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Building Support Networks for K-12 Teacher Recruitment and Retention

Patrick Devlin

Senior Vice President, Fishtree

When exploring the challenges around retaining K-12 teachers, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of building support networks for teachers that enable professional development, learning, training, and cross-district networking. Without prioritizing these kinds of talent management activities, schools and districts simply will not be able to keep teachers engaged, motivated, and taking the steps to build long, lasting careers in K-12 education.

To help elevate the discussion around how to take new approaches to recruit and retain K-12 teachers, Cornerstone OnDemand recently sponsored an Education Week Teacher webinar presented by Susan Moore Johnson, director of Harvard University’s Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, and author of Finders and Keepers: Helping New Teachers Survive and Thrive in Our Schools. Dr. Johnson is a leading expert on teacher staffing and development, and the webinar, "Improving Teacher Recruitment and Retention Through School-wide Change" (available here), explored how schools can not only recruit high quality teachers, but also create a climate that encourages them to stay.

Finding Support in Schools

In the webinar, Dr. Johnson discussed how her team’s research demonstrates that new teachers choose their schools based on the support system they feel they will be able to count on throughout their tenure – including other teachers, principals, administrators and school leaders. The school, as opposed to the district, is the center of what defines a new teacher’s experience, and the support that is received on a day-to-day basis at the school has the strongest impact on the teacher.

This represents an incredible opportunity for schools and districts to embrace talent management – yet it’s an opportunity that is frequently overlooked, or not prioritized. Supporting teachers is critical from the moment they are hired – not only in establishing mentors and building communities with other teachers and administrators, but also helping them develop a career path where they can embrace new challenges and responsibilities as their develop in their roles.

Evolving Careers for Teachers

The career path discussion is an important one, as it goes without saying that the career path of a teacher today is drastically different than it was a generation ago. Workforces across many industries are changing, and K-12 is no exception – teachers simply no longer spend 30 years in the classroom, choosing instead to take a less linear professional journey. Rather than panicking over this change, schools and districts should be doing everything they can to encourage a K-12 teaching career path that offers rewarding challenges, growth and leadership opportunities, and as a result, helps to retain teachers at the school.

Talent management solutions can document a teacher’s desired career path and identify goals and milestones that will be worked towards along the way – regardless of whether or not the teacher is looking to spend five years in the role or 25. Support networks including peers, mentors and coaches as well as school or district leadership are critical in helping the teacher navigate how to build the skills, take the steps and embrace the academic culture to take on new responsibilities. From taking on leadership positions at a grade level, curriculum or subject level or broader school and district roles, maintaining regular feedback on performance and development will help teachers grow and thrive in their teaching careers.

Based on the work Cornerstone OnDemand has done in the K-12 industry, it is clear that schools and districts with tightly aligned talent processes reduce teacher turnover, increase engagement and improve effectiveness and retention of high performing talent. Focusing on talent management and how to support teachers at every step of their career path needs to begin at the very first onboarding activity. It’s an opportunity that is too important to miss, and it must become a part of each school’s and every district’s culture – for the sake of our teachers and our children.

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