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Spring Planning for Substitute Programs

Substitute Management


Spring has sprung, but there’s no time to sit back and smell the roses.

With data from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute, we’ve found that the next few months tend to be a very busy time for substitute programs. If this year is anything like last year, for example, fewer employees may be out sick, but teachers and other staff may begin taking more vacation and personal days.

Don’t be caught unprepared — take steps now to avoid low fill rates and minimize the impact of teacher absences on student learning.

  Know Your Data

I know, we’ve said it over and over: understanding your school or district’s data is the first step toward a stronger absence and substitute management strategy. But it’s worth repeating — you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and having data at your fingertips allows you to ask the right questions and continually improve your district’s processes.  

“There was a bit of a shock factor when we showed everyone how many days were being missed… The data has been amazing and opened everyone's eyes. It's not just about getting more substitute bodies in here. How do we handle discretionary days off where the district has control over professional development? Are there better days during the week to schedule things? We're able to make smarter decisions when we schedule things now, which has been fabulous.”

– Lindsay Pfister, Director of Human Resources, West Jefferson Hills School District

    Collaborate & Coordinate

Plenty of school- or district-sponsored activities can contribute to your overall teacher absence rates: professional development, field trips or sporting events, just to name a few. And although these absences are often driven by school leaders or the Curriculum & Instruction team, the burden of finding substitute tends to fall on Human Resources, the principal or administrative assistants.

Remember that everyone in your school district shares the same goal of supporting student learning. So, sit down with other departments. Share your district’s absence data. Look for collaborative solutions and ways to work together more effectively, for the benefit of your students. It is possible for your schools to support these activities without experiencing a substitute teacher crisis.

“We’re broadening our collaboration with not only our professional development department but other departments that typically use substitutes, like Athletics, so that we can really coordinate and improve our fill rates so that we can deliver the professional development that we need but also cover classrooms.”

– Skye Duckett, Deputy Chief Human Resources Officer, Atlanta Public Schools

   Communicate

Finally, don’t forget the cornerstone of any successful initiative: communication. Ask your teachers and staff to report absences well in advance whenever possible — for example, absences for vacation or professional development are often scheduled or ahead of time. But last year, 30% of professionally-related absences were reported within four days, dropping the likelihood of finding a substitute to 85%.

Talk to your substitutes about planning ahead, too. If you know that Fridays are high-absence days, or a local university is holding its graduation ceremony on a certain day and many employees will be out, tell them!

“We try very hard to look at our data and trends. We know that certain dates are really high absentee dates and we plan for it by letting our substitutes know ahead of time. We contact our sub pool and say, ‘our local university’s graduation date is on this date for the semester. We anticipate a large number of absences.’ We let our subs know ahead of time.

– Jeanine Johnson, Chief Human Resources Officer, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System

About Annie Grunwell

Education Writer

Annie is a Content Marketing Specialist at Frontline Education with a deep and abiding love of learning, writing, and sharing knowledge.