For this post I am going to write entirely from the perspective of the Principal, and actions that a principal can take (within their realm of control) to retain highly effective people. First, notice I did not say "highly effective teachers." Teacher are the core of the building, and the deliverers of knowledge to our students, but in my building, they comprise about 150 of the 240ish that work here. If you are not paying attention to the custodial, clerical, support staff of your building and viewing them as being held to the idea of being highly effective, that is a problem. One of the most consistent compliments we get about our building is how clean it is. Trust me, I let my plant operator know each time, and reinforce how critical that is to the success of our students.
In 2016-17, we hired over 70 folks into our building ranging from Assistant Principal, Teachers, Custodial, Clerical, and support personnel. The old adage rings true: If you hire a dud, you will pay for them all year. A truth I have learned in my years that I did not know as a first year principal is that do not compromise. If you have doubts, put in a long-term sub before you marry yourself to an employee who is not up to standard. Your students and parents will grumble at the sub at first, but once the right person is in place life will be good. Do not settle. Wait for the right fit.
From the role of the Principal, you must have a strong recruitment plan for when you have an opening. If everything is working, that will be rare, but especially in a larger school, there is always some movement year to year. As I write this post we are in the middle of hiring season (Summer 2017) and where I had 40+ vacancies last year, I have nine this year. Progress. I will also say that we fit every metric out there that would indicate we would be a high turnover building. I refuse to accept that, but admit that it must be addressed. To that end, we have to create a strong recruitment plan to get good people into our school. Below are some ideas I have put into practice and I feel are successful.
1. Nothing Beats Word of Mouth.
If your school is not working, and it is wild in the halls, then no recruitment plan is going to help that. While you cannot wave a magic wand and say everything is perfect, you can get the narrative out there that your school is heading in the right direction, that while utopia may not exist today, you are at least headed down the path, and with purpose. This may seem like a no brainer, but I want to put emphasis on the second part of my point. If your school has challenges, be upfront and honest about them, but follow it up with the vision and the plan to address them. Do this ad nauseum with your staff, your parents, anyone who will listen. The narrative will shift from "That school is rough" to "That school is going places". You cannot manufacture this. Simply saying it is not enough, you have to articulate the plan and the vision. The role group here you need to convince most is your students. Once they feel safe enough to know that their school is about learning and supporting them, the culture shift really begins.
You want folks who will talk about that your school is focused on the success, and worth of your students. People want to be part of an ethical, mission oriented school that does not pay lip service to the individual needs of its students. They want to be a part of a school that legitimately honors each student and has a place each kid can land and call home. You want this narrative out in the community because you never know when your school is being talked about. If you are current staff can stand in the grocery line wearing your school's shirt, and when asked by stranger about it, respond positively and speak to how the school cares for its students, then that is the word of mouth that you want.
2. Engaging Social Media Presence.
When potential applicants search about your school, what will they find? In 2017, this is the default way to find out about a place. Google, Facebook, twitter, Wikipedia (you do know you can edit it, right?) the list goes on. Have you checked what the google first page results are when you type in your schools name? When you type in your name? You want this narrative to be positive, and with legwork and initiative, you have a large amount of control over social media. When you do something right and a parent points it out ask them to write a Facebook or Google review for your school. They will do it. Have a strong social media presence highlighting the good things happening at your school and the awesome things your students are doing. I have a standing question in every interview I conduct with an applicant "What do you know about our school?” I ask this first to see if they did any homework, and second to constantly check what the public perception for an outsider is about our school.
3. Find the people you want and let them know.
We all know educators in other buildings that we think are rock stars. Rather than have a mental exercise on how good they would be at your school, go and talk to them about it. I have never met an educator that does not warm to the idea of being recruited. Why not? We all enjoy being wanted, and if you know there is a rock star out there have the conversation with them. In my fourth year of teaching, I was planning to go to another county, but decided against it when a principal in my district came to me and sold me on the idea of switching to his school. The fifteen minutes he spent with me got him an employee who was rabidly loyal and willing to do what I could to implement his school's vision.
