Staffing Challenges: Lessons Learned During Crises of 2020-2021

Topics: Pandemic Leadership

During unprecedented crises of 2020-2021—a global pandemic and social injustice—schools and their leaders pivoted their practices to meet emerging and changing needs of students. NAESP and the American Institutes for Research set out to learn how these crises affected the principal profession and what principals need to help students and schools recover. The research resulted in a first-of-its-kind study called Leaders We Need Now. Principals who took part in the study revealed in the first of three briefs, “Leaders in the Tumult: Schooling Innovations and New Perspectives From a Year Interrupted,” that new staffing practices raised new challenges and supported new learning.

Challenges Schools Faced

  • School faculty and staff reached levels of exhaustion unparalleled in the history of education, due in part to the need to move daily to new content areas and learning platforms.
  • Teacher and administrator recruitment already plagued school systems pre-pandemic, but now concerns are growing about just how many educators will opt to leave the profession because of retirements, job stress, or better financial opportunities elsewhere.
  • Demographics of school faculty and staff don’t reflect those of the community, leading to a need for more creative staffing, hiring, and recruitment approaches.
  • Schools are in need of health care and information technology professionals, but challenges arise in hiring these professionals when pay might not be as competitive as similar positions in the private sector.

What School Leaders Learned

  • New staffing approaches required principals to think about prioritizing staff time for educators who had been stretched thin amid pandemic responsibilities, leading to a greater emphasis on self-care for all school staff—including the principal—and social emotional support to address trauma.
  • Teachers had the opportunity to become specialized in subject areas to improve staffing flexibility and support cross-staffing in the future.
  • Equity and inclusion became a priority more than ever before in response to national and local racial justice concerns, with a focus on long-term investments in educational improvement and staff development.

Learn more and download the briefs from the Leaders We Need Now series at