Increase training and mental health funding: 2 teacher retention strategies that are already working

"Grow-your-own" is the most popular teacher recruitment strategy in the nation's largest school systems.

Most of the nation’s 100 largest districts are short-staffed, but only about half say they are boosting teacher recruitment with bonuses, flexible schedules or other strategies. Still, leaders of nearly all of these districts intend to expand professional development, though it’s not clear whether PD is a major driver of retention or recruitment, a new analysis of ESSER spending finds.

More staff training is, in fact, the most popular retention strategy planned by leaders of the largest districts, with nearly 85% saying they will rely on PD to address workforce needs, according to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a K-12 research nonprofit based at Arizona State University. And about half of those leaders say PD will center on supporting students academically while about 20% said the training would also focus on students’ “emotional well-being and their social needs.”

Among the leaders who are ready to recruit and retain, the most popular strategy is establishing “grow-your-own” and other pipeline programs that introduce students to careers in education and help paraprofessionals and other support staff earn teaching certifications. A smaller number of leaders plan to offer financial incentives, test out new recruitment programs, and adjust teacher requirements, according to the analysis.

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Grow your own: Districts are targeting their grow-your-own and pipeline programs toward hard-to-staff teaching positions and making the certification process more attractive to diverse candidates. For example, Indianapolis Public Schools’ new teacher residency program is designed to provide more affordable certification pathways for aspiring teachers.

Financial incentives: Many districts are giving staff one-time bonuses or salary increases and funding mentoring programs for teachers and school leaders. A unique financial incentive at Milwaukee Public Schools reimburses college tuition for newly hired nurses who commit to the district for three years.

New recruitment ideas: A mobile recruitment lab at Mesa Public Schools in Arizona and virtual recruitment at Henry County Schools in Georgia are two examples of how leaders are experimenting with new ways to fill teaching and staff vacancies. Hawaii’s Department of Education has loosened its requirements for substitutes from a bachelor’s degree to a high school diploma, the report says.

Teacher recruitment and retention tips

One-time retention bonuses are a good strategy for leaders allocating COVID relief funds that will expire in 2024, but these types of incentives are not a long-term staffing solution, the report says. Leaders should also not rely on professional development. “Professional development can vary widely, and research shows it has not consistently improved teacher practice or boosted student achievement,” the authors of the analysis wrote. Instead, they recommend:

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  • Reimagining teachers’ roles: Mesa Public Schools is shifting from the “one teacher, one classroom” model and staffing classrooms with teams of teachers who specialize in different subjects. Spreading the workload out using this approach could help the district attract new teachers. Arizona State University’s teachers’ college and AASA, the School Superintendents Association, are working together to spread this team-teaching model to more districts.
  • Further supporting staff’s mental health and well-being: Only 26 of the largest districts plan to increase funding for staff mental health and wellness. But about 20% of principals and more than one-third of teachers say their districts don’t provide mental health support, a recent RAND corporation survey found.
  • Empowering and developing younger staff: First-year teachers who were paired with mentors were more likely to return for a second year, a federal study showed. Also, the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Labor are launching a registered apprenticeship program for teaching to help states and other partners to create affordable pathways for college students and other staff already working in districts.
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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