Ways independent schools can stay on track in the midst of the tight labor market.
Many independent schools saw enrollment gains over the past two years. Parents were pleased with the way independent schools navigated the pandemic; they discovered new opportunities for their children and built relationships with new teachers and faculty.
To retain these families and provide the best education environment for all students, it’s important that independent schools navigate a new challenge: teacher shortages and the Great Resignation.
According to the Forbes Business Council, in April of 2021, more people quit their jobs than during any month in almost a century (McFall, 2021). Pressing fast forward to 2022, CNBC reports that the Great Resignation is far from over and 44% of employees count themselves as “job seekers” (Iacurci, 2022). This Great Resignation does not spell impending doom; it simply means it is time for a change. There has been a societal shift in the way the workplace operates and one of the biggest shifts has been seen in schools. To survive and retain top talent, independent schools will need to adapt.
Independent schools hit hard by the Great Resignation
Teachers were one of the first groups during the pandemic that needed to adapt quickly. They rose to the occasion so their students could continue to learn. But just as teachers adjusted to e-learning, they then had to quickly readjust to being back in the classroom and deal with new health and safety precautions for themselves and their students. It’s no wonder that today, teachers—and school staff—are burnt out and battling workplace fatigue.
The Great Resignation is a problem every sector in the workplace has faced for the last year and independent schools are no exception. In 2021, RAND survey found that nearly one-quarter of teachers indicated a desire to leave their jobs at the end of the school year, compared to the average pre-pandemic national turnover rate of 16% according to NCES data (Steiner & Woo, 2021; Digest of Education Statistics, 2019). According to a Politco article from 2022, “about 55 percent of teachers say because of the pandemic they’re considering leaving their jobs sooner than they’d planned” (Quilantan, 2022). With a turnover rate that is twice the national all-industry average and employee burnout at an all-time high, independent schools will need to turn to new practices to retain top talent.
Robyn Ezzell, a senior executive search consultant who specializes in nonprofit recruiting for the firm Find Great People, states:
“We are currently in a candidate-driven market, and we have been since before the start of the pandemic. The candidates have the power, and they know it.”
Enhanced by the resignation of the Baby Boomer generation and pandemic burnout, candidates recognize the characteristics they are looking for in an employer and refuse to settle for less. These factors make it challenging to recruit highly talented people at salary levels that schools can afford.
How can school leadership combat these trends?
- Take the time to listen to your teachers and staff, hear their opinions, and determine how they feel they could be better supported.
- Acknowledge faults within your school and be open to change.
- Consider fundraising efforts for raises and talent retention. Among our independent school clients, we have found that donors value teachers and are willing to give to support retention efforts.
- Emphasize retention, which means creating an environment where people want to be and feel supported! The level of stress teachers and staff are experiencing is exponentially higher than before the pandemic. It is important to place a premium on the mental health of your staff.
- Prepare for a generational shift. As Baby Boomers exit the workforce, younger generations have a new perspective on life, the workplace, and how they would like to be managed.
- School professionals are drawn to the field because they want to educate. By continually reinforcing the connection between their job, their students, and the importance of education, you will encourage them to see beyond just a paycheck.
Turn disruption into opportunity
With some closing words of support, the 2022-2023 school year is the perfect time to turn disruption into opportunity. School leaders can either become defensive or take time for introspection. Look at what your school does really well and acknowledge flaws. Focus on teacher and staff retention and building culture. If you do those things well, the right educators will stay and thrive.
An article from Inc. entitled, “The Great Resignation: Why Millions of People Are Quitting (and How Employers Can Earn Them Back),” states, “bottom line? Money matters—until it doesn’t. Because you can’t buy great employees. But you can definitely earn them” (Haden, 2021). It’s time to get creative, listen to your teachers and staff, deliver on your promises, and connect everything back to your mission. Your independent school will endure The Great Resignation and be stronger for it.
About the Author
Anna Lipscomb is Marketing Events Coordinator for the Winkler Group, a national capital campaign and strategic planning firm headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina. A graduate of Clemson University, Anna is passionate about community development, sustainability, and the arts.
Further Reading and References
Digest of Education Statistics. (2019). Mobility of public elementary and secondary teachers, by selected teacher and school characteristics: Selected years, 1987-88 through 2012-13 [Dataset]. In Table 210.30. National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_210.30.asp
Haden, J. (2021, August 10). The Great Resignation: Why Millions of People Are Quitting (and How Employers Can Earn Them Back). Inc.com. https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/great-resignation-employees-quitting-attract-great-employees-wage-rates-signing-bonuses.html.
Iacurci, G. (2022, March 22). The Great Resignation continues, as 44% of workers look for a new job. CNBC. Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/22/great-resignation-continues-as-44percent-of-workers-seek-a-new-job.html
McFall, M. (2021, August 13). The ‘Great Resignation’: An Opportunity to Rethink Employee Empowerment. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/08/13/the-great-resignation-an-opportunity-to-rethink-employee-empowerment/?sh=2964bb772e19.
Quilantan, B. (2022, February 7). The “Great Resignation” leaves schools reeling. POLITICO. Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://www.politico.com/newsletters/weekly-education/2022/02/07/the-great-resignation-leaves-schools-reeling-00006061
Steiner, E., & Woo, A. (2021). Job-Related stress threatens the teacher supply: Key findings from the 2021 state of the U.S. teacher survey. RAND Corporation. https://doi.org/10.7249/rra1108-1