Jeff Mayo: Marketing Your Schools' Employer Brand
Jeff Mayo, Dr. Allison Clark, Tyler Hill discuss their solutions that they’ve found and how they’re bringing communications and HR together to start solving recruitment and retention.
In this episode, learn how to think about employer brand from salary & benefits to career pages to the role social media can play. Arlington Community Schools’ Superintendent Jeff Mayo, Chief of Han Resources Dr. Allison Clark, and Director of Communications & Planning Tyler Hill discuss solutions that they’ve found and how they’re bringing communications and HR together to start solving recruitment and retention.
Dr. Allison Clark (Guest): The teachers that I wanted to hire that I thought were very excellent fits for the school all the time, they would say, I went to your webpage and I noticed this, or I saw this, or, I really like this can you tell me more about it. So that told me in my role as a principal before coming to HR, and that's why I talked to Tyler a lot about this, is because the people who we really often wanna hire and we could be competing against other districts to hire, I knew that they go to our webpage.
So it's important that our webpage, it's your first impression of your school district oftentimes. So you know what your mother always said about making a good first impression.
Tyler Vawser (Host): Teacher shortages aren't new to superintendents and school leaders yet now more than ever, teacher recruitment and retention make the news both at a local and at a national level.
The problem is well documented, but the solution can be a lot more challenging. Today I talk with three leaders from Arlington Community Schools, and together we talk about how they think about their employer brand, some of the solutions that they found, and how they're bringing communications and HR together to start solving recruitment and retention.
I speak with superintendent Jeff Mayo, Dr. Allison Clark, who's the Chief of Human Resources, and Tyler Hill, the Director of Communications and Planning at Arlington Community Schools. And just to clarify, my name is Tyler Vasser. I'm your host, and so there's two Tylers on this call and we'll try our best to make it clear who's speaking when.
I really enjoyed this conversation with Arlington Community Schools, and I think you will as well. Let's join the conversation.
Well, thanks so much for joining us. I'm really excited to have all three of you here. It's fun to see three of you on camera and to start this conversation that is really gonna dig into employer branding and recruiting retention.
And I love what Arlington Community Schools is doing. And in fact, the reason we're having this conversation is I was on your website and I saw the careers link clicked on it, and the careers page just really stood out to me. And at the bottom of that was a link to your Instagram, which again stood out to me.
Lots of schools have Instagram, but there's few that kinda are as dynamic as yours with great photography, but also had a lot of engagement. So really excited to jump in. And so for Superintendent Mayo, I'm curious, how do you see the superintendent's role in recruitment first, and then to follow that, what's the role, your role in retention?
Jeff Mayo (Guest): Yeah, so recruitment and retention are two areas that are very dear to me because I spent the bulk of my career 20 plus years in the human resources space. So that's something that I felt very passionate about, obviously when I was in that role, and I stayed in that role that long. But I think primarily my role as superintendent, first of all, is to have an understanding of how important it is that you make your school district attractive to those individuals who may be considering employment or how do you make your school district stand out among the others.
And I think one of the first things that, as a superintendent you do to commit to that is making sure that when you're developing your budget with your school board members, that you have a very strong emphasis on employee pay and teacher salaries because, you know, we, we know that's one of the things that attract individuals to be interested in your school district.
It's not probably what makes them stay, but it is one of the things that is real attractive to people who've just graduated from college who may have student debt. And if you're, you're starting off in this, you know, pretty high salary, which our’s is among, you know, the top two, definitely top five in, in the state of Tennessee.
And we have a very high average teacher salary across the board. When you factor in all of our employees, I think looking at that and especially being able to talk about the cost of living in our area, how manageable the cost of living here is compared to that salary. You know, I used to tell potential employees that you can come to our district and you can buy a house.
You don't have to get an apartment, You can skip that because you're gonna be making enough money, you can make a house payment with that. So I think that's one really key factor is making sure that the budget supports and demonstrates our commitment to teachers and to employees when we're out trying to recruit.
As far as retaining teachers, I think the salary will get them here, but I think also in retaining teachers. You have to make sure that you've created a climate and culture that is conducive to where people wanna work. Teaching is a very stressful job. It's a tough job. It doesn't end, you know, at the end of the day, it carries on after you go home each night.
