Happy September, Friends!
I hope this second week of September finds you enjoying cooler and dryer weather as we head into the head of the southern summer for many of us. This time of year is among my favorites on campuses as any afternoon feels like a veritable “Where’s Waldo” of fall sports, building openings, arts, festivals, parent nights, and welcome events. This year seems to have particular joy as so many schools are relishing in their first “normal” return to campus in three years. My greatest wish for you is to find the time to savor those moments, big and small, that bring your community back together.
As you enjoy this fall, one of the topics that seems to be on everyone’s mind is around staffing, both current and future. All employers are thinking about the impacts of the Great Resignation, but the education world is particularly concerned. Independent schools face a couple of challenges here.
First, we do have jobs that compete with other employers. Positions like those within human resources, technology, plant management, cafeteria management, custodial help, drivers, grounds crews, all can be hired by other businesses at higher wages and often for better benefits. Schools are reporting greater challenges hiring and keeping staff in these positions as they are traditionally structured.
Second, the stress on faculty and other traditional education roles are under the additional pressures that we are seeing across the country in teacher shortage numbers. While heads of school report ultimately filling the openings they have this year, many report also having many fewer applicants and having teachers leave before their work even really starts. This issue, while likely not yet as profound as seen in public schools, is weighing heavily on the minds of administrators.
These challenges point to the larger issue of people resetting their expectations and their thinking around employment and how it affects the way they live their lives. As employers, we need to consider how we are thinking about the expectations that go with working in independent schools: what we require, what we expect, and what we offer in return, and how that may shift. We might benefit from starting to think about how else we can structure work to meet the flexibility needs of the moment, and the new developing market.
To help you think about some of these topics are a few pieces that might be useful to you.
To get a general handle on thinking about people who have been moving around in the workforce, and where you might find new talent, this McKinsey piece is my current favorite. There are some eye-opening statistics, like that 40% of people have changed jobs since April of 2021. It also breaks people down into groups with different interests in employment that might help think about what kinds of roles are appealing in your schools to people looking for different kinds of opportunities.
The notion of quiet quitting makes me a little crazy, but it has gone global and we cannot ignore the idea that some of this movement is about setting healthy boundaries after so many people found the boundaries between their working and home lives crashing down. Before we get too worried about this, I found this article on how GenXers were the original quiet quitters to be a little more reassuring that we have seen some of this movement before. That being said, when we look at the unspoken expectations in schools – sponsoring clubs, working with groups after school, chaperoning overnight trips – it is important to understand that this generation of workers may be less inclined to volunteer or pick up on social cues of expectations
Another general resource is this one, focusing on what problem you are solving when it comes to employee burnout. Many of us work to provide support and wellness patches like extra personal days, meals to take home, and the like. This article focuses on digging more deeply into what causes the burnout in the first place, including toxic environments. It argues for looking systemically at the overall environment and structure of work, and how to address those issues that eat away at employees day after day.
While these issues are generally related to employment, the demands on faculty and those involved in education is different. Here are a few insights on this front, although there appear to be very few resources out there readily addressing the challenges in front of us.
I am optimistic that the lift so many schools are experiencing this fall will provide a respite from some of the stressors that are driving teachers out of classrooms. However, we should all watch these trends carefully and consider how we might reconsider how we structure and think of work within our schools. As with so many other challenges, this is one where sharing ideas and solutions might help us all stabilize our schools, so feel free to share additional resources or suggestions directly to me or any of the SAIS staff.
Have a great September!Debra
In this recording, we joined SAIS President Debra Wilson for the new Trustee Education Series focused on best practices in independent school governance, including boundaries, confidentiality, committee structure, and more. The curriculum is designed for heads of school, board chairs, and trustees.