3 Keys to Hiring and Retaining the Staff You Want

3 Keys to Hiring and Retaining the Staff You Want

by Barbara R. Blackburn and Ronald Williamson

Nothing a principal does is more important that hiring and retaining the very best teachers and staff.  While a principal is the recognised leader of a school, teachers, and other staff are the day-to-day face of the school due to their more intimate contact with students and their families.

Teachers manage classroom culture. Teachers communicate frequently with families. Teachers handle day-to-day discipline and teachers implement the curricular and design instruction to assure student learning. They are the heart and soul of a school.

With declining interest in becoming a teacher it is imperative that principals understand the importance of making good decisions when hiring, and recognise the importance of creating a school culture that is both nurturing and supportive and promotes retention of critical staff.

This article will discuss three key factors that we’ve found to do just that. Hire good people and then support them so they choose to stay at your school.

Key One:  It Starts with Retaining Your Best

Whether you have hired your own staff or inherited them from a former administrator, you want to keep the best people in your school. Schools are basically people places, so it is important to nurture and cultivate talented employees and make them feel valued and part of the organisation.

Steps to Create a “People-Oriented” Workplace

  • See each person as an individual, as unique.
  • Provide opportunities for each individual to assume responsibility.
  • Remind individuals about the need for strict compliance with rules but consider exceptions when appropriate.
  • Create a place where people seek to learn from the experience and consider other alternatives rather than lay blame when things don’t work out.
  • Value listening and respecting varied points of view.
  • Allow flexibility for people to teach or organise their classrooms in different ways.
  • Provide opportunities for leadership to everyone.

Key Two:  Understand the New Generation of Teachers

Veteran teachers are rapidly retiring and being replaced by younger teachers, members of new generations, referred to as Generation Y, Generation Z or Millennials. They hold very different beliefs about work, and about the workplace and the way principals work with them (Crews, 2023). 

While inappropriate to generalise about these generations, what is clear is that they were raised, and educated, in a society far different than those of earlier generations. Their life experiences shape their beliefs and values, and their approach to work. They watched older generations struggle to balance work and personal lives. They are very aware of social inequity, and they are far more comfortable with technology than their predecessors.

Characteristics of New Generations

  • Highly educated, value education and attribute their success to education;
  • Very comfortable using technology and expect it to be available in the workplace;
  • Tend to be creative, innovative and self-confident;
  • Committed to making a difference and contributing to positive social change;
  • Want to be connected, updated and included and involved in their work;
  • Desire relationships with co-workers and supervisors;
  • Looking for immediate opportunities for growth, challenging work and assignments and flexibility in work schedules;
  • Possess collaborative skills, are committed to team-building and are not afraid of accountability;

There are several strategies that leaders can use to work well with these new generation of teachers.

  • Establish shared vision and goals – They want to be involved and participate in setting a vision and identifying specific, measurable goals. They value social responsibility and recognise education as a path to address inequities in society.
  • Provide leadership opportunities – They expect to be involved and to assume responsibility. They will not simply defer to more senior teachers.
  • Create a positive, supportive school culture – Celebrate generational diversity and use cross-generational teams to work on curricular and instructional issues.
  • Provide professional development – An opportunity to continue to learn is important to this group. It improves their job satisfaction and the likelihood of staying at your school.
  • Provide sound instructional leadership – They expect in-depth feedback because they want to contribute to the success of your school and expect to receive honest, open and personalised support from you. They particularly value coaching and mentorship.
  • Embrace technology – This generation is comfortable using technology and will expect to use all forms of technology to improve their work.
  • Use data effectively and often – This generation of teacher is comfortable with accountability and the use of data. They appreciate access to user-friendly data that can be used to improve their work.

Adapted from: (Behrstock, E. & Clifford, M. (2009), Gomez, K., Mawhinney, T. & Betts, K. (2020), and Crews, L. (2023).

Key Three:  Have an Comprehensive Recruitment Plan

Gone are the days when hundreds of teachers apply for open positions. Today there are hundreds of vacancies and few applicants. It’s important to have a well thought out recruitment plan, one that makes your school stand out from others, and lets prospective teachers know your school is a place they want to work.

