School leadership: Promotion and planning for successful recruitment
As a school leader, planning strategically for recruitment can be a complex issue, and the pandemic may have escalated problems with staffing needs in your school even further. The most recent Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey data show that in 2021, teacher shortages were ranked higher as a source of stress than ever before in the survey’s 11-year history.

Gail Smith is an Educational Consultant and Director at Kassman Consulting in Queensland. We last caught up with her in 2019, when she was Principal at Rosebery Primary School in the Northern Territory, for an episode in our Teaching Methods podcast series, where she described the school’s co-teaching approach.

After eight years there as Principal, she now works as a consultant with schools on leadership and co-teaching. She says COVID-19 has changed the landscape schools are now facing when it comes to recruiting, and that it’s now more important than ever to be innovative in your approach.

‘You cannot just sit and wait for people to come to you anymore because there's just not enough teachers around,’ Smith tells Teacher.

Strategic promotion of your school

When you are actively recruiting for vacant positions at your school, how can you ensure you’re ‘selling’ your school effectively to attract the best candidates for the position?

Smith’s first strategy is to hone in on the key focus of your school and ensure the messaging around this focus is consistent among all staff.

‘Have the same messaging, don't have mixed messages,’ she says. ‘I used to always try and work with my staff to make sure that we all talked about the one focus that we had at our school, or the two focuses that we were having, so that you had that very strong messaging coming out instead of lots of things.’

Her second strategy is to be consistent in the promotion of your school, rather than only promoting your school when you’re ready to recruit.

‘We used to promote ourselves on the side of buses around the Darwin area. All those types of things are really important to do on a pretty much everyday basis to promote your school as much as you can, so that people get to know what your school stands for,’ she explains.

Another way Smith recommends doing this is by sharing updates and information about your school through social media. This is particularly important when you’re likely to be looking interstate for candidates, which is commonplace for small states and territories.

Innovative recruitment approaches

Smith says in the current climate, thinking innovatively about recruitment is essential. A good starting point could be to think about how you are currently advertising vacant positions.

‘Being innovative in the way that you do put [job vacancies] out there I think is another way of getting that interest. You've got to try and stand out from the crowd. You can't just be the same as everyone else and just advertise the same way anymore.’

Another innovative (and COVID-19 appropriate) idea is to organise a webinar for any interested candidates for a particular position you are advertising.

‘It might be “this is our position that we've got available, join me on this webinar where you can ask questions about our school, I’ll present to you what we do and any interested candidates, this is the time”. That type of thing is now starting to really take off and I think that's a brilliant way to do it.’

Prioritising staff wellbeing and values

It’s common for teachers to look for a value alignment between themselves and their potential employer, Smith shares, so being able to clearly communicate your school’s values to applicants is an important consideration.

‘If you've got a values mismatch then they're not going to be very happy or they're going to want to move on fairly soon,’ she says.

As well as this, for Smith, making it known to employees that their wellbeing is prioritised at her school was key during her time as a principal. ‘Because people feel valued if they’re looked after, they feel valued if they’re listened to, and they feel valued if they're given a voice, and all of those things I think help with retention.’

Planning for future staff needs

To stay across recruitment and anticipate any future staffing needs, a useful tool for Smith during her time as principal was a three-year plan she created.

In a spreadsheet, she would enter each staff member and their role from the previous year, including non-teaching staff. She would include their areas of expertise and individual strengths here too so she could clearly see the spread of staff strengths. Then she would add in this information for all staff employed for the current year, as well as taking note of anyone who may have indicated they would be moving on from the school. The third year would then look at what needed to be changed and maintained with current staffing.

‘Knowing what you needed and wanted to have for your school; and then if anyone did say to you “I'm thinking of moving on next year”, you could put that into your spreadsheet, and you’d have a bit of an idea of how many were going to move and what you need to do. The key to that is really having good relationships with your staff so that they did feel comfortable coming and talking to you a fair way out.’

Gail Smith says: ‘I used to always try and work with my staff to make sure that we all talked about the one focus that we had it at our school, or the two focuses that we were having, so that you had that very strong messaging coming out instead of lots of things.’

As a school leader, if you were to have each member of staff write down one focus of your school, do you think they would answer consistently? If the answer is no, what are some strategies you could employ to refine the messaging coming out of your school?