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To support and build a healthy educator workforce we must modernize HR that accounts for educators’ well-being and resiliency.

3 key strategies for district leaders to build a resilient educator workforce

Evidence-based, data-backed HR strategies have helped our district become a workplace that naturally attracts and retains high-quality employees

Key points:

Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling. Research shows that “when it comes to student performance on reading and math tests, teachers are estimated to have two to three times the effect of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership.” Yet, despite this significant impact, too often, district strategies focus on interventions that prioritize students and their achievement, while educators are left with the same supports and resources amidst increasingly higher expectations.

Students matter AND district leaders need to prioritize taking care of the adults who take care of the kids.

As a superintendent for more than 11 years, I’ve seen more often than not that wraparound resources for teachers beyond professional development or mentoring opportunities rarely exist. To support and build a healthy educator workforce we must modernize K-12 HR that accounts for educators’ well-being and resiliency. This type of systematic shift can truly make a difference not only for educators but for students, families, and the communities they serve.

At Olmsted Falls School District, our leadership team understands how critical it is to support our educators as employees. Nationally, 40 percent of school division leaders and principals describe their current staff shortages as “severe” or “very severe. Thankfully, while our school district isn’t struggling with staffing shortages to the degree of our neighboring districts, that may not always be the case. With more teachers considering leaving the classroom and changing professions, coupled with fewer teachers considering the profession, we’d be foolish to ignore what’s happening around us.

Rather than taking a band-aid approach and plugging holes in the pipeline by recruiting more and more teachers, our team has been focusing on building our schools as a place where educators want to work and thrive. We have an opportunity to create an environment where our current educators are satisfied employees – providing them with the supports and resources that our staff needs to feel and operate as valued members of our district.

By taking this approach, we not only see a decrease in turnover, keeping our teachers in our district, but we’re simultaneously attracting new, high-quality teachers who want to be part of our community–teachers are even seeking out our district as a place to work.

To create this type of workplace environment, district leaders must understand their educators’ mental and physical health and resiliency–much in the same way they do their students’.  Here are my top three best practices for K-12 leaders to build a resilient workforce:

Use data to understand your employees’ strengths and needs. Data-backed initiatives to support teachers’ well-being and resiliency are critical. District leaders no longer need to be overwhelmed or guessing when it comes to building a customized workforce strategy that meets their schools specific needs. Platforms like PeopleBench, an HRTech solution, allow district leaders to easily survey and benchmark their educator workforce and gain key insights into how to build support strategies that make an impact and create a modernized environment for teaching and learning.

For example, I regularly see the toll that the day-to-day grind takes on our teachers’ mental health and well-being, and this has been a major factor in educators’ decisions on whether to stay or leave the profession. I no longer need to wait for teachers to hand in their resignation to understand that teachers in my district are stressed and burnout. With data in hand, I can proactively hear directly from educators across the district about the increasing stressors they face. And with that information, Olmsted is in the process of becoming more strategic by implementing essential supports to process stress in a healthy way.

Encourage conversations among school leaders to support well-being. Whether your district has 3 or 300 schools, it’s essential to fully understand how individual schools operate. While developing a data-backed, district level workforce resiliency plan, district leaders must work to encourage and coordinate conversations among school leaders and administrators. It’s these conversations that can foster a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences among schools and their specific needs.

In Olmsted, we’re working to better incorporate data-backed, comprehensive HR strategies into our district-wide strategic plan. And as we’re creating this plan for the district, we are holding conversations with each of our school leaders to ensure that the plan can be effectively executed in their unique school environment.

This direct line of insight into how the schools work day to day, and their perspective and feedback, are beyond valuable to the success of building educator resiliency.

Identify the unique funding streams available to support workforce resiliency. Federal COVID relief dollars have allowed schools and districts to implement school initiatives, including those that support educators. With these dollars being set to expire in September 2024, district leaders need to understand their district budgets, and what outside funding opportunities are available to their schools.

For example, in Olmsted, we used the state Department of Education’s Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid and Student Wellness and Success Funds to fund our workforce resiliency efforts. As noted by the Ohio Department of Education, “Districts and schools use Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid and Student Wellness and Success Funds to provide vital wraparound services to help students overcome obstacles to learning, accelerate learning and prepare for future success.” And with educators playing such a critical role in student learning and success, these types of funds align with supporting educators. District leaders must keep tabs and stay up to date on the latest public and private funds available to them. 

Evidence-based, data-backed HR strategies have helped our district become even better–building a workplace that naturally retains people and attracts great ones, all the while creating amazing educator employees who, in turn, build student success. While we are still early to this approach, I strongly believe that workforce resilience and well-being will be our strongest hiring and retention tool for our teachers today and for our future workforce.

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