Superintendent shares 3 ways to overcome teacher shortages
Learn the 3-point strategy Keith Bryant, superintendent of Lubbock-Cooper ISD (LCISD), uses to attract high-performing teachers despite a shrinking candidate pool.
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Kevin Keenmon: Welcome to the TalentEd K-12 podcast. Today’s episode is all about understanding and overcoming teacher shortages.
Now for those of you who don’t know, TalentEd is the leading provider of K-12 talent management solutions.
My name is Kevin Keenmon, and recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Keith Bryant, superintendent of Lubbock-Cooper ISD, and he described what makes teacher shortages such a challenging issue.
Keith Bryant: Today’s young people that are coming out of college are very particular in their wants and desires. A generation ago it seemed to be a little bit easier to find teachers. They seemed to be willing just to go wherever the job was. But particularly the group coming out of college really seems to be wanting specific parameters of their jobs. They want to do very intentional things — which is really good — but it makes it more challenging because the pool is not quite as attractive as it once was.
And overall, education as a whole is somewhat being undervalued and under-respected or not respected as well as it was in the past among peer groups. And so, it’s a challenge to find people that want to go into a field that doesn’t pay very well, and yet at the same time isn’t as respected as it once was.
Kevin: Keith went on to explain how his district works to overcome this challenge.
Keith: As we look for ways to be innovative, as we look for ways to be unique and to be aggressive in our recruiting, it gives districts an upper hand that are willing to do that over those that just follow the old traditional ways of trying to attract teachers.
Kevin: During a presentation at he gave alongside strategic education advisor Melva Cárdenas at TalentEdge —TalentEd’s user conference — Keith elaborated on this strategy, which he breaks down into three B’s: Be unique, be aggressive and be innovative.
Here’s what he had to say about being unique:
Keith: What is it in your district that makes you unique?
Is it your location? Is it the amenities that your community provides?
Is it the constant quality, teaching, and developing, and professional development that’s provided?
Is it your salaries and benefits? Melva used to be in a school district, a larger district, and I was in a smaller one. They paid a lot more than we did, but we had a very competitive — even more competitive than anybody else around us— health care program. This was back 15 years ago. We were able to attract teachers that would take less money because our benefits package was strong.
Is it your reputation?
Now, I want you to think about something. Think about Amazon. Think about Amazon, how unique they are as a company. They are changing the face of the way you do shopping. Any of you Prime members? Any of you? Okay. A lot of you. Did you think 10 years ago that you could actually shop for everything you wanted from your smartphone? You didn’t have a smartphone. Your flip phone, right? 10 years ago, right?
Okay. What about Southwest Airlines? Think about how unique they are. No baggage fees, open seating. Their on-time percentage is greater than any other airline because they do things in a very, very unique way. If you’ve ever flown Southwest — and if you fly a lot — you may have come across a flight attendant or two that sing the rules to you, right?
I was on a plane a few years ago and a girl was having her 10th birthday, she came up to the front of the plane in flight, they dimmed the cabin lights — It was an evening flight — they told everybody to turn their reading lights on and get their cell phones out and blink them, and we all sang happy birthday. It’s just a fun environment.
So, being unique in your school district allows you maybe to get ahead of the curve a little bit for finding teachers in a very, very challenging environment.
Kevin: Next he covered what it takes to be innovative.
Keith: Let’s talk about innovation for a minute. What is it about today’s teachers that are different than yesterday’s teachers? Some of you have been in HR for 10 or 15 years. I think this is across the country. Don’t you think today’s teachers are a lot less … they’re a lot less the sage-on-the-stage generally as they are information facilitators. Would you say that? This has changed the scope of our society in a lot of good ways, maybe in some bad ways, right?
Well, did you know the iPhone is now 10 years old? Did you all know that? 10 years old. Okay. Did you know that those individuals coming out of college this year … If you’re recruiting, trying to hire teachers that are college graduates this year, they have not known life without the internet. If they were born in 1995, that’s when Netscape Navigator … You remember Netscape Navigator? Yeah. Yeah.
Yeah. You’re going, “What in the world is that?” You ever heard of Yahoo? AOL? All these are kind of dead search engines.
Google has taken over the planet through their innovation, but did you know that … Do you know what the number one search engine ahead of Google is? YouTube. Did you know that? Your students know that. Students know that.
Think about this today, if we’re hiring teachers that are not innovative, and if we’re hiring teachers that don’t understand technology — they don’t see the light bulb come on in students’ eyes — we’re going to be doing our students a disservice. The last slide [Melva] showed, it’s all about students’ achievements, making a difference for students.
The back table probably doesn’t remember, but there was a company in the ‘70s and ‘80s called Kodak. You remember Kodak? Okay. Do you hear of Kodak anymore? Do you know they still exist? But they went through bankruptcy to reorganize.
Okay. So, did you know that the engineer that developed the first digital camera developed it while he worked at Kodak? While working at Kodak, he developed the first digital camera. Okay. Kodak did not want to give up their traditional way of doing business of selling film by the roll or little instamatic cameras. And look what’s happened to them.
How many of you had a Blackberry or a PalmPilot? You remember that? I had one of those. I thought, “Man, I can take notes electronically. I don’t carry a notebook around with me?” Same thing. They failed to adapt.
In recruiting teachers, we cannot fail to adapt. If we don’t stay innovative in our approaches, in our methodologies, we’re going lose out on recruiting and retaining good teachers.
Kevin: Finally, he covered what it means to be aggressive.
Keith: I began working my very first job when I was age six. My granddad was a cotton farmer, and he got me up at 6:30 every morning in the summer. And I went out and hoed cotton and moved irrigation pump — at age six. Okay. There were no child labor law people looking over your shoulders then on a small west Texas cotton farm. But what I learned from that experience, and I applied it when I was doing HR, is that I was going outwork everybody else to try to get the best teachers.
And I will tell you a story about April Mercer. Okay. April Mercer — I’ve been in education 25 years — she’s the best English teacher I ever had the opportunity of hiring, best I ever hired. What happened was I was at a university job fair, she walked up, introduced herself, we got to talking, visited with her a little bit. I found out her husband was going to law school, and she was going to stay around that area where he was going to law school. I tried to convince her to drive an hour to my community. Wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Missed her.
The next year, I kept a list of the names of those I missed. I give her a call. “Hey, April. How about coming to my school district?” “Well, he’s in the second year at law school, and you know, I’m working 20 minutes away, and I really like it.” “Okay. Well, keep us in mind.” The next year, I call. “Well, he’s in his third year at law school. I took a different job. I’m only five minutes away from where we live.” The next year, she calls me. “My husband just took an assistant DA’s job in your community, and I would be interested in teaching for you.”
Had I not been aggressive, had I not been continually seeking the best of the best, I would have never gotten that phone call most likely.
Now, that’s just one example. Certainly, I hired some lousy ones too. I’ll just give you the good examples, but the key is this. Here’s what I found the key is. The key to all this teacher shortage thing that we’re all dealing with is this: People want to work with someone who takes an interest in them personally.
There is nothing greater we can do than be aggressive in an interpersonal manner to help people know they’re valuable to us. And what they can do for our kids in our school district is meaningful. That involves not pressuring but engaging teaching candidates, whether they’ve taught for 20 years, 30 years, or one semester in a student teaching environment. That interpersonal relationship of engaging them and being aggressive in an appropriate manner will help us be successful to fight this teacher shortage we’re facing.
Kevin: Well, there you have it best practices in K-12 talent management. If you’d like to learn more, please view the additional resources section in the episode description. Thank you for listening.