As we reach the halfway point of summer, leaders are gradually returning to their schools and offices where they will quickly have to find a solution to one of their most pressing issues ahead of the new school year: filling the remaining teacher vacancies that exist across their schools. This is not a new phenomenon; schools and districts across the country are experiencing acute teacher shortages as an exodus from the profession for veteran teachers takes place, as well as a years-long decline in the number of students enrolling in educator preparation programs (EPPs), which has also contributed to a decline in educators of color in the classroom. Schools and districts are reaching a crisis point that is forcing them to rethink their teacher workforce and how to meet their growing needs. A leaky teacher pipeline is only one dimension of the problem; as our collective recovery from COVID-19 continues, school and district leaders must also grapple with the changing budget realities resulting from declining student enrollment, and the end of much of the federal education recovery funding on the horizon by summer 2024. Looking ahead, school systems will have to make increasingly tough choices on how to meet their teacher supply needs in the face of broader fiscal uncertainty. Ahead of the upcoming school year, schools and districts will need to position themselves to proactively address these challenges. Based on our own work with schools and districts, we see Strategic Staffing as a means of combatting the growing shortages, strengthening local teacher pipelines and preparing high-quality, day-one-ready teachers.
Education First’s work in Strategic Staffing has focused on designing and implementing sustainable paid teacher residencies that offer hands-on experience to teacher candidates as they work to obtain licensure. Our work builds from Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture principles which focus on redesigning schools to reach more students with excellent teaching.
Education First has partnered with districts, charter networks, education prep partners (EPPs) and technical assistance organizations to develop strategic staffing models that leverage sustainable paid teacher residencies.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests these residencies can support teacher pipeline needs by strategically recruiting and training teacher candidates and providing them with the necessary skills and experiences to succeed in the classroom.
Our work has resulted in a new teacher residency at the University of Redlands that serves Morongo Unified School District, REAL Journey Academies charter school network and Bob Murphy Community School in Southern California’s Inland Empire, and CalStateTEACH’s Teacher Residency with the ISANA charter school network. Currently, Education First is also supporting Claremont Graduate University (CGU) to launch a residency program in partnership with Ontario-Montclair and Corona-Norco Unified school districts. The process for designing and launching these new programs included Education First facilitating a design process that brought together school, district and network leaders along with their chosen EPP partners to develop a shared vision for the new staffing model, and to make the key programmatic decisions.
Seven factors to consider during the process of designing the new model
Three years later, our work in California has produced several lessons learned that offer districts and networks a starting place for considering whether designing a new strategic staffing model could be the answer to their emerging pipeline issues, and factors to consider during the process of designing the new model:
Understand your staffing needs and the specific problem your staffing model will solve: Strategic Staffing is a valuable tool in strengthening the teacher pipeline; districts and networks can design models that intentionally address shortages in critical areas, present and future. To that end, schools, districts and networks should examine their own staffing data, along with student-level data (including enrollment, performance, attendance and behavioral data) to understand trends and emerging needs, and to inform their process for identifying an EPP to partner with that is best-positioned to meet those needs.
Find the right EPP partner: schools and districts must partner with EPPs that can successfully recruit and prepare teacher candidates in their need areas. The right EPP partner will have the necessary credential programs for candidates and will be in close enough proximity to their schools to facilitate residents’ need to travel between their schools and coursework throughout the week. Districts and networks should also consider factors such as resident tuition and cost, and the financial and programmatic supports the EPP will make available to residents.
Focus on equity: an intentional focus on equity can help to ensure that schools and districts are designing new staffing models that account for and aim to eradicate bias and inequity for all stakeholders. That focus can include residents receiving an equitable living stipend, integrating school, district and network equity goals into the model and ensuring there is a focus on serving students with marginalized identities. Focusing on equity can also take place during the design process by engaging a broad range of stakeholders, including teachers and others closest to the classroom experience and creating space for designers to reflect on how their personal experiences and identities influence their design decisions. In doing so, Strategic Staffing can be a valuable resource in efforts to diversify the educator workforce and improve teacher wellbeing, and can signal system leaders’ demonstrated commitment to equity.
Talk about financial sustainability early and often: strategic staffing models require dedicated funding from existing budgets to support new roles (in the case of our California work, paying for teacher mentor and resident stipends)—this often means making tradeoffs to support the model. School system leaders should begin identifying budget flexibilities where tradeoffs are available, and engage school, district and network teams (both operational and academic) to understand the viability, magnitude and potential impact of the tradeoffs.
Gauge your readiness: in addition to reflecting on district/network staffing and enrollment data, any K12 partner interested in designing a new strategic staffing model must prepare to fully engage in a design process needed to make all of the programmatic decisions for their residency. Designing a strategic staffing model takes time, and requires engaging school, district, network and EPP leaders across roles and functions. Lack of cooperation from any one partner can jeopardize the staffing model’s ability to have its intended impact.
Think about (and practice) good change management: designing, launching and subsequently implementing a strategic staffing model requires broader engagement within a district or network. While much of the work does fall within the responsibilities of a talent or HR office, there are other operational teams (finance/budget, enrollment) that need to be a part of the design process, as well as academic leadership at both the district/network and school levels.
Communicate with stakeholders: strategic staffing models often change what the teaching and learning experience looks like within any given classroom. Stakeholders—students, parents and families, teachers and other school staff—all need to be aware of the changes taking place and what to expect as the new staffing model rolls out.
Interested in learning more about Strategic Staffing?
In the coming months, Education First will launch a new toolkit geared toward schools, districts and networks interested in Strategic Staffing. The toolkit will offer resources that allow districts and networks to reflect on staffing needs and determine their potential readiness for undertaking a design process. The toolkit will also tell the stories of our California partners that have designed and launched new residencies, and offer additional reflections on the considerations above, as well as more lessons learned and factors to explore for prospective K12 partners. Stay tuned for more details!