The Teacher Shortage Solution

When school leaders are asked to share their biggest challenge, one answer has risen to the top: the teacher shortage.

Certainly, there is truth to these claims. According to the Learning Policy Institute, schools in the United States are short more than 100,000 teachers. And as the number of teachers exiting the profession doubles the number of students entering the profession, these numbers figure to get much worse.

As is the case with any dilemma, school leaders have two options: complain about the problem or figure out solutions.

Those who complain about the teacher shortage say:

“Politicians need to give schools more money!”

“Colleges need attract more students to the field!”

“Society needs to stop being so hard on educators!”

Those who look for solutions to the teacher shortage say:

“How can we attract more teachers?”

“How can we improve our hiring processes?”

“How can we keep teachers from leaving?”

Consider the phrases used in your district:

Are you placing blame on others? Or, are you focused on what you can control?


On Episode #98 of The Group Project Podcast, I interviewed Roark Horn who is the Executive Director of School Administrators of Iowa. During our interview, I asked Roark, “What advice do you have for school leaders who are dealing with a teacher shortage?”

Here was his response:

Simply put. I would make your district a destination district. We’re going to be in competition for teachers early in their career. When you are in competition, you want to put your best foot forward. What are you doing as a district to prepare yourself for this possibility so that you are attractive to people?

Many schools place teacher recruitment low on their priority list. Instead of strategizing how to attract highly talented employees, leaders prioritize increasing test scores, instructional frameworks, student behavior management, professional learning communities, and other initiatives.

While all are important for school success, this previous statement poses a subtle irony. When schools recruit, hire, and retain effective staff, initiatives have a way of taking care of themselves.

The same thing can be said for teacher retainment. Rather than work hard to ensure their competent staff know they are valued, leaders often focus their time and energy addressing the very-small minority of underperforming staff.

While addressing low-performers is a crucial part of their job, school leaders must also create a culture of appreciation and respect for “effective” employees or risk losing those individuals to other districts or drive them out of the profession completely.


A short time ago I walked into one of our buildings to say “hi” before I made my way into some classrooms. As I peeked my head into the principal’s office, I saw a familiar face.

“Do you remember me?” this individual asked.

“Yes, of course I do!” I responded. “You subbed for us last year. How are things going?”

“Well, that’s why I’m here. I took a full-time job (in a nearby district). And honestly, I don’t like it there. I don’t feel valued. My opinion doesn’t seem to matter.”

“You guys were different,” they continued. “You spent time getting to know me. And I was just a sub! It felt special working here. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming."

“I want to come back.”

The principal and I looked at each other and exchanged big grins. Not only did it feel good to hear how much of an impact our culture made on this person, it’s not every day you have someone walk into your building begging to work for you.

This speaks to the bigger picture that today's leaders must possess a recruitment mentality. Rather than recruit teachers only when they have openings, school administrators must actively recruit teachers at all times.

How much time do you invest into subs, student teachers, and practicum students? Whereas some leaders say, "I don't have the time!", forward-thinking administrators view these folks as prime candidates to fill vacant positions.


Looking for more ideas about teacher recruitment and retainment? Here are eight suggestions:

Post Jobs Early: Interviewing early during hiring season is the single most important step for recruiting quality candidates to your district. This means that districts must issue contracts to current employees the first day possible (in Iowa this is March 15th). "But we need to see how much funding we get from the state!" some leaders will argue. BS. Most districts already know how much they plan to pay staff. Stop being lazy, and get those contracts out early.

Market Job Openings: Many school districts use outdated approaches to promote teacher openings. Rather than utilize social media and digital communication to proactively market open positions, school leaders passively post openings on job search websites and in local newspapers. In a time when teachers are in high demand, districts must ensure vacancies are seen by large audiences.

This post reached over 10,000 people - which is more than the population of our entire school district!

Be Proactive: In addition to marketing job openings, school leaders must be relentless in their pursuit of employees. Wise leaders realize putting time in on the front end to hire outstanding employees saves time in the long run. I have sent more than 1,000 "cold" emails and texts over my career. While only about 10 of those have panned out ... that is ten positions that may not have been filled was I not aggressive in contacting candidates.

Employee Referral Bonus: Do not underestimate word of mouth marketing when it comes to teacher recruitment. According to a Nielsen study, 92 percent of individuals trust recommendations from friends and family more than they do advertising. By offering a referral bonus to current staff who recruit new teachers to the district (we offer $250), employees are motivated to contact friends when jobs become available.

First Day: “The lack of attention paid to an employee’s first day of work is mind-boggling,” said Chip and Dan Heath in The Power of Moments. “To avoid this kind of oversight, we must understand when special moments are needed.” What are you doing during the employee’s first day of work to set your school apart from others? Leaders should create “wow” moments for staff to remind them they made the right choice.

Stay Interviews: We’ve all heard of exit interviews. But what about stay interviews? Instead of reactively asking why an employee is quitting, leaders should proactively conduct stay interviews with staff. “What motivates you to stick around?”, “What could be better about your work experience?”, and “What opportunities within our district do you want to pursue?” are all great questions to ask employees.

Feedback > Money: “We just need to pay our staff money!” is one of the most common theories for keeping employees. While more pay doesn’t hurt, leaders would be wise to focus their efforts on something that doesn’t cost a penny: provide positive feedback. Employees who are happy at work require a 20% pay increase to consider leaving. Unless your district is drastically underpaying employees, focus efforts on positive feedback rather than money.

Culture Wins: Nothing is more important for retaining employees than the culture you set within your organization. Are employee voices listened to? Is employee drama addressed? Are employees told they matter? Shortages only happen when teachers leave. Regardless of how well you recruit teachers, it doesn't matter if you can't keep them.

"Attract & Retain Great Staff" was our focus well before the pandemic and teacher shortage "crisis."


In Relentless, Hamish Brewer shares the following: “As educators, we spend way too much time trying to control the things we have no control over.”

How are you approaching the teacher shortage?

Are you complaining and blaming others?

Or, are you creating a destination district?


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