in our schools.”
Special Programs Coordinator for Princeton Schools, Andrea Preppernau, reflected on the positive impact the program has had on the community. “It’s a big process to bring someone from another country into our community. We have to do a lot to help them get started here. But, community members have really stepped up, helping us furnish homes and making our new teachers feel welcome. It’s been a real positive all around.” Preppernau also spoke to the benefits of students learning firsthand about teachers’ cultures. “The teachers really hold the students’ interests when they talk about holidays at home and the different ways they celebrate them.”
While the Princeton staff shared the positives of the program, they also noted there are some additional expenses for the district to be taken into account for other districts that may be considering a similar solution. “It is complicated,” Barton noted. “And we’ve had to hire an immigration attorney to help us navigate some of the questions that have arisen.” Still, Barton believes the positives outweigh the challenges. “Absolutely. It’s worth it. We’d do it again.”
 Challenging working environments (“school climates”), especially in high-poverty schools, play a role in the teacher shortage: The fourth report in “The Perfect Storm in the Teacher Labor Market” series | Economic Policy Institute (ed.gov)