When I became a school administrator over 15 years ago, the applicant pool for filling certified teaching vacancies was deep, if not overflowing. It was not uncommon to receive ten or more quality résumés from which to select worthy candidates. Two and possibly three rounds of interviews might ensue to select the best person for the open position.

Fast forward to 2023, and the stakes are vastly different. You may be hard-pressed to find two or three viable applicants and if the individuals are not either emergency or alternatively certified or have not been recently released from their contracts at a previous school, consider that a bonus. To say we are in the middle of a nationwide teacher shortage is an enormous understatement. The problem is real with no immediate relief in sight. The number of postsecondary students enrolled in teacher preparation programs continues to decline in proportion to the perceived lack of respect for the profession. What can be done to curb this great exodus so that every child has access to a highly skilled and effective teacher? My solution is very simple yet profound: Support, coach, and sustain the forces under your direct supervision.

At Guthrie High School, that mission begins by leading with compassion in a family-centered environment steeped in a series of supports along this winding journey. The academic year is a marathon rather than a sprint with certain detours expected throughout the race. By guiding each individual new to the organization in a series of onboarding training sessions, offering continuous job-embedded professional development strategies, and recognizing, valuing, and rewarding performance for a job well done, turnover is low and retention rates are high.

Guthrie High School teachers in their Blue Jay T-shirts.

Any teacher new to our building receives a T-shirt with our school logo and is assigned a mentor who is charged with instilling the tenants of the “Blue Jay Way” (how we serve kids). Moreover, new teacher meetings are held during required pre-service professional development days as well as monthly thereafter to ensure staff know about upcoming events and remain on the path to success.

Within the first few weeks of the school term, each new instructor is given a copy of Mark A. Forget’s book, MAX Teaching With Reading and Writing: Classroom Activities for Helping Students Learn New Subject Matter While Acquiring Literacy Skills. They also meet individually with their supervising administrator to become well-versed in the components of our evaluation instrument. The objective is that each teacher is equipped to give a lesson that scores very high on their initial evaluations. In addition, easy-to-implement teaching strategies are included in a weekly staff newsletter. We believe that early success breeds future success.

Compassion and concern for our colleagues is an integral piece of our school culture—and extends far beyond the school building. For example, administrators have lent employees a hand to help change a flat tire alongside the road or traveled to a family member’s funeral to provide support and care. If necessary, the administration is available to cover classes should a family emergency occur or simply lend an ear in times of confusion or distress.

Finally, everyone has an innate desire to feel valued and appreciated for their hard work. Education can be a challenging profession. To showcase the talents of our faculty, two staff members are highlighted in our weekly newsletter. Colleagues present traveling trophies to deserving recipients at the conclusion of monthly faculty meetings to recognize positivity, love of kids, dependability, reliability, and fearlessness of failure. Food celebrations, such as our recent “Souper Bowl” party, are always nice ways to express gratitude.

As the teacher pipeline shortage continues with no immediate relief on the horizon, it behooves us as school leaders to enhance our current workforce. A little bit of compassion, concern, support, and appreciation goes a long way.

NASSP encourages all members to advocate for their students and schools. Visit actnow.io/rnp4uwz to call on Congress to address the educator shortage crisis.

About the Author

Chris LeGrande is the principal of Guthrie High School in Guthrie, OK, and NASSP’s 2022 Advocacy Champion of the Year. Follow him on Twitter (@Chris_MleGrande).

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