So teachers that are in this profession, people that are in this profession are willing to do that. And so in order to show your appreciation for the work that they're doing, I think that culture and climate has to be very clear to people that work in the district. Because in my mind, that's what's going to keep people here.
You know, if they're not happy here, they don't feel like they're being appreciated or nurtured, in our school district, they may be willing to take $2,000 or $3,000 less and go somewhere else where they feel that they will get that. So that's one aspect.
And I think the other piece of that is the superintendent has to empower the HR department to be creative with whatever tools they feel they need to use for recruitment and you know, making our district attractive. And that's one of the things that I charged Dr. Clark when I hired her as Chief of HR, was that we need a new spin on things.
You know, I did it this way when I was doing HR for the district, but now this is yours and I will support you in whatever creative ways that you feel will put us in a better position to, you know, recruit the top notch talent out there. And she's done an excellent job with that. And she'll talk a little bit more about that probably in a few minutes.
But, that was important to me because when I took this position I was not only over HR, but I was also Chief of Staff. And so my time was split between several different areas. Well, as we've evolved as a district, we don't need all of those roles within the Chief of Staff as it was originally created.
And so I shifted that role just to HR and so that gave Dr. Clark more of a focus on doing a really better job than I had done with recruitment and retention. And I think that's, that's important as a superintendent, that you recognize the importance of that. You put the salaries in the budget and you advocate for that with your board members and you empower the HR department to go out and be creative with what they feel are best practices in order to bring that top talent to our district.
Tyler V: There's something you said earlier about making sure your climate and your culture is really clear. And so I'm curious, how do you make that clear and what is that clarity? Is that defined by stated values? Is that through marketing and communications? Can you just dive into that a little bit more?
Jeff: Yeah, I think that was one of the, one of my goals when I became superintendent.
And it was a very tough goal at the time, because my first year as superintendent was what we call the Covid year. That was 2020. And people were scared. They were nervous about coming back to work. You know, our goal, you know, was to open schools back up. And with that came a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety, not just from, you know, students and families, but our employees were very nervous about that because we didn't really know what this was in its entirety.
Nobody had ever experienced this before. So what we did, and, and I can only speak to the time that I've been in this position, we formed a really thorough reopen plan. We met, you know, constantly on it. We were very transparent with our plan, we shifted when we needed to, when, when things happened and we thought, “Oh, we need to put something more in place here,” we were able to do that and I think very quickly our employees were able to see that we did what we said we were going to do.
We followed through, we made shifts when necessary, or if there were employee concerns, then we took those concerns seriously and we created a path so that employees would no longer be concerned about that particular area. And I, so I think very quickly we were able to build trust with our employees.
And from that point forward, we did a lot of things to celebrate employees. We did a lot of things to recognize employees. And, I think all of that combined together has created a really good culture and climate here in our district.
Tyler V: One thing that we found in our own research at SchoolCEO magazine is that of course, pay and benefits are important, but beyond that, you know, culture, leadership, location, flexibility or basically trust in how much a teacher can do their own thing in their own classroom. Those are the factors that cause people to change positions.
Jeff: Right, Right.
Tyler V: Salary's always gonna be something people have to factor in. But I think what you said earlier about, you know, they might take a different job if the culture there is better, even if it is a little bit less pay, especially if it's equal pay.
Jeff: Right. That's right. And I think working from the in the HR space for so many years has given me somewhat of a unique perspective on that because I understand why employees come and I understand why they leave because I've had exit conferences with employees. I understand sometimes we make hiring decisions and that may not have been a good decision.
And, you know, we have to help employees recognize that and we take responsibility for that. I've had conversations with employees in the past where things just weren't working out with the employee, and I would have a conversation with the employee and say, this has happened, this has happened. I have to take responsibility for that because I don't feel like maybe we made a good hiring decision and we put you in a place maybe that you can't be successful. And those types of conversations help employees who need to exit the district leave and be able to do so with their dignity intact rather than feeling really bad about the district.
And that's always our goal too, when someone has to leave the district for whatever reason, they're able to leave in dignity. Because I think that that type of situation, you know, they still have friends in the district and so they're gonna tell their friends that still work in the district about that experience and how that experience went, or “it was horrible” or, “No, I, I felt I was treated very fairly and very professionally.”