Key Tips

Start Early

Be Creative

Use a Team Approach

It is critical to start the hiring process early.  In other words, get ahead of other schools looking for faculty.  A part of this is to anticipate hiring needs before the end of the school year.  If you are able, set an early deadline for teachers to notify you of their intent to return or not. 

As we’ve already discussed, one key is creating a supporting working environment so you retain teachers, thus reducing the vacancies.  Understand that low turnover is also a recruiting tool.  People want to work in a place where they feel valued and supported.  You can promote this by sharing videos of current faculty on your website and social media outlets.  Let other people talk for you—it’s powerful. 

Also, think creatively about who to hire.  In our universities, local schools targeted student teachers for positions.  Barbara spoke with a professor who worked with schools that started earlier, identifying promising teachers early in their university careers.  Those schools then requested those teachers work in their schools, hired them as substitute teachers as their schedules allowed, and offered them early contracts. 

Another option is to look at your pool of substitute teachers.  Some of them may be interested in a full-time teaching job.  If so, ask how you can help them achieve certification or a degree.  In one case, the substitute needed two days each week to attend classes but didn’t want to lose her job.  The principal assured her he would utilise her on the days she wasn’t in class, and he would talk to her about a job when she finished.

It’s also important to ask your current faculty and staff for referrals.  They may know someone willing to teach, and the personal connection gives you a hiring advantage.

A final option for creative staffing is to consider former teachers who have left the profession.   In a staffing survey, Catherine Warner-Grifin, Amber Noel, Chrystine Tadler, and Chelsea Owens (needs reference) found that, in the United States, approximately 20% of new teachers were former teachers.  It is valuable to stay in communication with former teachers and periodically consider whether they might return to the classroom. 

Finally, boost your recruiting tools.  Develop strong recruitment materials that maximise your strengths.  If you are in a small school, focus on the personal connections and individualised support you provide rather than on the lack of resources you have compared to a larger school. 

Expand your options online.  Today’s teachers are social media experts, so your website, while important, isn’t the only choice.  Be active on Facebook, X, TikTok, Next Door and any other outlets that possible hires may use.  You may not be interested, but they are.    Also use tags and keywords that will drive people to your posts.

Broadening your choices is also true for advertising jobs.  A quick search resulted in a variety of Australia specific job sites, including Teach Away.  Consider all your options for promoting open positions.

Finally, since prospective teachers have a wide range of options for jobs, set yourself apart from others.  One way to do this is to offer virtual tours of your school, even before they apply for the job.  Particularly if you utilise your faculty and staff to help, this is a labor-intensive way to set your school apart from others.  It sends the message that you are proud of your school and willing to let prospective teachers see what a great school it is. 

A Final Note

The people who have daily contact with students and their families are those in classrooms. They are literally the “face” of the school. It’s vital that a principal act to have a comprehensive plan for both hiring, and retaining, skilled faculty.


Behrstock, E. & Clifford, M. (2009). Leading Gen Y teachers: Emerging strategies for school leaders. Washington, D.C.: National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality.

Coggins, C. (2008). The post-boomer tech crunch. Education Week 27(32). 26-27

Crews, L. (2023). Understanding the characteristics of different generations in the workplace. Retrieved online 


Gomez, K., Mawhinney, T., & Betts, K. (2020). Understanding generation Z in the workplace. Retrieved online

Warner-Griffith, C., Noel, A., and Tadler, C. (2016). Sources of newly hired teacher in the United States: Results from the schools and staffing survey, 1987088 to 2011-12 (NCED 2016-876). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.  Retrieved February 15, 2024 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch.

Barbara R. Blackburn

Dr Barbara Blackburn is a globally recognised expert in education, rigor and professional development for educators. A best-selling author of over 35 books, Dr Blackburn is a sort-after international speaker and workshop facilitator delivering school improvement and student growth programs to schools across the globe.

Ronald Williamson

Ronald Williamson is Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership at Eastern Michigan University, USA. He is a former principal, central office administrator and Executive Director of the National Middle School Association (now AMLE).