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Human Capital Management

Retention-First Recruitment

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Mitchell Welch
Solutions Consultant, Frontline Education

  • 13 years as a teacher (science, math) and administrator in public schools
  • Worked toward school turnarounds as an elementary, middle, and high school AP and principal
  • National consultant developing and building training departments and programs focused on leadership, mentoring, classroom management, and parent involvement


Cydney Miller, MBA, SPHR
Sr. HCM Solutions Consultant, Frontline Education

  • 18 years of HR and Staffing experience
  • 9 years in HR leadership for a 4500+ FTE district
  • National, state, and regional thought leadership presenter on topics ranging from strategic staffing, next generation retention, and recruitment and employee engagement.



With more than half of teachers leaving the profession in their first five years and a diminishing supply of teachers entering the profession at all, education leaders across the US are forced to focus not only on recruitment but also on retention.

Historically, these two concepts have existed as separate strategies and often in different departments in a school district. You know what that means: siloed information means everyone is not all rowing in sync. It’s harder to be effective. Instruction suffers, and ultimately, so does student achievement. But when HR and Instructional Growth work together to increase retention by investing in teachers, highly qualified teachers stay — and grow! The difference in a building’s culture is tangibly different, and recruiting gets easier. All of that, of course, makes a huge difference to your students.

The point is to put the employee at the center. You might call this unified strategy a Retention First Recruitment model. The comparison of Instructional Growth and Human Resource perspectives of employee growth shows the common themes that exist in both departments.

Below are four traits of an effective Retention First Recruitment model.


1. Professional Learning-focused

The Instructional Growth Perspective

When creating a learning environment for our teachers, we need to create a space in which it is safe for them to learn. As they are learning they have to take risks, make decisions, and have the freedom to make mistakes. Something that I learned in the very beginning was that “True learning does not happen unless you learn how to fail first.

Think about all the things you must fail at first before you get good at them: dating, cooking, dieting, parenting, and most of all, learning.

It is our responsibility, from the day we recruit teachers, to guide them through meaningful relationships, meaningful interactions, meaningful learning experiences, and hold them to accountability measures in order to become instructionally mature. Teachers need to have learning embedded in their surroundings to retain and apply it in their everyday experiences. We have to provide a learning environment for our adults that mirrors the learning expectations that we expect for our students.

The Human Resources Perspective

Strategic Human Resource leaders must have a long-term commitment to the entire growth journey of an employee, and professional learning is at the heart of this journey.

The Human Resources role in professional learning does not have a definitive end or beginning, but rather a full scope view of the entire human journey. There is no better way to support a person’s growth than to showcase a commitment to all parts of that journey: the good and the bad. It is our responsibility, from the day we recruit teachers, to facilitate meaningful relationships, provide effective learning opportunities, and support their ability to fairly and equitably grow as professionals.



2. Employee-centered

The Instructional Growth Perspective

For teachers to reach an impact — or mastery — state, we have to create a culture of improvement and learning based on our mistakes, and most of all a culture of retention, putting them at the center, preventing their loss in the early stages of their development. We have to surround them from all directions with  consistent processes in a world of disjointed programs.

More importantly, we must look for ways to simplify and streamline resources and accountability measures so we can impact student learning.  Professional Learning has to be targeted, individually meaningful, paired with mentoring, and most of all aligned to the individual needs of our employees.

The Human Resources Perspective

One simply cannot complete a successful growth journey if the end is not defined or if the path to that end is not clear. We cannot provide that path without putting the employee at the core of our philosophy.

It’s imperative to the practice of Human Resources that we provide a learning vision based on accountability, process, and structure. The path for an employee to achieve his or her learning and growth goals should not be so daunting that it prohibits success. Rather it should be a smooth, clear guide to the end goal. Professional learning and a culture of success is supported by a targeted, flexible, and meaningful path that employee and employer can enjoy together.

Recruiting the
21st Century Teacher

3. Built on Mentoring and Measurement

The Instructional Growth Perspective

When effective new teachers leave, everyone shares in the loss: the programs that prepared them, the school districts that recruited them, the schools where they worked, and the students they taught.

Although much is made of a teacher shortage, no matter how many teachers are recruited, it will do little good unless they stay in teaching long enough to develop into skilled professionals, and then stay to share their expertise throughout their careers.

We need to:

  • Create mentors from our mentees.
  • Look at professional performance data and pair teachers with mentors and coaches that support their individual needs.
  • Create outcomes that are employee-centered, promote individual growth, promote the groups in which they work, and provide accountability measures that point to student success.
  • Measure the impact of our professional learning and the correlation to student improvement.

The Human Resources Perspective

Human capital is the single greatest investment we can make to ensure a successful future for our students. Because it impacts everyone and everything, it is extremely difficult to recover from a loss in this investment.  When we lose an employee, not only are we faced with the financial expense of replacing them, but we are also losing our investment in the intellectual capital that employee provides. HR’s focus should be on retaining and supporting this investment in every way possible.

Research has shown that professional growth and learning is at the core of a long-term retention strategy. That means that we must be thorough in our approach and provide mentor leaders that guide the learning experience with success measures along the way. By giving all we have to the retention efforts of our teachers, we are creating a profession worth choosing and worth staying in.


4. Fosters Instructional Maturity Through Engagement

The Instructional Growth Perspective

We need to provide multiple opportunities for employees to be actively engaged. This should include job-embedded content that includes meaningful and authentic learning experiences such as collaborative learning groups, employee-led interactive sessions, analysis, discussions, case studies, portfolio creation and justification, safe conversations, and valid, relevant peer interactions.

Through coaching, mentorships, relationships, and vulnerable conversations, we need to consistently engage our teachers and help them answer the following questions:

  • What are my “Learning Gaps” and how do I connect them to measurable goals that will improve my students’ learning?
  • Is everything I am doing relevant to my day-to-day job?
  • Do I have flexible learning opportunities that are sustainable and created around my personal growth needs?

The Human Resources Perspective

A retention first staffing model is not a linear one. It is a continuous cycle of growth that promotes the evolution of the individual and effectively directs his or her development toward the success of the greater good.

When the student becomes the teacher and the mentee becomes the mentor, a cycle of growth has come full circle and should begin a new journey to the next level…and so the path continues.

As Human Resource leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure all paths are directed toward mastery and the continual cycle of growth.



The Instructional Growth Perspective

Our goal as educational leaders is to create working environments where we can retain our best teachers and help them become instructionally mature. We have to saturate them in instructionally mature engagements guiding our teachers in their own learning.

While growing up in a “mature” professional learning community, the mentees start to buy in to the district culture, and learn how to mentor others.  Teachers that grow up in this kind of environment become wise with their words, are flexible in their adjustments, and take feedback constructively.

As instructional leaders it is our responsibility to grow teachers, retain them, to make sure all learning engagement data is relevant and is used for mastery and improved student learning.

The Human Resources Perspective

Our goal as Human Resource leaders is to create a retention-first culture that is engaging, supportive, and puts the employee at the center. We simply cannot do this alone.

To fully succeed in our mission to put the employee at the center of our work, we must unite the dialogue between all departments. We must break down the silo walls, understand what other teams are doing, and unite our dialogue about how we will all support the learning and growth of all our employees.

Our employees and our students deserve our commitment as leaders to unite together with the common goal of supporting them in all we do. We are stronger together.