And so I always think that's just as important as how people enter the district is, it is as important how they leave the district when that time comes for them.
Tyler V: Absolutely. Yeah, that's really well said. That employer brand starts not just with people coming in, right? The people that are asking about what it's like to work there asking current and former employees.
That's really important. Well, I'm kind of curious, I wanna hear a little bit from Dr. Clark about what your superintendent was just saying about hiring decisions. Right? And so I'm curious, how do you think about making those hiring decisions? What are those factors that you're looking for in employees? And more specifically, what are you looking for that maybe another district isn't? Like, what are those unique hiring frameworks or decision points that you're using at Arlington Community Schools?
Dr. Allison Clark (Guest): So I feel like in my role, in the end, the principal makes the recommendation of who they feel would be a best fit for their school and the position that they're seeking to fill.
So when I'm recruiting and I'm trying to seek out employees for positions, I always try to have continuous conversations with the principals in our district, asking them, you know, what are you looking for your needs? What goals are you trying to achieve with filling this position? Because I notice in some of your questions you talked about job description.
So in the HR world, job description, you don't write a job description for a particular person. You write a job description to fulfill that role and those needs in that particular position. So then you look for a person who has those qualities in those characteristics that can fully, successfully feel that.
So when I'm out and I'm looking, I keep my mind open, We have hired people who have experience and deep experience, and then we've hired people that we take a little chance on. They're coming right outta college. They don't have experience like some of our teachers and a lot of our employees do, but you have to respect that they're coming with a fresh look and ideas.
They're really in tune with how the younger generation receives information, and that's important. That's something that I have to remember as well, is how do they receive and obtain their information. So I'm looking for people who have a passion for teaching, a passion for education, and they can also appreciate the community we're in because it is a community school.
We have parents who are very involved in their child's education, and we have community members as well who support and are involved in our district. So with that being said, I have to make sure that the candidates we're looking for, if you look at something unique, is are they willing and do they recognize that they have to build relationships, not with just our students, but with the people who are there to support those students as well.
Tyler V: That's great. As the chief of Human Resources Dr. Clark, I'm curious how much of your time goes towards recruiting activities and everything that goes into that, and how much of it goes to the rest of HR? So paperwork, benefits, those types of things.
Dr. Clark: So with the recruiting, I feel it's recruiting and retaining. You're, you're looking at that as a balance. Because like you said, you can bring them in, as Superintendent Mayo says, we have very attractive salaries, but then I have to constantly think, how do I keep the employees that we have recruited? Because that can be a high cost index if you have a constant turnover.
I would say as much as probably 80% if not more of my time is spent with that because part of retainment iss making sure you put a personal touch and when an employee has a question about their license or they've earned a degree or they have a question about many things I always try to make sure that I take a personal touch to it. And if it means going to the school and having that face to face conversation because I want them to feel comfortable and I want them to feel like that we are all approachable in our HR department, I will do that.
I'm fortunate enough to have an employee full-time who is our benefits specialist, Ms. Moore. And she and I do work with the benefits and I am in a trust with her with our benefits but I do communicate with her on an ongoing basis because I wanna hear the concerns that our employees are having about their benefits. So as a voting member on our trust and a voice there that I can see what I can do to, if that's possible, to alleviate some of those concerns they're sharing. So I don't have to spend a lot of time with the benefits as much because I'm fortunate enough to have a specialist and she's very excellent in what she does.
Educators went to school to educate children, not to be experts on their benefits. So if you can help them through their benefits process and let them go teach our children and you handle some of those challenges, you know, what benefits can be that that is very successful for us. And that's a retainment perk.
Tyler V: Yeah. That's really important. Arlington Community Schools is in a unique position because it's a fairly newly formed district. Right. And so I'm curious, you know, with it being newly formed, how has that maybe shifted how you thought about employer brand, about recruiting, about retention? Because that's not, maybe every district's experience, they don't get a chance to kind of start fresh. And so I would love for you to just dig into the history there, how that started briefly, and then get into more about, you know, how you've been able to shape employer brand with that fresh start.
