Fleur Johnston, CEO and Founder, PeopleBench

PeopleBench CEO And Founder, Fleur Johnston has more than 20 years’ experience In workforce and digital transformation. Driven to create change for good, Fleur founded PeopleBench with the aim of empowering school leaders to build great school workforces to achieve the best possible outcomes for students.


The teacher shortage is pervasive, spreading across districts and even spanning far beyond America’s borders. Like many other countries, Australia’s schools are understaffed – lacking both classroom educators and school staff. In fact, the country’s NSW Department of Education released figures that show there are 10,000 classes per day not being adequately staffed due to teacher shortages. But unlike the U.S., who has been laser-focused on recruitment efforts, such as expanding teacher pathways and hiring more teachers, Australia has been working on several unique retention strategies – strategies that we should pay attention to. U.S. district leaders need to be thinking about their schools as unique workplaces that need a well-supported, resilient workforce in place.

U.S. districts and schools turned to recruitment as a key lever in their strategy to solve for the teacher shortage crisis. These efforts were fueled even further by an influx of federal COVID relief funds that specifically supported new hires, Grow Your Own teacher pathways, and other recruitment efforts. Yet, district leaders are still working feverishly to solve current staffing shortages while simultaneously trying to hold off a potential crisis in their schools.

Unfortunately, district leaders have their work cut out for them with a dwindling pool of teacher recruits. Interest in the teaching profession among high school seniors and college freshmen has fallen 50 percent since the 1990s and the number of new entrants into the profession has fallen by roughly one third over the last decade. And Educators for Excellence’s 2023 annual Teacher Survey revealed that while committed to their careers as educators, 64% of teachers would not recommend others join the profession. With a declining interest in the profession, retaining the teachers we have is a critical step to address the U.S. teacher shortage.

When it comes to retaining teachers and school staff, district leaders need to think of their educators as part of the modern workforce and give them the support and resources to build them up as resilient workers. Thankfully, district leaders don’t need to reinvent the wheel – there is a wealth of research-informed HR practices and innovations to help them create a comprehensive strategy toward a sustainable and resilient workforce.

There are several steps district leaders can, in fact, take in order to build such a strategy:

  1. Look at schools as unique employers. So often, district strategies are focused on elevating student achievement and student-based interventions – and rightfully so – but to a point where educators can be left out. Educators are an essential part of the equation toward achieving student success and they must be supported as the essential employees they are. With this perspective, other districts—or even other industries—who are taking this type of approach will be the ones to hire.
  2. Take full staff into consideration when thinking about retention, not just teachers. Every employee needs and deserves support in their workplace. In a school, all staff members have value and must be treated and supported as such. Yet, too often, support staff talk about their work by saying “well, I’m just a…” and don’t place enough value on themselves or the work they do. District leaders must recognize this value among all staff.
  3. Understand that all schools are unique. It’s important for district leaders to engage with school leadership and have conversations about how a larger district strategy can work in a unique school environment. It’s important to keep in mind that one size does not fit all when creating a strategy to increase retention.
  4. Create a detailed-backed strategy. Building resiliency, like any school improvement plan, must be based in research. Tools like PeopleBench can offer such insights into staff resiliency, including staff-reported well-being, insights into workforce benchmarks, and more. Using the insights gained from tools like PeopleBench can help district leaders build a customized workforce strategy grounded in HR best practices. to address their workforce priorities, including how to increase the resiliency of their own staff, leading to improvements in retention and consequent improvements in learning experiences for students.

As K-12 leaders continue to work to address a worsening teacher shortage, retaining the teachers and staff they currently have is critical. But in order to create a workplace their employees want to stay and thrive; they can no longer rely on breakroom donuts and casual Fridays. They need a comprehensive understanding of how their teachers and staff are and what they need to thrive as employees. By taking a page from HR playbooks, district leaders are better able to support their staff and create a workplace they will want to stay at long term.

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