HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Professional Excellence: Recruiting and Retaining Top-Notch Faculty

by Tali Benjamin Issue: Deepening Talent Epstein School, Atlanta

In the competitive world of school choice, parents often ask questions about a school’s teachers. How many of your teachers have master’s degrees? Do any of your teachers have special training? Are your Hebrew language teachers native speakers? Are all of your teachers certified?

While we usually think of recruitment and retention as terms that apply to students and families, their application to educators is equally vital to school success. This is especially true in the current marketplace where information is readily available to current and prospective families, and competitor schools, public and private, publish faculty and curricular information on their websites. For many schools where budgets are tight and the pool of talent is limited, creating a proactive recruitment and retention strategy is worthwhile and sometimes requires innovative approaches. Here are some ideas and examples to get you thinking about what might work best for your school.

Building a Pipeline

At the Epstein School in Atlanta, we look to recruit Hebrew language and Judaic studies teachers who not only are native Hebrew speakers but also embody the professional culture of the school, so that students experience consistency in classroom expectations and management throughout their school day. We have accomplished this goal by creating a teacher pipeline through a partnership with a local university.

Now in its fourth year, the program known as Ruach HaCarmel or Spirit of Carmel brings Haifa University students to Atlanta to study at Kennesaw University and intern at Epstein. The program benefits the participants by giving them the chance to study in America and practice teaching in English. It also invests in young, capable teachers who receive training on-site, understand the pedagogy of the school and could serve as future faculty members.

Additionally, the program exposes Epstein students to Israeli young adults who have completed their IDF service. Often, when the eighth graders travel to Israel before they graduate, they meet up with former interns from the program with whom they have stayed in touch. These relationships are a testament to the dedication of the interns and help to shape the students’ connection to Israel. The Israeli interns are housed by Epstein families, and the program is funded by generous donors, making this partnership a genuine community effort.

Creating a Positive Professional Culture

Happy professionals are more likely to stay in their current jobs and more likely to recruit their friends to be their co-workers. Here are three keys that we’ve found to keep high-quality faculty happy and passionate about their work.

Listen to them. Conduct a survey to get a pulse on the culture; use it as an opportunity to ask how your school’s teachers would feel appreciated. Find out what’s working for them and what isn’t. The most important part of the listening is that when you see trends in the data, take action. If the survey reveals that meeting every Monday for 15 minutes right before the students arrive is stressful for the majority of teachers, work with them to determine a better time. If people feel uninformed, create a better method of communication to boost morale. 

Let them be social. Despite the overwhelming use of social media and text messaging, people crave the opportunity to actually connect with others. How can you create community among your faculty? Can you use professional development time to do fun team-building activities? Can you host an end-of-the-year dinner for teachers and their families?

Give added benefits. Understanding how your professionals want to be rewarded or appreciated can help you provide extras at little to no cost. Is there a yoga instructor on staff who can lead a class after school? Do you have a professional badge program to reward those who go above and beyond? Can you highlight faculty members on social media or in your newsletter? Can you cover lunch or carpool duty to recognize someone?

Innovation Grants

When teachers can bring a passion project to life, it is fulfilling—not just for them, but also for their students who benefit from a new learning opportunity or environment. At the Epstein School, twice a year teachers can apply for an innovation grant and be awarded up to $2,500 for implementation. The application process requires them to think through the project to ensure it is mission-appropriate and will have positive student impact.

This year, Epstein teachers have been awarded grants to bring mindfulness into the classroom, create a pray-and-play classroom for our preschoolers and provide additional tools for creating original music. In one project, students participated in Design Thinking to help determine that flexible seating options and arrangements would best support their learning and collaboration.

The process also works to motivate teachers to think about new ideas and bolster what’s happening in their individual classrooms. And it can be a selling point for recruiting new teachers: knowing that they have the freedom to create new initiatives and make change in a school is attractive to top-notch teachers.

Professional excellence is an expectation among potential day school families no less than at other premier schools. By recruiting, retaining and cultivating a top-notch faculty, day schools work to support the ultimate recruitment and retention goals of student enrollment.

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Deepening Talent

Jewish day schools are ecosystems that cultivate growth and vitality for all its stakeholders, from students to board members. In this issue, you will discover ways to recruit, preserve and deepen the talent in your school. Learn about the shifting paradigm of professional development, from individual study to a culture of collaborative exploration. Articles offer inspiration for schools throughout the field to support the abundant talent found in their midst.

Read the magazine online here.

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