I have absolutely no shame in saying that there are some folks who I have taken from places I have worked before. If you have a known person that is good for kids, why wouldn't you seek them out? While this can engender ill feelings with fellow colleagues, the bottom line is this: education is work, and no principal owns their people. We are free to ply our craft where we see fit, and if you think someone out there is a good fit for your school, why not ask them directly if they would be interested in applying. I will say that I have made a few people mad over the years when I sought out folks that I believe are effective. Some people get very possessive about their employers, and that is a good thing to feel invested in people. However, this is a job, and folks are free to go where they wish. Do not be that principal that stonewalls people from leaving. It is not OK, and it is unethical. Create an environment where they do not want to leave. In the same respect if you recruit someone and they are happy where they are, leave they be.
4. Build the List.
For years, I have kept "The List". For every position in a school, I keep a list of folks I have encountered that I think would be good. I have an Assistant Principal list, Math list, ELA list, and so on. The list does not mean you are an automatic hire, but it means you are definitely worth consideration. Some of these folks I may never call upon, or are perfectly happy where they are, but nonetheless I keep the list handy for when the time is right. There is nothing unethical about reaching out when you have a job opening and saying "I would like you to consider applying for this position, I think you would be a strong interview." You are not promising a job, just expressing your interest. Many of the people on the list are up and coming teachers I have been connected to via referral or universities. It never hurts to be prepared with a deep roster of folks that you think would be a good fit for your school.
5. Attention grabbing posting.
If you district allows you to post your own job descriptions then they need to POP. Nothing is more boring than the boilerplate job listing. Include all of the necessary legal items, but tailor it to your own school. Talk about "desirable qualities" be they specific training, attitude, or skill sets you are looking for. An example would be Thinking Strategies training. I place a high premium on this training and actively seek applicants that have been through the institute. Talk about your mission, vision; paint the picture of the place where they will be spending a lot of time in their life. If it sounds miserable, then why would anyone want to work there? Tell the story of your school and your applicants will have an understanding from the gate where they are applying.
6. Articulate a new hire support system.
This is especially important for newer teachers. When we hired 70+ in one year the most common question from teachers we interviewed in their first three years was "What support will I have as a new teacher". Be ready to articulate it and make sure the system you have in place is meeting the needs of your staff. This has been an area of reflection for me in 2016-17 as we had a robust New Hire program, but in reflection, I am not entirely sure it targeted the needs of all of our folks.
7. Know the colleges.
Cultivate relationships with the local teacher prep programs. I do this by saying "YES" to almost any student teacher placement. I look at the student teacher as an extended job interview, and as a way for my staff to get some extra cash, and mold their talents as leaders with a new teacher. One of the best byproducts of this is having a pipeline of new folks (we do not hire them all, but many we have) and having a strong relationship with their colleges. This manifests in many benefits for the school.
8. Have a big hiring table.
It is my practice to allow pretty much anyone to sit on an interview committee. Obviously, SBDM rules (for KY) apply but I have rarely encountered a policy that limits the hiring committee’s size. If it does, work with your SBDM to change it. What I have found is that when you have a hiring committee of many folks you get many perspectives in potential employee’s abilities for your students. Secondly, you show the applicant that if this many people showed up for their interview, they will have support in the school, and they will be held to a high standard. It speaks volumes when a dozen teachers are willing to come in during the summer to sit on math interviews.
9. Build in benefits.
Obviously, in the public sector we cannot decide to suddenly pay someone more. We can however work within our district policies and state law to make sure we give our employees every advantage possible. Our school has the ability to offer 6 hours of paid college credit to employees each semester, as long as it is at a state university. You can be sure we convey this to applicants. Our school is a Title I school and loans can be subject to forgiveness over a few years, we make sure recruits know that as well. We just finished putting together an outstanding weight room- that our staff is welcome to use. From time to time, our teachers will want to stay and play some basketball, the answer is absolutely. We actively seek donations to feed our staff, not just during teacher appreciation week, but whenever we can. A staff member wanted to start a Yoga club for staff to de-stress. We try to build in as much of the nice perks as we can into our school, so that folks want to stay and feel valued. It goes without saying that you need to be recognizing your staff for their work, but I’ll cover specific ideas on that at a later date.
10. Mission above all else.
Have a clear focus on what your school is about. People rally behind a mission with a clear vision. If it is just posted in the hallway or in a document in some filing cabinet, it will not work. It has to be present, palpable, and something people can feel proud to contribute to.
In a later post I’ll talk about the next step once you have a team of rock stars in place... retaining them.