HR Insights 5 min

Top Strategies for HR in the Education Sector

July 12, 2021

In the last few years, school districts across the United States have voiced concerns about teacher shortages. For instance:

Two fundamental issues underpin the U.S. teacher shortage: recruitment and retention. More teachers are leaving than are entering the profession, with burnout, lack of support, and low wages among the top reasons they leave and why fewer people become teachers.

HR professionals in the education sector can’t fix all these problems—K-12 teacher salaries, for example, come from a combination of federal, state, and local funding and tend to be set by school boards. But HR in education can improve teachers’ experience in four key areas: recruitment and hiring, culture, development and training, and benefits.

Let’s dive into strategies for making improvements in each of these areas

1. Recruitment & Hiring

As an HR pro in education, you’re tasked with finding qualified candidates for roles in:

  • Teaching: Preschool and K-12 teachers/teaching assistants and professors
  • Administration: Principals, superintendents, and assistant superintendents
  • Counseling: Academic and clinical counselors

That’s a weighty responsibility—these roles will shape the minds and values of our future generations. HR may not always be in the room making the hiring decision, but you can help support decision makers and school administrators with the right strategies and processes to find the most qualified candidates and give them an empowering hiring experience. Some of these strategies include:

Conducting effective panel interviews

To ensure you find the right cultural and academic fit, you’ll want to bring several heads together, but not so many that it slows down the hiring process. Google found that an interview panel of four people is more than enough to make adequate hiring decisions.

Be sure to diversify your panel. Include top administrators, like the principal (for K-12), and educators of various experience levels to identify the right candidate for the role. Each interviewer will add a different and valuable perspective on what makes a successful hire.

Encourage hiring panels to prepare questions on how a candidate will support the social and emotional wellbeing of students on top of their academic success. For example, at the K-12 level, interview questions should focus on classroom management, teaching philosophies, and conflict resolution among students and parents.

Validating credentials and licenses

Credential requirements vary by state and educational level. For instance, elementary teachers in California must earn a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, while those in Utah must earn a Level 1 Certification and pass the Praxis Exam.

These standards can change, so HR teams stay aware of state certification requirements. Here’s a complete list of current state requirements.

Tracking substitute teachers

Emergencies are inevitable. People get sick and accidents happen. Is your team prepared to handle these absences? HR teams should have a database with qualified substitute teachers who can fill these vacancies in a timely manner. Consider using an automated substitute management system that simplifies the process of finding coverage. This eliminates the task of your district personnel having to call substitutes to schedule coverage. Better yet, it provides recordkeeping and data analysis.

How you interact with substitutes can have a big impact on whether or not they decide to work in your district, so it’s important to create a good experience for them. When Frontline Education asked administrators and substitute teachers how substitutes choose to work a school district, both admins and substitutes agreed that availability to work was the top concern. However, admins overestimated the influence of pay and underestimated the importance of culture and support.

Admins vs. Substitutes

  • Pay: 62% of admins said it’s a top reason vs. 33% of subs
  • Culture: 39% of admins said it’s a top reason vs. 48% of subs
  • Administrative support: 12% of admins said it’s a top reason vs. 29% of subs

Establishing specific hiring standards for your institution

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to hiring educators and administrators in the education field. Each education level has different needs and demands. Therefore, it’s essential to establish standards that benefit your institution.

See all the ways we help you support your educators.

For example, a community college may prioritize hiring academic counselors who are familiar with transfer student college applications and can recommend majors and four-year institutions to students.

2. Culture

To find and retain great educators and administrators, you need to find people who align with your mission and values.

Think about the shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices you want to deploy at your institution. What makes your staff feel good about their roles? How can your staff help cultivate a culture centered on engagement and feedback?

At K-12 schools, a good place to start is your principals. The Learning Policy Institute reports that teacher attrition rates double when teachers “strongly disagree that their administrator encourages and acknowledges staff, communicates a clear vision, and generally runs a school well.”

