Reframing Teacher Recruitment with Gratitude
Take a moment to think back about who inspired you to do what you do. At CEL, we can each name a teacher who had a lasting impact on our lives. Mrs. Santos, Mr. Genski, Mrs. Gibson, Mr. Buss, Mr. Bernklau — teachers who challenged us to stretch beyond our comfort zones yet showed caring support along the way. Who inspired you? In early May, we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week across the country. Let’s make it more than just appreciation. Seize this opportunity to elevate the teaching profession. Let’s reframe Teacher Appreciation Week as an authentic employee retention and recruitment strategy.
There are more than 280,000 fewer teachers in the U.S. than pre-pandemic, and the majority of states are facing a teacher shortage. Contributing to the problem, too many teachers report they would not advise going into the profession. In other words, education has a negative “net-promoter score” within its own ranks. Changing the way employees talk about their work should be job #1.
Reframe the Narrative
Teaching is a noble profession. An educator has the power to shape young minds and inspire future generations. Teachers aspire to the profession because of its impact on children, families, and communities. For some, it’s a personal experience with a teacher who made a difference in their lives. For others, it’s a desire to give back to their communities or to work with children. Focus recognition and recruitment messaging on the importance and impact of the profession. Avoid terms that perpetuate a negative impression (i.e. tireless, above and beyond, 24/7, thankless).
Recognition doesn’t have to be big to be meaningful. A heartfelt thank you, a handwritten note, and a reminder their work is seen and appreciated go a long way. We love how Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools incorporated student voice into their teacher recognition program. An authentic thank you can be more meaningful than a huge ceremony.
Inspire A Positive Culture
Success in schools depends on the mindset, motivation and engagement of human beings. Creating a culture of authentic appreciation and gratitude means recognizing the individuals — their gifts, struggles, commitment and effort daily (or at least weekly). People who receive acknowledgment at least weekly are more engaged. “Employees want their job to have meaning. In fact, for millennials, this is the strongest driver of retention,” according to research by Gallup.
Share Inspiring Stories
When a Minnesota student posted a comment to the New York Times talking about a teacher at her school, she quickly found herself in the principal’s office. He had seen her post responding to the prompt, “What motivates you to learn?” He had to know who the unnamed teacher was. With “a big smirk on her face,” she said, Mr. Woodbury. A call from the principal to the local paper, and now the whole town knows what an inspiring educator Mr. Woodbury is!
Storytelling is a year-round employee appreciation and retention strategy for elevating the teaching profession. It serves two purposes: inspiring internal audiences and elevating the profession for external audiences. Resist the trap of formalizing the selection criteria for sharing good stories. When you hear good stories, share them!
Educate Kansas is a statewide program dedicated to inspiring the next generation of teachers and providing resources for those interested in pursuing a career in education. They have created a platform to collect the names of inspiring teachers.
“Teachers make a profound impact in the lives of students,” said Cris Seidel, Director of Educate Kansas. “With approximately a half-million students across Kansas, it’s imperative we support schools and educators both. Where will those students be without high-quality educators?”
Most people can think back in their lives to a teacher who inspired them. After all, without teachers, there are no doctors, engineers, bankers, lawyers, or environmental scientists (and the list goes on). Research tells us 87% of people had a teacher they appreciated—but never had a chance to tell them. Now is your chance to collect those stories!
Grow Your Own
If you ask many educators, they can tell you when they considered becoming a teacher—elementary school for many. So, let’s not wait until high school or college to inspire potential educators. Denton ISD in Texas starts young with their K-12 Teach Denton program, with clear objectives: Identify students in grades Pre-K-12, who exhibit natural talents and traits; provide mentor support to excellent candidates; celebrate former students returning to teach. Schools can be intentional about nurturing the dream early and continuing to tap leaders on the shoulder through high school.
Every Employee Is A Brand Ambassador
Building pride and working to retain current employees is job #1 for future recruitment. Engaging current employees in recruitment efforts is job #2. A probationary teacher who feels supported in their growth and positive about their school culture and leadership is the best person to attend a job fair to recruit future teachers. Ask current employees to leverage their networks (FB groups, social media channels, alumni lists) to promote and recruit for new colleagues. Finally, ask your current school teachers and coaches to tap student leaders on the shoulder and say, “You’d be a great teacher one day!” Plant the seed that will grow over the next 4-20 years. Seed the pipeline early.
Use Mass Communication Strategies to Build Awareness
Once your internal communication strategies are sound, turn to advertising and marketing strategies. Reading School District’s Grow Your Own program provides career advancement and licensure support and stories are shared internally and on social media. Jason Wheeler also has more great suggestions for messaging and reaching millennials. But don’t forget about career switchers, recently retired educators, and non-traditional candidates.
Educate Kansas has launched compelling billboards, graphics, a website, and a teacher recruitment toolkit. Four local school districts serving Topeka and Shawnee County have partnered with Educate Kansas to offer competitive resources and support to educators and other school staff members. Together, they are the first to collaborate and launch #Inspired2Teach — an initiative to both inspire and hire educators. Collaboration is key to gaining the repetition and reach we need for the profession to flourish.
The educator shortage has been predicted for more than a decade, and it won’t be fixed in a year or by a single entity. It will take a collaborative effort within the education community to change the narrative. Each of us can start today. Whether motivated by personal experience, a desire to give back, or a passion for working with children, teaching can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling profession. Let’s explore the possibilities and inspire the next generation of educators.
Published on: May 3, 2023