Jeff: Yeah. So in the very beginning, all the districts that were formed were from Shelby County: employees from Shelby County schools, all the superintendents, all the, you know, pretty much all the staff, a few outliers there, but very few. So in the beginning, all of the districts worked very, very closely together to help everyone be successful. We even had a shared services model for some of the things such as benefits transportation you know purchasing some of those sort of things because none of us felt like we had enough for a full-time person.
And then at that time, we all shared that through entering a MOU. But as time has passed, districts have, have, have begun to become more individualized and moving away from that. The only shared service that we still have is transportation. And not all districts even participate in that, but we, we do.
So over time you've seen that competition has arisen among the municipal school districts that in the beginning wasn't really there. We were all just trying to make it survive, get, you know, get off the, you know, get our feet off the ground and, and form our school districts. But we're nine years in now, and so every district is pretty self standing on its own at, at this point.
And the superintendents, we all are, are, are good friends. We all collaborate. We talk about things, “Hey, what are you gonna do about this?” “What are you gonna do about that?” You know, when there's an inclement weather potential, we all try to, you know, go down together or go up together. If we make the right decision or the wrong decision to close schools we all talk through that.
And so those are things we still collaborate on, but we're, I would say we're very, individualistic in the way that we manage our school districts and. That again, speaks to what makes our district maybe attractive over another municipal district. And those are the kind of the things that we've had to look at over the years and, you know, be competitive.
And we were the first district that's looked at our coaching stipends because that's a big deal. And when we came from Shelby County Schools, we all coaches were paid a stipend, you know, just a, just a flat out stipend that was very, very low. So we did a study in our district and I actually got to lead that because I was in HR at the time.
And we landed on a formula. That whatever the coaching position is, whether it's a head coach or assistant coach, whatever, there's a percentage associated with that coach's position of their current teacher salary that they get as, as their coaching stipend. And so that was a huge, huge move for our district to be able to attract coaches and pay them more than they had ever been used to being paid before.
So that's one example of how you have to be creative to set yourself apart, you know, from some of the other districts. Now, some of the other districts have followed that at this point, and now they're doing some of the same things. But we were the first ones to step out and, and do that type of model to try to attract our coaches.
Tyler V: So related to that, how did you make that more visible? Right? I can see that happening internally, but you know, how do people find out about that in a way that is attracting them because. Is it, you know, word of mouth? Are you marketing that? Like how are you communicating that out to attract more teachers and in this case coaches?
Jeff: Yeah, so a lot of your coaches come from word of mouth, you know, that people that knew each other from, you know, we used to work together, we coached together, you know, 15 years ago. And so definitely by word of mouth, people are letting other coaches know, “Hey, if you come over here, this is how your coaching stipend is calculated.”
Obviously that's a part of the recruitment process too, when Dr. Clark or whoever's out on recruitment meets somebody who's, you know, “Hey, I'm interested in teaching, you know, chemistry and, and being an assistant baseball coach,” you know, we're gonna hire you on the spot if we get that combination.
[Informational Segment Music]
Tyler V: Another quick audio note. In our research at SchoolCEO, we found that salary and benefits are only part of the equation. In fact, in our 2019 survey when we reached out to more than 30,000 millennial teachers, we found that other than salary and benefits, the top factors for teachers in deciding where to work were culture, location, school leadership, and flexibility or trust in their teaching.
So as you listen to this, ask yourself, are those things that you talk about on a careers page, on your website, in your other material about working for your district? And ask yourself, how quickly could someone get a feel for those things? If they're looking you up online and we know they are, how visible are the best parts of your culture?
How visible are the best parts of your location? Is your leadership visible? Is the philosophy of how you work and your leaders visible? And lastly, can they see how you treat teachers and the flexibility and the trust that you give them? We know that people, especially teachers, are researching their future employers online, but the challenge is when they get there, it's either pretty quiet or it doesn't address their main concerns.
[Informational Segment End]
Tyler V: Let's keep diving into employer branding with Tyler Hill. I want you to join the conversation. Your role is director of communications and planning, and obviously that has to do mostly with communications, but I'm curious, how do you think about your role and recruiting and retention and you know, working with Dr. Clark as well?
