When schools closed their doors due to the pandemic, tech-savvy recruiters continued advertising for staff positions, receiving resumes, and even meeting with job candidates virtually.
In the return to in-person learning, these virtual recruiting practices largely remained in place, but job vacancies also stayed stubbornly high. By October 2022, more than a quarter of public schools had multiple teaching vacancies, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Now many school district recruiters are reevaluating their strategies.
“We just accepted that the only way to apply for a job or post a job was through a computer and put it on a job board. And that had tremendous benefits for a long time. But once it tapped out, we had to rethink what we were doing,” said Dale Fisher, assistant superintendent for human resources at Deerfield Public Schools District 109 in Deerfield, Ill.
Some of that rethinking has led recruiters to go “old school” and reintroduce low-tech, community-based, grassroots efforts into their overall recruitment plans. In an EdWeek Research Center survey this fall of more than 400 K-12 recruiters, nearly half—46 percent—said the most effective strategy they’d used in the past year was simply to reach out to candidates, including nontraditional recruits. That statistic dovetails with what we’re hearing from K-12 recruiters around the country, who shared some specific grassroots methods they’re using to attract job candidates, from old-fashioned advertising tactics to highly targeted messages aimed at community members, including parents and paraprofessionals.
Some of the re-evaluating that recruiters are doing involves looking at where they’re posting positions and how they’re advertising them, explained Fisher. To target community members, he said, his district has begun to advertise job vacancies on highway billboards, magnets on district vehicles, and flyers in grocery stores.
“All those seem archaic, but it has helped tremendously over the last five years,” Fisher said.
Other districts have reported success with similar grassroots tactics. Olentangy Schools in Lewis Center, Ohio, have had significant staffing needs in recent years; it opened 2 new schools since 2018 and plans to break ground on a third one in March. To attract candidates, the district used a multi-pronged approach that included posting signs at schools and on school buses parked in highly visible parking lots.
Tapping the parent pool
Recruiters also report success attracting parents from their school communities for certain hard-to-fill positions, including substitute teachers.
“One of the biggest windfalls for us was reaching out to parents in the district who were stay-at-home parents, moms and dads,” Fisher said.
Parents were an untapped pool of job candidates until the district reached out to them through its parent-teacher organization, said Fisher, with a plea “really laying out the desperation we have in filling some of these vacancies, that tugged at the heartstrings of our parents.” Subsequently, the district experienced what Fisher called “a pretty good uptick in the coverage rates” for substitute teachers.
Brian White, executive director of human resources and operations for Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437 in Topeka, Kan., also reported success tapping parents for substitute teacher positions. But his district used a different messenger.
Principals in the Auburn-Washburn district sent emails directly to parents urging those who were interested to consider responding to open substitute teaching positions. White observed that it made sense for the messages to come from principals, many of whom have pre-existing, positive relationships with parents. The district received a robust response, according to White. In addition to acquiring more substitute teachers, some of the parents-turned-substitute teachers have been persuaded to work on getting their teacher certificates, White said.
Elevating existing employees
Cedric Hawkins, assistant superintendent at the White Hall school district in White Hall, Ark., said his recruitment team is encouraging existing employees, primarily paraprofessionals, to embark on a career path toward teaching. While there’s no exact science to it, he said, it involves being intentional in conversations with education leaders to make sure they are making paraprofessionals aware of alternate pathways toward teaching certificates.
The district currently has two such paraprofessionals enrolled in the Arkansas Teacher Residency Model, which offers practical work experience and the potential for an immediate path into the teaching force.
As soon as these current paraprofessionals get their teacher certification, Hawkins said the district will act quickly to offer them positions as they become available.
Hawkins believes that the small size of his district, which enrolls about 3,000 students, provides an advantage for hiring.
“Everybody knows everybody. The conversations we have at school about hiring needs reverberate throughout the community,” he said. “They end up at church, they end up at the grocery store.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2023 edition of Education Week as Recruiters Are Going Grassroots to Fill Vacancies. They Say It’s Working