Workforce Strategy: A Necessity for Educator Retention and Wellbeing

Building Leader Capability and Capacity in Workforce Strategy: Addressing Attraction, Retention, and Educator Wellbeing edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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With the myriad of challenges facing current and future educators, schools cannot overlook the importance of having a workforce strategy in place. How that plan is developed and what it includes was discussed during the edLeader Panel, “Building Leader Capability and Capacity in Workforce Strategy: Addressing Attraction, Retention, and Educator Wellbeing.”

Three educational leaders along with Fleur Johnston, CEO and Founder of PeopleBench, delved into workforce trends and how a workforce strategy translates in a school context.

Continual turnover, increased workload, high stress, low morale, and a toxic culture are some of the obstacles districts are confronting. Chace Ramey, Deputy Superintendent for the Iowa City Community School District (IA), presented some daunting statistics that show the impact these conditions are having:

  • Four out of 10 principals are expected to leave the profession in the next three years
  • K-12 employees, more than any other governmental employees, report feelings of stress, burnout, fatigue, and fear
  • Forty percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years

“Almost half of our new teachers in an already dwindling pool are leaving us,” Ramey said, adding there is expected to be a worldwide teacher shortage of almost 70 million by 2030. “It really does beg that question: What can we do to support the employees in our building? And it’s one we should tackle because our adults matter.”

Most school districts spend more than 80 percent of their budgets on their workforce. “It’s a tremendous investment of our local and state, even national, dollars into the people who lead our classrooms and our schools,” Ramey said.

He also questioned whether districts are placing enough attention on the wellbeing of their employees. “Let’s be honest, in education we just haven’t kept up with the progression of a traditional human resource function—this idea of human capital management as a strategy for success and treating people as the precious resource they are.”

Research shows that the greatest predictor of student success is the quality of the teacher, and Dr. Tanya Wilson-Thevanesan, Deputy Superintendent for School Improvement and Community Engagement in Fairport Central School District (NY), said administrators have an equally strong impact. “Principals also have the ability to raise student achievement by two months in a single year if you’re a highly effective building leader,” she said. “We really have to pour into our leaders so they can pour into their staff.”

Dr. Baron R. Davis, Superintendent in Residence at PeopleBench and former Superintendent of Richland School District Two in Columbia (SC), agreed, adding leaders have the responsibility to create the conditions where people can thrive. He also said leaders should strive to create an environment where people feel a sense of pride and belonging, where their basic needs are met, and where they feel loved, appreciated, and supported. Those conditions are what make schools great places to learn and work.

According to Dr. Davis, too often school districts have separate systems or programs rather than a cohesive strategy for their workforces. “We just do things and they’re really not connected,” he explained. “They are great things, but they don’t connect, so they’re really not a strategy to accomplish a goal.”

A workforce strategy, he said, must be tied to the mission and vision of the school district and is the sum of the actions taken to acquire, retain, develop, motivate, and deploy the human capital in the services of the district. It’s the missing link between a district’s Vision, School Improvement Plan, and Resource/Staffing Plan.

“It’s gone from this idea of something that we should have, or we could have to a must have. It is a must do,” said Dr. Davis, who took participants through the employee life cycle from attraction to retention. “Workforce strategy has shifted from a nice thing to an absolute necessity.”

Dr. Wilson-Thevanesan has witnessed the impact in districts that have a workforce strategy. “I’ve worked in organizations where there is a workforce strategy and ones where there is not, and you can feel that difference from top to bottom, and you can feel it with your students and your families,” she said.

Ramey, who previously served as Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources for Fairfax County Public Schools (VA), said buy-in to a workforce strategy is crucial in order for it to be effective. “It can’t be something we do to our employees. It has to be something that’s owned by our employees,” he said. “It has to be something that is collaborative…This is a living, breathing strategy that all of us have to engage in and all of us have to be a part of because we all have ownership in the work that we do from every classroom across the district.”

Johnston acknowledged that smaller districts and those with fewer financial resources face greater challenges building leader capability and capacity in workforce strategy. “We know the ratios of HR resources in districts in education compared to other community impact sectors are much lower,” she said. “The sense of capability being the thing that’s holding us back, not so much. Often it is actually capacity.”

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, Building Leader Capability and Capacity in Workforce Strategy: Addressing Attraction, Retention, and Educator Wellbeing, sponsored by PeopleBench.

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People Bench

PeopleBench is on a mission to make schools amazing places to work so they can be amazing places to learn. Our online platform provides school and district leaders with the tools to take an evidence-informed approach to workforce strategy in order to maximize their impact on student outcomes.


Slow down turnover, improve retention and attract the staff you need in a highly competitive market.


Article by Diana St. Lifer, based on this edLeader Panel