Chief Talent Officer, The Noble Network of Charter Schools
The increasing decline of people entering the teaching profession and the acutely felt pain of teacher shortages has been well-documented of late. Most school leaders I speak with would say that we’ve already arrived at the place where they can’t find a talented teacher to fill every open position at their school. In my state of Illinois, 60 percent of school districts reported having trouble filling teacher positions last school year; for high needs schools, even more had trouble. The scramble to hire teachers, even weeks before the school year begins, is becoming all too familiar.
Individual schools or districts who make the right adjustments first can still find great teachers.
Educators will need to adjust to this reality. Individual schools or districts who make the right adjustments first can still find great teachers. The Oakland A’s (see: Moneyball) famously found a way, in spite of market constraints, to adjust their lens on talent. So, let’s breakdown exactly how you can find talent regardless of your current constraints.
Adjust your sell.
The majority of teacher recruitment materials sell elements of the same few narratives: an opportunity to make an impact, the performance of the school/district, or the support given to teachers. Each of these are important parts of a job-seekers search but in the absence of a differentiating narrative, you should expect the same results the narrative is getting you now.
Whether it’s the autonomy you give teachers, your unique curricular focus, the beautiful community you’re in, the uniqueness of your staff, or the leadership pathways you’ve created, there are certainly elements that differentiate your school from the market you’re competing against.
At Noble this year, we even went as detailed as saying that we have ‘unlimited copies on working copiers’ as a sad but true differentiator from much of our competition (and a stress we believe teachers should be free of!) in some of our recruitment campaigns. Find your differentiating narratives and bring them to the forefront of your message to prospective teachers.
In the absence of a differentiating narrative, you should expect the same results the narrative is getting you now.
Adjust your recruitment markets.
Your school should not only market what you’re providing that differentiates you from the market, but also target the right markets of people looking for that differentiator. Groups to consider could be of a common background (ex: new Big Ten graduates to Chicago), a demographic (age, race, gender), geographic region (ex: nearby rural), or common passion (ex: community service).
It’s important to consider the intersection of compensation, desired lifestyle (commute, house, schools), and cost of living. These factors are an increasingly imbalanced proposition for teachers in many parts of the country. Great teachers leave the profession who would stay if a school could offer the right balance of these factors. As an exaggerated example (though maybe it shouldn’t be), I once received emails from KIPP: San Antonio actually showing current homes for sale that could be afforded on a teacher salary; though not the message many would care about, for certain people it was precisely what they were seeking and may have planted the seed for teachers in future years.
Adjust your selection criteria.
Everyone makes hiring mistakes even with highly crafted rubrics, processes, and experience. Making smart hiring choices within a strained talent pool is even more challenging.
The two questions to ask yourself are:
- Are the traits we’re looking for unreasonable or misaligned with the pool of applicants we have?
- What traits do we find in our existing applicant pool that predict high performance at our school?
I once met with a school leader who had a school full of incredible teachers in a highly-strained teaching market. I asked how he found such great people in the pool and he said that he made critical thinking and openness-to-feedback as non-negotiables and created his hiring process around diving deep to make sure candidates had this in abundance and knew he’d have to sacrifice on other desirable traits (experience teaching, organization, etc.).
There is not one specific profile that leads to a successful teacher. Every successful teacher in your school has a unique combination of strengths but also likely a few traits in abundance. Make sure your selection criteria matches the dynamic equation that is talent while also matching your available pool.
It’s important to consider the intersection of compensation, desired lifestyle (commute, house, schools), and cost of living.
Adjust your training model.
Being a great teacher is hard and no great teacher started their career as a great teacher.
Unless you can attract already-ready talent you likely need to create intentional structures before and during your school year to train and coach teachers. Most of the largest charter management organizations have completely adjusted their talent model to provide robust training to teachers (and leaders); in many cases hiring more than two-thirds of their new teachers as new to the profession altogether. These organizations, like many large corporations have done given their size and need, have created their own entire education schools in-house.
As a single school or small district, you may not have the resources (nor need) to scale up training to this scale, but you can create highly intentional supports for new-to-your-school teachers. This is another incentive to hire with consistent selection criteria such that you are able to design supports for teachers in the areas you know there are likely deficiencies (organization, content knowledge, classroom management, etc.).
Adjust your school model.
The education industry is designed on a service industry construct but aims to attract non-service industry talent (a post for another day). As a result, non-teaching opportunities in and out of education are setting new expectations for what talent seeks in a workplace.
Does your school have day care services? Do you allow teachers to adjust their schedules? What time does school start/end? Are start times related to traffic/commute patterns? How much during-day planning do you allow? How much work is expected of students at school versus home? What duties or expectations can be taken off a teacher’s plate?
These are all questions that can take you down the road of questioning either the construct of your day, a teacher’s schedule, or even your student-learning model, all considerations the sector is slow to move on. Though you don’t need (or aren’t able) to fully adjust your model to mirror more flexible industries, you can differentiate for specific employees or add perks that aren’t yet standard in education that make your school a better (and more desirable) place for teachers.
Whether adjusting message, markets, selection, training, or their entire construct there are ways to successfully attract teachers even in a shrinking pool. The path forward in attracting more talented professionals to sustain a career in teaching will likely be driven by those that make the most successful adjustments, particularly in a time like this.
I’m on fire every day with the optimism with what’s still possible to make our schools great places for the best teachers to lead a happy career and I hope I’ve sparked the same optimism and some new ideas in you.