Tyler Hill (Guest): So when I think of you know, recruitment, retention, marketing communications, that sort of thing, I always go back to: what story are we telling? I'm big on what is the story you're telling in the classrooms at like a really granular level for teachers? What story are they conveying to their students and their parents?
And then you just keep working that up. So from the teacher level, what for, for the principals to think about what, what story is your school telling? And then, so for me, at the district level, what different things, what stories are happening throughout the district. And so I really think that it's all about that storytelling.
My background is in journalism, and so that's kind of what my mind is centered towards is: what's the story? And so Dr. Clark and I have worked really closely together. When she came on board, you know, like Mr. Mayo said, he kind of gave her free reign to kind of come up with things you know, redo different things such as the careers page.
And so when she came to me, she said, “We have good information on it, but it's not necessarily packaged in a way that is really and truly selling ourselves.” And so we really went through that careers page and we told a story on the careers page, so it still has the same type of information that our old careers page had on.
It links to salary schedules, links to our benefits, but again, we repackaged it in a story that you would want to be a part of. If that's kind, what I think about is take the information that could be mundane and then flip it in a way that people would actually want to read and learn more.
Tyler V: We've done some studies, and this was from 2019, but we're about to redo this, but we found that only 8% of districts had a careers page, specifically being something that made the case for why you should work there, right?
Most districts have job listings or they have maybe some salary information, but very few are actually making the case for why you should work there, and that's one thing that stood out to me about your current career page is there definitely is a story. You touch on a lot of different things, not just what positions are open or where you're located.
The experience of the people that work there. There's a really good video and one of the things that stood out to me about the video actually was that it wasn't a staff member or teacher that starts it, It's a student. And I think that came off really genuine, right? Video can be really hard to get right, especially for it to be polished, but authentic.
And I think that just stood out to me right from the start that, you know, this is kind of your, to put it in business terms, your end customer talking about their experience, having worked with the teachers and the staff, and I think it was, seemed like a senior or a student in high schools. And to hear about her experience firsthand was really powerful.
And then of course you bring in teachers and others, but that, that was a really interesting move. And I'm curious, was that a strategic decision? How did that come about?
Tyler H: Definitely, definitely some strategy there. And I think that's so important when you do videos, I always try to sit back and ask myself, “Well, what's the point of the video?”
What is the end goal of the video? And I think sometimes when people say, Oh yeah, I want a video about this. They're not thinking about that strategy. They're not thinking about that interim result. And if you've never done video before, video is difficult. It's difficult to do. Thankfully my background is in that, and so I kind of get the different pieces that you need. But I think sometimes people think that video is just the end all be all, and it's not.
And so thankfully Dr. Clark, when she came up with the idea of, Hey, I really want to do a recruitment video. One, it was during Covid, so we needed a solution , but two, we needed something long term that could really speak to our district.
And so thankfully she already came with a strategy. She didn't just come to me with, Oh yeah, I want a video, let's do it. She thought about what employee she wanted to speak to. She wanted to think about what diversity was it showing and diversity in like every sense of the word of diversity. So race, but also multi-generational. We wanted to hear from newer teachers to the field. We wanted to hear from more experienced teachers, so diversity in the true sense of the word.
And then we just, through that collaborative effort, we thought, you know what, it'd be really cool if we, instead of, you know, me doing the voiceover or some adult doing the voiceover to identify a student who could really tell and, and speak to our story as well.
And so we had Dara do it, and she was just a fabulous student. But yeah, she was unique in the sense that she did attend all of our schools, which is rare because we have two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. And so for her to go to both elementary schools was just kind of bizarre.
Doesn't typically happen in our district. And so she just really fit that mold well. That video has had such longevity to it. Again, we used it for Covid, but it has worked for so many different purposes from when Mr. Mayo does, you know, Chamber of Commerce meetings. We've showcased it there. She, Dr. Clark, takes it on the road for her recruitment tours. We've used it at career fairs, we've presented it along with new teacher induction. So, I mean, when you have, when you're very strategic about something like a video, which is, which is time consuming, you want to think, how can we use this in many ways and not just one way? And that video is a good example of really thinking it through.
