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How Workplace Culture Can Affect Staffing Shortages

Teacher shortages and their rippling effects on the profession have been a continuous topic in the news for several years. But just how bad are the shortages, how far-reaching are their consequences and, perhaps most importantly, what could shrink them?

The EdWeek Research Center seeks to answer these and related questionsvia two companion annual surveys conducted in December 2023: one based on the input of over 400 K-12 recruiters and the other citing responses from a nationally representative group of more than 1,800 K-12 educators. This year’s indings were unveiled at the annual EdRecruiter Webinar: Key Recruitment and Retention Trends on January 23.

The results drove home the realities of K-12 staffing shortages, which most respondents (both educators and recruiters) agree persist. For instance, 87 percent of all respondents reported that their district is currently experiencing a teacher shortage; 91 percent reported paraprofessional shortages. Additionally, most educators surveyed reported that staffing shortages negatively affect their job satisfaction to at least some extent and that the shortages will never end. While these findings seem to point to intractable problems in the profession, at least one data point left room for optimism.

Educators were asked: If you left a job in K-12 education in the past year, what if any benefits would have convinced you to stay? Having a more supportive principal/manager topped all other responses (including a retention bonus) as the factor most likely to persuade employees to stay in their jobs.

This response speaks to the importance of a positive workplace culture that comes from the top, an idea that was reiterated and expanded upon by the webinar’s two expert panelists: Alex Moseman, executive director of talent acquisition for Knox County schools in Knoxville, Tenn., and John Arthur, the 2021 Utah Teacher of the Year and a finalist for National Teacher of the Year who teaches elementary school in Utah’s Salt Lake City school district. The two panelists discussed challenges and possible solutions to supporting sustained, desirable working environments across school systems.

Moseman shared the kinds of big-picture and granular-level questions that he and other HR professionals confront in their work, like: “What can the district do to make staff feel seen, heard, valued?” and “How do we get targeted supports into the places that need them the most?”

In turn, Arthur provided glimpses of what gives teachers satisfaction: “I came in looking for a situation where I could build deep roots in a school community,” he said. “Our [school] community has done a lot to make teachers feel valued.”

Arthur also laid out the uncomfortable truths about staffing shortages, and hinted at an ultimatum. “We are in a human business. If you don’t have enough humans, you can ‘t do business,” he said. “Leaders need to think creatively about how you move pieces on your chess board so you don’t end up with a gaping hole that turns into a disaster.”

Watch the clip above from the webinar to hear what the panelists had to say.

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