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July 16, 2019

How to Attract and Retain Standout Educators in 7 Simple Steps

attract and retain standout educators

"It's not the kids that burn us out, it's not the school per se, it's the requirements set forth by our state legislature, and the lack of support financially and professionally."

Those painfully apt words are from Rhiannon Wenning, a community site coordinator at a high-poverty high school in Jefferson County, Colorado. Despite the surge in the demand for teachers, many are leaving the profession. In fact, more than 40% of teachers leave the profession within five years, according to the National Education Association.

And an entire generation of future leaders is at stake.

If you're looking for ways to attract and retain resilient educators who will stay with you for the long-haul, you need to make sure your recruitment and hiring processes are up to the challenge. Here are some simple steps to help make it happen.

Why do teachers leave?

We all have a story to tell about that one teacher who helped shape our destiny. 💖

But if their work is so important, why do teachers leave?

Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • Low salaries
  • Lack of administrative support
  • Accountability pressures
  • Working conditions
  • Lack of advancement
  • Personal reasons (pregnancy, child care, etc.)  
  • Dissatisfied with teaching as a profession

Yep, it's tough out there for teachers. And the mass exodus of teaching professionals has an even more detrimental impact on students, especially those from minority communities.

According to a 2016 study by the Learning Policy Institute, turnover rates are higher for teachers in schools serving large concentrations of students of color. And teachers with alternative certifications, including those who get emergency certified instead of going through a college certification, are 25% more likely to leave their schools than other educators.

The result is a greater number of inexperienced and underprepared teachers in the schools that need the most support. And thus, the catch 22 continues.

Why do teachers stay?

The good news is, it is possible to counter the above issues and snag standout educators for your classrooms.

According to the Education Commission of the States, 23 US states have diversified pay deals for teachers, offering pay boosts to teachers in high-needs schools and shortage subject areas. But if that's not you, don't worry. There are still other ways you can attract and retain quality educators, even in a challenging environment.

Take it from one anonymous 20-year public school teacher in Minneapolis: "For the past decade, I’ve worked at a school where 97% of the children qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. I stay because the school climate is good for children and teachers alike. I stay because my principal is wonderful, supports us, does what’s best for children, and because I trust her. I stay because my colleagues are gifted teachers and good company and because I continually learn from them."

When your hands are tied because of funding or policy, a great working climate and culture can help fill in the gaps.

How to Attract and Retain Standout Educators 

Step 1. Rethink your recruitment strategy 

You do have a recruitment strategy, right?

If you're like most schools, the answer is probably no. 🤷🏽 

According to CAP’s human capital systems survey, most school districts’ recruitment strategies lag behind those of other industries and are "hyperlocal, untargeted, or nonexistent"...yikes.

For example, 94% of school districts post openings on their websites, but only 30% of them also post to their social media networks. But modern, strategic recruitment has been shown to improve teacher quality, reduce turnover and minimize the need for additional training. 

It's the perfect place to start.

  • Upgrade your career page and share your open positions across your social media channels
  • Use a simple applicant tracking system (ATS) to build a targeted pool of qualified candidates
  • Choose an ATS that lets you track your best sources of qualified teacher candidates
  • Set up a candidate nurture sequence to stay in touch with leads who aren't a fit today, but might be tomorrow

Step 2. Ask the right questions

It's no big secret that in academia, there's a penchant for resumes. 

And sure, certification, education and experience are all important. But a truly excellent interview and selection process will go beyond the words on an application to include live teaching demos and scenario-setting questions to help you get those juicy, performance-based insights.

Currently, only 13% of school districts ask for a teaching demo for students to evaluate teacher candidates. You better believe that the schools that do ask for this will not only succeed in hiring a better teaching staff, they'll also establish a reputation for being a stellar employer brand.

  • Ask applicants and candidates to perform a sample lesson or submit a video of a previous lesson so you can see them in action
  • Integrate some role play into the interview process
  • Assess teaching style, management techniques and cultural fit before they sign on

Step 3. Improve onboarding and support for new teachers 

Alright, this is the make or break.

Imagine you're a new teacher at a challenging high school. You have questions. A lot of them, actually. And you have no idea who to ask or where to go to get the tools and resources you need to make it through the day.

How long will you last?

Fact is, almost 20% of school districts don't even provide a basic onboarding program for new teachers. And there's just no excuse. A solid induction process gives new hires the opportunity to ask questions, learn your workplace culture and develop the supportive work relationships they'll definitely need to rely on when the going gets tough.

  • Partner new teachers with experienced mentors
  • Create an onboarding program that answers the most-asked questions new teachers have
  • Provide opportunities for new teachers to meet, share ideas and support each other at work

Step 4. Make personal and professional development a priority

Professional development was always important to your teachers but as millennials take over the workplace, it's no longer a nice-to-have. 

A 2016 report by Gallup found that 87% of millennials rate professional or career growth and development opportunities as important to them in a job. And for employers who offer development opportunities, millennials will repay them by sticking around.

  • Offer teachers paid opportunities to improve their teaching techniques and methods
  • Provide greater access to professional learning communities and teaching associations
  • Encourage participation in lesson study or study groups with other teachers

Step 5. Improve working conditions

This can be a tough one if resources are tight.

But "working conditions" doesn't have to mean expensive ergonomic chairs or a new yucca plant for every classroom. It can simply be the level of leadership, professional collaboration and autonomy you offer your teachers.

One-third of teachers cited constantly changing demands as a key challenge to succeeding in their roles and large majorities of teachers believe their voices simply aren't factored into the decision-making process at the district (76%), state (94%) or national (94%) levels.  

  • Optimize your policies to be as flexible as possible to meet the changing demands placed on students and teachers
  • Pay teachers for participation in extracurricular or student support activities
  • Host regular brainstorming sessions with teachers to solicit their ideas, feedback and suggestions for how to improve

Step 6. Salaries and other compensation

No matter which way you cut it, teacher compensation has not kept pace with other sectors.

And the situation is becoming dire. According to a 2016 nationally representative survey of more than 3,000 teachers, nearly half of teachers would leave teaching “as soon as possible” if they could find a higher-paying job. Yeesh. 😬

  • Offer a retention bonus to help keep your best teachers on board
  • Integrate cash bonuses, salary increases or different steps on the salary schedule to give teachers a tangible way to improve their earnings
  • If you genuinely can’t afford pay raises, try to offer standout benefits like great medical, flex schedules or financial planning services

Step 7. Embrace diversity

Teacher diversity is an area of major concern

As mentioned, the teacher shortage has a devastating impact on minority populations and to add insult to injury, the teacher workforce has gotten less ethnically and racially diverse and more female—making things even harder on an increasingly diverse student population.

But school districts that make an active effort to embrace diversity and inclusion can change the trajectory for thousands of students across the US.

  • Expand your recruitment channels to attract a greater number of diverse candidates
  • Create an inclusive, supportive environment to retain your diverse staff
  • Launch an employee referral program targeting qualified teachers from a variety of backgrounds

Don't give up

There's no way to sugarcoat it. If you're looking to hire (and keep!) qualified teachers for your school, the odds definitely aren't in your favor.

But that doesn't mean you can't beat them.

Stay focused on testing, optimizing and retesting these 7 steps until you land on a system that works

As an educator, you know better than anyone that dealing with other human beings is tricky business. And while there's no magic formula that can bring you the award-winning educators you're looking for, a commitment to trying harder to provide a better experience to your current and future staff can go a long way in developing the standout educators of tomorrow.