Tyler V: How often does the careers page and that video come up in interviews? You're interviewing a teacher or a coach and you're kind of asking them, Hey, how'd you hear about us? Or something like that. How often are they mentioning those?
Dr. Clark: Well, the direct interview when I'm out recruiting, it's not a formal interview per se.
I'm trying to seek out people who will be really good fits for our district as well as what the principals are trying to achieve and fit into their school environment. So it's more on the principals end. They may hear some of that, but I make sure in my role that after I even informally meet them at a career fair or have a conversation with them, I follow up through an email and Tyler (Hill) and I have worked on that together.
And I include some of the links because we have specialized videos of music and sports and academics. So if I am trying to recruit somebody for our music area, then what I try to do is not only use that video, another video that will speak to them and their interest and their passion to set us apart from other school districts.
But as a principal, when I served as a principal, oftentimes, especially the teachers that I wanted to hire, that I thought were very excellent fits for the school all the time, they would say, I went to your web page and “I noticed this,” or “I saw this,” or, “I really like this.” “Could you tell me more about it?”
So that told me in my role as a principal before coming to HR, and that's why I talked to Tyler (Hill) a lot about this is because the people who we really often want to hire, and we could be competing against other districts to hire, I knew that they go to our webpage. So it's important that our webpage, it's your first impression of your school district oftentimes. So, you know, what your mother always said about making a good first impression.
Tyler H: I think what Dr. Clark too said, and, and what she's getting at, which is I think is a really good point, is that she sometimes brings people to the well of our information. So I think that's really important for districts to think about.
I mean, you probably have many of your schools have Facebook pages or social media pages, or they do videos. So it's identifying that teacher, that employee that you want, and then using the content that you already have. And sharing that with them. And I mean, schools have so much content and so like she said, if she has a STEM teacher, she'll not only send that recruitment video to that potential STEM teacher, but she'll also send some of the other STEM videos that we've done. So again, it's kind of bringing them to the well of information.
Dr. Clark: One thing I wanted to share is when I came to Tyler and you talked about our videos. Our videos are just, I guess, more or less say unique in comparison what you've seen. As I told Tyler (Hill), I said, “Okay, I want a video and I want pictures on our webpage that when people see it, they think, I want to work for that school district.”
I will do whatever to work for that school district because I see teachers happy and engaged and we're recognizing teachers and all employees. And then they see the uniqueness in our environment and they see the superintendent engaged in the employees because that's very important. So that's my goal was, is you said to, I think you mentioned authentic is a goal or something you see unique. In order to make it authentic, you got to really reach out to people's emotions and feelings. And you do that through those video and those pictures that are published on our web page.
[Informational Segment Music]
Tyler V: One more quick audio note. One thing I love to see is how HR and communications are working together at Arlington. This is so important to an effective marketing strategy, and while it might seem that HR and Communications are very separate, what we've seen is that to have an effective employer brand, the two need to really work close together and work hand in hand.
HR has to be especially involved to make sure that there's consistency between the message that communications is putting out there about employer brand and the actual experience. And marketing communications needs to make sure that they're aligned with HR around needs and wants and what type of positions and people that they're looking to hire.
So as you think about your employer brand, think about how often is HR and communications talking to each other? Are they on brand? Are they sharing the same message internally, externally on the website, on their careers page, and in the experience of interviews and recruiting.
[Informational Segment End]
Tyler V: Superintendent Mayo, your career has been really interesting, right? You've gone from the classroom into some administrative roles, a chief of staff role in hr. I'm curious, how do you see the conversation we're having right now is much more about the present moment, which is more of a candidate's market, right? What Dr. Clark is talking about is going out and talking to people, bringing them to the well, and I'm curious how that shifted over your career.
Is that something that you think has changed radically, or has it always been that way?
Jeff: You know, I was sitting there thinking while listening to this conversation and, you know, some of the same things that I would say, it's still very similar but different. And I'll elaborate on that in a minute, but I was sitting here thinking as I was listening to this conversation, you know, the same thing that we're trying to create in our district was the same thing that attracted me to my first teaching position.
