School and district-based staff are understandably wary about the new school year. Teachers, the majority of whom are women, are struggling under the immense pressure of pandemic schooling. Many have worked long hours to try to support their own families while keeping up with the demands of online teaching and changing COVID-19 protocols.
Teacher retention rates were already declining pre-pandemic, and the shortage of educators across roles may be widening. Preparation programs are facing fewer numbers of new educators entering the workforce; thirteen percent of graduate programs surveyed by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education reported seeing “significant declines” in the numbers of new students. Of those graduating, many may be turning to remote options right out of the gate. Member programs in the national Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance reported increased hiring of online teachers since 2020.
Educators want the same flexibility that’s traditionally more available to those in corporate settings. In a 2021 survey, fifteen percent of teachers said flexibility to work from home would “make a major difference in reducing the likelihood they leave the profession.”
There’s no shortage of remote-first education companies that attract school-based talent with their social mission and flexible work. “We are seeing significant growth in applicants seeking to leave the structured onsite work environment in schools in favor of more flexibility and the ability to teach and work remotely,” shared Jamie Candee, CEO of Edmentum.
Schools and districts must approach this year with that same level of creativity and urgency as they did in the early days of the pandemic, rethinking long-held beliefs about schooling and implementing new ideas that once seemed impossible to meet the changing needs of their communities. Here are two ways that administrators can apply that same thinking to the coming school year, transforming their schools as workplaces and considering teachers as employees with attractive employment options.
Rethinking school schedules
The concepts of the four-day workweek and remote work opportunities have been gaining momentum in the world of education. Veteran educators may balk at the concept, but now is the time for districts to try more innovative ideas in an effort to retain teachers.
While research on the impact of a four-day workweek in education is still early, some studies do suggest benefits to school districts that participate. A 2021 study completed by Rand found that districts reported that this schedule shift improved retention and teacher attendance; teachers reported that the fifth day was a combination of work and personal activities.
Remote and flexible work schedules are increasingly being used by districts as hiring and retention tools. Butler Tech, a career technical center in Hamilton, OH, schedules fifteen consecutive four-day workweeks – with a twist. Each Friday is an opportunity for students to control their own time, including working off campus, pursuing personalized learning opportunities, or remaining at home to focus on their family priorities; the district calls this the Fifth Day Experience.
“Innovating on the traditional school calendar presented a win-win scenario for student and teacher engagement,” says William Sprankles, Butler Tech’s Assistant Superintendent of Innovative Teaching and Learning. “Teachers spend half of their Fridays delivering an interest-based session and half of the day planning to complete tasks they might not otherwise have time to tackle.”