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Absences, Substitutes & Strategies

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With substitute shortages across the country, it can be a struggle to fill teacher absences on a normal day.

And on days when a higher-than-average number of teachers are out, it’s even harder to find enough substitutes. This year, everyone is more conscious of how they’re feeling. A teacher with a bit of a cough may have allergies, but what if it’s COVID-19? Inevitably, this kind of situation may result in an absence.

This isn’t a problem that districts only encounter on occasion. Data from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute shows that for employees requiring a substitute, nearly 1 in 5 absences are for professionally-related reasons. And half of those are specifically for professional development.

Even if a teacher’s PD takes place over Zoom, the timing for that programming may require an absence.

Here’s the problem: because professional development often takes the form of workshops, these absences may be concentrated on specific days.

Teachers need support as they adapt to students’ needs, and data from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute suggests that they’re actively seeking out learning opportunities to tackle these new challenges.

Even if your teachers aren’t taking as much time away from the classroom for PD this year, don’t count on simply not needing as many substitutes. Higher instances of absences related to COVID-19 may mean that you’re facing as many absences as past years. And because symptoms can strike anytime, you may face more last-minute absences than usual.

You don’t want to reduce the professional learning opportunities or support you provide teachers because you can’t find enough substitutes. And luckily, you don’t have to.

By putting data into action, you can cut down on the impact of professionally-related absences — reducing the burden on student learning and the district’s budget.

Know Your Data

We know that nationally, nearly 10% of absences are for professional development. But that’s only a starting point, as every district is different. So to make a tangible impact in your district, you must be able to work with your own data. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

And more importantly, that data must be easily accessible and up-to-date. You shouldn’t have to wait on an external source to generate reports. Instead, use a system like Frontline Absence & Time, which allows you to report on employee absences with a click of a button. Plus, Frontline Absence & Time gives you easy access to an interactive report that shows your district’s attendance data alongside state and national benchmarks from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute.

Work with Other Departments

While professional learning is often driven by school leaders or the Curriculum & Instruction team, the burden of finding substitutes tends to fall on Human Resources or the principal.

But everyone in the district has a common goal: 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.

“HR and the Curriculum team have gotten together so we can ensure that we have a smaller number of teachers coming out from our schools at any given time. That way, we can cover absences with subs, our buildings are never left shorthanded and our kids are being monitored by the best possible people.”

– Bridget Seemann, Executive Director of Human Resource Services, USD 475

Plan Professional Absences in Advance

Once you’ve joined forces with others in the district, it’s time to plan ahead.

Spreading professional development days out across the year lets you control the number of staff out at the same time, minimizing the effect of the substitute shortage.

In addition, you’ll be able to reach out to your substitute pool and let them know in advance when high-absence days are expected.

Teachers must also be proactive about reporting their absences. We found that about 30% of absences during the 2017-18 school year were reported within four days, dropping the likelihood of finding a substitute to 81%.

Luckily, you’ll soon be able to notify substitutes via push notification about available jobs in the role-based Frontline mobile app. Especially useful for those last-minute absences, the app will allow subs to accept available jobs and view job details directly in the app.

So make it easy for educators to submit absence requests early and maximize fill rates by using a user-friendly system like Frontline Absence & Time. It’s even possible to let employees automatically generate absence requests in our absence management system when enrolling in professional development through Frontline Professional Growth!

“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.’”

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