It was that engagement, I guess with the recruiter that attracted me. I didn't know this person from, you know, anyone else, but, you know, the types of questions that I was asked during that process to become a teacher. It, it hooked me and it made me want to not, not just, you know, be interested in the district, but I, that I ended up working for, it made me pursue that district and, and, and following up wanting that position, I kept following up with the recruiter and, you know, are there any openings this week?
Cause that was a pretty big district. So I think saying that the goal is, is really the same. You want your, your applicants or your potential applicants to be your, your potential employees to be engaged throughout the recruitment process. And I think. What we're doing. I think the job to do that now is a lot more difficult than it used to be.
It's more competitive. We have fewer people going into the teaching profession. So all the districts are going after those same top teachers. And I think in order to attract them, you know, over the years I've seen the need for that to be taken up a notch and, and have that same type of engagement, but in a way that speaks to as Dr. Clark alluded to earlier, it has to speak to that generation of young people who are approaching their first position. And so by saying that I say yeah, it's not a lot different, but, it has to be more engaging and it has to be more creative. There has to be that connection that's made with the potential employees in order to make, you know, Arlington Community Schools their first choice to come to work.
And I think those are some of the things that, with that end goal in mind, these are some of the things that we've done to try to create that desire to come and work just for our school district or that we're, we're your number one choice.
Tyler V: Superintendent Mayo. I'm curious, what's your expectation of principals? Should they be doing their own recruiting? How do you think about that?
Jeff: One of the things that I can say that we do to, you know, support that notion is we do have our own career fair in, in the district. That's something we started the first year when I was actually in HR, and that's something we've continued and that does give our principals and school level administrators an opportunity to interview applicants who attend that job fair and actually you know, get a first glance look at these potential employees and then really start tagging them or communicating with HR about, “Hey, when I have an opening in English, this is a person, this is my go-to first person that I wanna do that that I would like to hire.”
And something unique about our job fairs that we've always done to attract people to come, we guarantee every person who attends our job fair an interview with a school level administrator or a district level administrator, so that applicant not only is coming to a job fair to gather information, or then the next step is to fill out an application, they're also getting that frontline exposure to an administrator so that they're noticed.
And we know you're out there and we know your interest in coming to work for our district. And that has been both beneficial to the applicants as well as to our principals. Because, you know, when principals have a vacancy and we're ready to hire for the next school year, they typically have a list of people that they've met at that job fair that they call Dr. Clark and say, “Okay, I've got these two positions available. These are the two people I want.” Boom, boom, she offers. And then, you know, most of the time they accept the position. And so that is a way that we do involve our administrators in the recruitment process. It is difficult to give principals leave time to go out and actually attend, you know, a job fair or career fair in Knoxville or Chattanooga or somewhere like that because there's so much going on in the building at any given time that it's one of those kind of hesitancy in letting a principal be away from the building because of the things that are going on in the building. But I do feel like our job fair does allow that opportunity for them to have that, that hands on experience with recruitment.
Tyler V: It's also a great candidate experience, right? If you know you're gonna get an interview, it's such a better touch than showing up and then nothing happens, right? That feels wasted.
Jeff: And that's the draw. That's been the draw to our job fair. We guarantee that interview, and it's a quick interview, but as I've shared with Dr. Clark it doesn't take but a couple of minutes of engagement with an applicant to know if that applicant is gonna be a good fit for your district. So in that little five minute or six minute or so interview process with the administrators, those administrators are doing the same thing. They're gleaning whether or not this person's gonna fit in in my building. And so it's a very quick process. And typically when they do that and they make their list of people they wanna hire, a lot of the principals will invite the candidate back in for a more extensive interview before they make that recommendation.
But the key here is the applicant is getting that opportunity to feel, I'm being noticed, and I'm not just another, you know, fill out a recruitment card and move on.
Tyler V: Something we started doing here was being really clear at the top of the job description. Basically, if you put your time into this application and are thoughtful in your responses, and like, we can tell that you actually like paid attention here. Like, we'll promise the same to you, like there's no robot reading. The job applications, there's no like cover reader screener that's automated, right? Like there's someone on the other side and like we can tell when you've put thought into it or you're just kind of going through the motions. So if you don't go through the motions, if you really do put time and thought into this, like we guarantee a first phone interview or Zoom interview, you know, we can't promise a job blindly like that, but we can say you'll get an interview just because of your effort.
