DENVER — “One thing I’ve learned that we all have in common, from Florida to Nebraska to Illinois to California, is our vacancies,” says Principal Adam Lane. “Teachers are leaving. How do we keep them? What do we do?”
Lane knows whereof he speaks: He faced 72 vacancies among teachers and staff when he took the reins of Haines City High School in Florida eight years ago.
The Florida principal presented Friday at the National Association for Secondary School Principals’ Ignite 2023 Conference about how he addressed these common problems by proactively filling vacancies and stressing school culture to improve retention.
Meanwhile, Lane is in the process of changing schools himself. For the fall, he will be principal of Rodgers Middle Magnet School in Riverview, Florida.
To get ahead in the recruiting process, Lane suggests school leaders tap into hiring former student teachers, look to other districts for transfers, lean on faculty connections for referrals, and seek out alumni.
Within the last seven years, Lane said, he hired 16 of the 20 college students who "interned," or worked as student teachers, at his school. As these interns get a lay of the land and grow more familiar with the students and staff, they’re more likely to feel comfortable in the school and want to stay, Lane said.
He also recommends that principals make connections with colleges and universities, for instance inviting representatives to their schools, to pave the way for future hires.
Lane also likes to pair interning teachers with current educators, and he encourages them to work together even after the former student teacher joins the staff full time. For example, after Lane hired one intern as a teacher, he placed them in a classroom next to the teacher who had mentored them.
A district-level transfer fair serves as another chance to address vacancies. In Polk County Public Schools, where Haines City High is located, these fairs allow teachers to explore whether they want to transfer schools. To stay ahead of other school leaders looking at the same candidate pool, Lane suggests getting an early idea of vacancies and hold discussions with candidates before the transfer fair even takes place.
To be courteous, Lane said, principals should call other school leaders before the fair and let them know of any plans to offer current staff members a job. That way, principals can be prepared to offer a job on the spot, Lane said.
“My team hired nine teachers at this year’s transfer fair, because we’ve done all that work in advance where most principals wait until the morning of the transfer fair, show up, then try to build relationships, then try to get references,” he said. “By then, they’re gone.”
Another recruiting strategy Lane relies on is hiring alumni. Haines City currently has 54 alumni in various positions, from secretaries to paraprofessionals to substitutes, teachers and even one assistant principal. Some 27 of those alumni were students when Lane arrived at the school in 2015, he said.
The key to getting alumni and even current staff members’ friends and family to join a school’s team is to create a school culture that makes them happy to stay themselves — and want to make referrals, Lane said. Driving factors that keep staff at Haines City High School include positive relationships, empowered decision making, consistent accountability and support, and overall safety and security, he said.
Implementing a positive behavioral interventions and supports model also helped Lane develop a better school culture, he said. The school reinforces positive behaviors by giving “Hornet bucks” to students to be used at the school store, Lane said.
“We really spend time recognizing kids doing the right thing,” he said.
Lane said he focused on building school culture for a year and a half before he began to proactively recruit staff.
“If you do not have your culture, if you do not have down the reasons to keep teachers there, please don’t go out and promote your school and try to bring other people into your misery,” he said, adding that principals need to “have an awesome school before you start all this.”