Recruitment and Retention: Strategies for Building a Thriving Team

By Trish Geraghty

The first thing I want to do is demystify the notion that there is a recruiting or hiring season. Those of us in the field know that this is an ongoing and yearlong process given the shortage of special education providers. The last time I remember being fully staffed, even with contractors, was 2015. The notion that we gear up for hiring season is outdated, and we must move to proactive strategies that focus on the retention of our providers while actively recruiting. Recruitment and retention should be part of an overall organizational plan for talent development that delineates the roles and responsibilities at the district and school level. Only intentional talent development planning will ease the shortage of special education providers. 

Here are some recruitment strategies to consider: 

  • Establish a strong district and school brand that highlights the positive aspects of working in special education and for your organization. Think about what makes your district and schools different from other organizations. Ask long-term employees why they stay. Exit interviews are common, but consider stay interviews to see why your staff chose your school and district. You may be surprised by their responses; don’t assume you know. 
  • Partner with universities and colleges to develop partnerships that train special education providers. This needs to be an ongoing relationship, and time must be committed to cultivating and sustaining these relationships. Our universities and colleges have also seen a decrease in candidates. They have more options to partner with than actual students, so they can afford to be picky. Highlight the systems your school and district have in place to support new teachers beyond the first year orientation.  
  • Utilize online job boards and social media to post job openings and connect with potential candidates. Encourage current employees to share the postings on their social media as well. Word of mouth is the best way to recruit candidates. Happy employees share their experiences and make others want to join. 
  • Consider alternative candidate sources and flexible work environments. Explore unconventional recruitment methods, such as tapping into stay-at-home parents or individuals with relevant experience from other fields. Consider offering flexible work environments by reassessing job descriptions. Candidates are in high-demand and employers need to consider what areas can be flexible. I recently met with a psychologist I used to work with, and she was able to negotiate the majority of her time to work from home. She is happy, feels more productive, and has made her work-life balance a reality, while the school district gets a loyal and highly competent employee. Five years ago, I would not have thought this compromise would work. However, with countless openings, there is an opportunity to rethink what is possible. 

Spend the majority of your time on these retention strategies:

  • First thing, does your organization have a retention plan? If not, this is an opportune time to develop one. Make sure to include all critical members in the creation. 
  • Create a supportive and positive work environment. This might seem like an obvious strategy, but I am continually surprised by how leaders depend on a positive work environment to be created organically. Intentional planning is needed to foster a culture of collaboration, respect, and recognition that enhances the employee experience.
  • Provide opportunities for job-embedded professional development targeted specifically at special education providers. Offer ongoing training and development opportunities that are relevant to their current positions and applicable immediately. A negative consequence of shortages is that people are asked to do more without more time. Do not ask people to attend PD off contract hours without compensation. Whatever the incentive is that needs PD for special education, ensure it is included in the multi-year PD plan, and determine what is required and what is nice to have. Plan the required training to take place during the contract day to make sure there is consistency in implementation. 
  • Promote work-life balance by encouraging employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance to prevent burnout and promote overall well-being. Here is the second part of this balance; support work-life balance! Saying it does nothing to help your team; you have to live it and support it. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “family first,” which is well-intended. However, if someone needs to leave for the day or take additional time off, their job responsibilities don’t go away, and the work piles up. Consider implementing policies and practices that promote work-life balance, such as flexible work arrangements, additional support for paperwork, wellness programs, and opportunities for stress management.
  • Recognize and appreciate employee contributions by regularly acknowledging their efforts. Intentionally plan for how you will do this and consider a multiprong approach. I added an hour of gratitude daily to my calendar that included: one “happy gram,” one shout and share (this went to the school or team), and one to highlight in a monthly newsletter that shared a promising practice.
  • Seek feedback and address concerns frequently. I can learn more about the culture of a team and school in a twenty minute focus group than I can by spending a week at the school. Create a safe space to share and regularly solicit feedback from special education providers regarding their experiences, concerns, and suggestions for improvement. Follow up with a summary and actions that will be taken. 
  • Give your teams the resources and tools they need to do their jobs! I know this is another “of course we do this!” In my many focus groups with special education providers, the common theme of lacking time and tools for paperwork completion always comes up. One prep period a day is not enough to lesson plan and complete special education paperwork. One special education director recruits and retains SLPs by providing SLP Toolkit. She has seen an improvement in retention rates. Check out Kit, which is designed for the entire IEP team. Kit is a workflow management app designed to simplify the workday for IEP teams. The app provides an innovative guided approach to information sharing, data management, planning, assessments, and more. Your teams will thank you for providing a resource that is user-friendly and streamlines their workflows. 

Consider adding these effective recruitment and retention strategies to your district and school’s talent development plan. This investment in the recruitment and retention of special education providers will ultimately lead to improved educational outcomes for restudents and enhance their overall quality of life.




Trish Geraghty
Trish Geraghty, an accomplished educational leader with 20+ years of experience, excels in curriculum development, instructional design, and professional development. Her proven track record includes successful support for schools, districts, educators, and students. Committed to ensuring universal access to high-quality learning, Trish is a visionary advocate for inclusive education. Her innovative approach to curriculum development reflects a keen understanding of evolving standards. Trish's transformative influence extends beyond traditional boundaries, actively contributing to the broader advancement of education. A catalyst for positive change, she inspires excellence in others, shaping the future of education through unwavering commitment and visionary leadership.

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