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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Recruiting and retaining educational talent
Finding ways to strengthen the future of your district
By Denise Rugani and Steve Amaro | November | December 2021
During the 2020-2021 school year, countless districts found their retirement and personnel departure rates spike in classified, certificated and administrative ranks. The exodus can easily be explained as a result of the international pandemic, but this would not tell the entire story. Educators step away from the profession for a variety of reasons ranging from challenges in school program funding, appropriate personnel salary and benefits and even pedagogical changes in attempts to fulfill broad state mandates.
Being a successful educator requires collaboration, tenacity, energy and a firm conviction that the world can change for the better. Keeping such a sharp focus in a profession that appears to be under attack requires high levels of stamina and an administrative team that provides scaffolds of support. It is here that educational leaders play a key role in recruiting and retaining talent. Leaders can better support their communities by being visible, present, and working with educators, creating strong digital presences to publicize successes, expanding applicant pools by looking outside traditional hiring avenue, and providing meaningful opportunities for professional growth. Taking these actions to address recruitment and retention can transform schools and districts allowing them to become desired personnel destinations.
Utilize multiple methods to have a strong digital presence
The pandemic continues to be a challenge, but it did have distinct benefits; it provided an opportunity and necessity to look outside traditional hiring avenues. Having a strong proactive digital presence can be an asset. Directly reaching out to university department chairs for personnel openings, including unique Career Technical Education positions, can yield several positive results. Colleges work to make connections with districts as they want to place their teaching candidates in caring districts. Today, credential programs are well versed in collaborative methods of learning and if one candidate chooses to come to a district, the candidate is more than likely going to serve as a voice for additional recruitment of peers as well.
Another often overlooked method of digital presence involves letters and email correspondence to all families and staff within a school or district. A poster with a QR code at a community or school event that directs stakeholders to current personnel openings not only publicizes hiring needs, but also provides access to a larger pool of potential applicants.
While recruiting quality talent, it is also important to recognize and celebrate the successes of school and district communities. Regular postings on social media can attract positive attention. Posting pictures of successful class visits, quick celebratory recognitions of personnel milestones or accomplishments, and even posts highlighting images that reflect the school or district values can build pride in students, staff and the community.
Expand the applicant pool
While schools and districts should continue to value their preexisting relationships with organizations to recruit personnel, there has never been a better time to expand the applicant pool. Talent can be found everywhere throughout the nation and attending hiring events at small private colleges or Historically Black Colleges and Universities can give access to qualified applicants that may yield incredible results.
The pandemic made Zoom interviews a necessity. Yet at the same time, it made distance and travel for a first interview a non-issue, allowing time to meet applicants throughout the nation and sometimes the world. When schools and districts expand the horizon of what they can do today, creating both a digital and in-person presence, open positions have a better chance to be filled by qualified applicants that have the potential to impact school communities.
Want to retain talent? Be a visible, engaging leader
Visibility is an essential component in retaining strong staff members. Strong educational leaders create a visible presence with staff both at a district and school level. They realize the importance of walking around campus and checking in with staff in their classrooms and offices. A short five-minute conversation can be used to celebrate individual success or listen to ideas or concerns. As educational leaders, being present to celebrate and listen to staff creates a respectful atmosphere that emboldens staff to take educational risks and emotionally connects them to their school.
Another way to keep the pulse of staff is to generate meaningful data through short surveys. Conducting regular surveys can be insightful and give direction in how best to keep morale high. Examples of such questions could be:
1) What is the best (or most challenging) thing about working at your school site? 2) What type of professional development do you feel would be most beneficial for you (or the school)? 3) During the past month (quarter), what do you feel has been the best accomplishment that should be celebrated?
These are just a few sample questions, but if surveys are focused and less than five questions, they can bring forth a wealth of information and are just a few positive ways to celebrate staff and create a culture that values personnel retention.
Strong educational leaders create a visible presence with staff both at a district and school level.
Provide meaningful opportunities for professional growth
In order to retain the best talent, schools and districts also need to promote meaningful opportunities for professional growth. Many educational organizations highlight the importance of continuing education and devote entire district professional development days to address specific school community needs, but this may not be enough. Creating pathways that allow personnel to explore educational avenues that connect to individual goals can pay long-term dividends by expanding professionalism and increasing organization loyalty.
Promoting professional conference attendance may be one such pathway, but attendance alone may not address an entire school community. To make conference attendance even more effective for a school or district, it can be paired with the goal that attendees will share their findings with the staff or department. When individuals attend a conference with an expectation that they are to prepare to train staff in conference findings, the entire school or district is more likely to experience meaningful growth and the attendees get a chance to expand their leadership potential by sharing their newfound knowledge as experts that can help their peers.
Opportunities for personnel to join a professional book reading discussion group can also be beneficial. Utilizing district and school data, school leaders can identify areas of need and then select books that support, challenge and help staff improve their practice. For instance, a particular school may find data that reveals deficits in student connection to adults or grading struggles. Over the course of a semester, school leaders may want to select an appropriate book that addresses the need and moderate a discussion that focuses on best practices. Whether teachers meet in person on certain days of the month or engage in online dialogue, such opportunities can better focus participants to be more aware of their weaknesses and strengths, promote avenues of improvement and increase the morale of staff and likelihood of staying at a school that values continuing education.
Final thoughts
Recruiting and retaining talent can be a daunting task, but it can also be incredibly energizing. When schools and districts get the chance to bring in new personnel to the community and then show them that they are valued, the chances of positive outcomes only increase. In a time when the positive relationship between teacher and student is needed more than ever, actively embracing the opportunity of recruiting and retaining personnel can enable staff to search for their potential and embrace the challenge of helping students progress towards their destinies of making the world better for all.

Denise Rugani is an Associate Superintendent of Human Resources in the Liberty Union High School District. Steve Amaro is an Assistant Principal at Freedom High School.
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