HR in the education sector can help administrators and principals build a supportive environment for their staff by:

  • Emphasizing communication and feedback. Make sure your leadership teams initiate a transparent feedback loop. The more they promote communication, the more staff members will feel comfortable raising concerns. For example:
  • Recognizing and rewarding high performance. Did a teacher receive the highest passing rate for their AP U.S. History class? Did someone strategize an interactive lesson plan that boosted their students’ grades? Be sure to recognize and reward them in some way. When teachers feel appreciated, they’ll feel more motivated to put their best foot forward and stick around for the long haul.
  • Supporting a culture of inclusivity. Establish an inclusive environment that aims to help educators and students of all backgrounds (first generation, people of color, refugees, etc.) achieve their potential.

3. Career Development & Training

With COVID-19 raising many unexpected hurdles for educators, HR needs to reexamine how much their institution invests in support and engagement.

  1. How do you help educators persevere through rapid changes?
  2. How do you proactively keep staff engaged?
  3. Most importantly, how do you provide adequate support?

Schools should be offering professional workshops, seminars, conferences, and training to help teachers stay motivated and ahead of the game. Tap into your community and partner institutions to design a professional development program that aims to:

  • Discuss key educational and cultural issues. How might these be inhibiting your staff from producing a high-achieving and engaging teaching environment? How do you address disparities in learning opportunities?
  • Instill leadership skills. A study on teacher-leaders revealed that these educators feel less isolated and experience more personal growth than those who do not have leadership opportunities.
  • Teach educators new technology that can help them better connect with their students and save time.
  • Offer continuing education courses that help educators advance their degrees and offer tips on teacher preparation and classroom management.

On an internal level, discuss ways your HR team can map out career trajectories and training programs for your teachers. For example, consider:

  • Offering mentoring or training programs to newer staff. Teachers with little to no training or mentoring are two to three times more likely to leave than those with thorough teacher training. Just because someone has pursued a teaching degree does not mean they’re ready to face all the challenges the classroom will throw at them. They still need support. Consider pairing up your newer teachers with a seasoned educator to help them get the school year started on the right foot.
  • Providing development programs for principals. Principals play a central role in teacher attrition. Moreover, principals tend to be “weaker in high-poverty, low-achieving schools,” and this can create an even higher teacher turnover. Programs like ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) can offer funding to provide leadership training to your principals.
  • Offering quarterly evaluations. Like other professionals, teachers need help developing their strengths and improving their weaknesses. However, fewer than four out of 10 higher education staff strongly agreed that someone discussed their progress in the last six months, and that’s just not good enough. Push to incorporate regular evaluations to provide guidance and support to educators at all levels. Providing professors and faculty with training and support will help boost students’ learning and growth.
  • Developing a leadership team among teachers. Bring together a group who is driven to innovate new school models. They can become the experts on developing strategies and train other staff members on effective practices.
  • Providing staff with policy leadership positions. This gives your teachers, administrators, and counselors the chance to step outside of their school role and serve state and national organizations that strive to establish student learning programs.
  • Tapping into your institution’s core values to solidify a development program. Whether your institution is focused on research or vocational training, provide resources to help your faculty improve their expertise in the appropriate area. For example, the Long Beach Unified School District has a career roadmap for teachers looking to advance into more prominent roles like administrators and principals.
  • Offering networking opportunities. To make your schools desirable workplaces for top teachers, develop robust partnerships with local teacher preparation programs. This relationship can create a hiring pipeline. Again, a good example is the Long Beach Unified School District in California.They pursued this strategy as a way to network with prospective teachers and address the shortage of educators of color.

4. Benefits

While HR doesn’t make pay decisions in education, you can help administrators set up a better pay system and find benefits that will attract and retain highly qualified educators, especially since that’s a top challenge K-12 superintendents say they face.

  • Helping superintendents find higher pay opportunities for their staff. As we discussed earlier, low pay is a huge factor in why people are reluctant to pursue education. Help your superintendents map out a more beneficial salary schedule for teachers. Take Pittsburgh Public Schools, for example. They were able to give raises to existing teachers and higher starting salaries to new teachers by replacing their performance-based pay schedule with one based on seniority and education level, among other criteria.
  • Providing comprehensive health insurance plans. Educators should be entitled to sick days and medical, dental, and vision coverage. For those in public education, HR professionals may want to work with unions to help secure better benefits packages for their staff members.

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Marie-Reine Pugh

Marie-Reine Pugh is focused on making HR simpler for HR professionals and workplaces a better place for everyone. She pulls from her previous experiences as an educator and six years of writing and researching to explore how to create inclusive company cultures that help businesses succeed.