And I think that's worked really well and encourages people to apply and actually causes them to slow down if they're reading it. And it helps our recruiters as well. They don't have to, you know, spend quite as much time on someone that, you know, you asked them how have you improved yourself in the last year? And they say yes, you know, because they haven't read the questions. So you can kind of move on and spend more time with the people that have.
Well, I wanna keep digging in on employer brand. And so in prep for this call, I really dug into your Instagram and it just stood out to me and mentioned this earlier, but what stood out to me was not just the quality of the photos, but the engagement.
And so I'm curious, and maybe Tyler Hill, this is a question for you. You know, who is your audience for Instagram when you're putting up a post or you're writing the copy that's gonna go along with that, who are you thinking about? Is it current families or students, teachers? Who's the audience?
Tyler H: So if I could just kind of step back and tell you where we were before we even launched the Instagram account.
So I came on board with ACS in January of 18. You know, Mr. Mayo mentioned that he was Chief of Staff at the time and he was doing HR, but he was also communications. And so he helped set up the Facebook and Twitter account. So he had a lot of different roles. And so when I came on, I really just kind of wanted to do an audit of, and really dig into the analytics of who were our followers on Facebook and Twitter, because those were our only social media platforms at the time.
And with Facebook, our audience was very, you know very, probably specific to education, I guess I would say in the sense that our main followers were women ages 32 to about 47. And so that told me my audience on Facebook were most likely mothers of students. Okay. When it came to Twitter, Twitter's kind of like a catchall found that it was, you know, heavy on sports.
We got a lot of traction on, on sports kind of you know, different media outlets. And then really during severe weather when students wanted to know whether we were gonna be out for a snow day, Hey, that's when a lot of our Twitter engagement was up. And so when I went into the Instagram account, I really wanted to ask, who do I want our audience to be?
I think it's so important to have some strategy behind that because again, a lot of times people just say, “oh, I want an Instagram page, let's do it.” And it tends to be just repeated content from Facebook or Twitter. And so the one audience that I kind of identified that we weren't necessarily speaking to were students directly.
And so I was very specific in the approach on Instagram that the only thing you're going to see featured on our Instagram page are student stories. And so when you go down the grid, you're not gonna see, you know, things like flyers or advertisements. It's all gonna be about student stories, whether it's student success, student achievement, just student life in general.
I think that's helped the engagement piece because. Our engagement on Instagram is just so much more than even Facebook, and I think that it's because it's geared towards students, it's geared towards a specific audience.
Tyler V: It's interesting that I think a lot of times we see social media as like, let's try to reach everybody and it becomes for no one. Right. Whereas what you're doing, I think we're focusing on students ends up actually becoming for everybody. Right. A teacher, a prospective teacher’s going to be interested in learning more about Arlington Community Schools because there's such a narrow focus and there's a narrative to use your words, Right? There's a story there that's happening that if you try to make it for teachers and parents and families and students and the broader community, that narrative gets lost or gets muddied.
Tyler H: Yeah. That's right. Yeah. That's what I was gonna, that's what I was about to say as well. So you were kind of picking up on the point there is. I kind of see it as indirect marketing in a sense. And so while, while I am focusing on those student stories, I'm automatically gonna pull in the parents of those students because they want to see their babies on Instagram and what they're being, you know, able to do in the classroom. But then I also think that that speaks to current employees, but also potential employees too, just to see here are the opportunities our students are getting in the district. Therefore, these are also the opportunities you're getting as an employee.
So if you see a lot of STEM activities, well then that will tell you that our district is probably pretty heavy on stem. Or if you see a lot of technology that the students are using, well that means our district is forward thinking when it comes to technology.
[Informational Segment Music]
Tyler V: One of the things I love about Arlington Community School’s Instagram is that it's hyper focused on students. As a result of that, they reach more than students. They reach teachers, the community, they reach parents as well. But if they had started with the intention of creating an Instagram account for everyone, I don't think that would've happened.
Instead, it would've been really messy. It would've been really broad, and it would be hard to see a through line that really pushes the Instagram account forward. And so by being hyper focused, Arlington has done a great job of reaching their intended audience, but also so many more people. So as you think about your different communication channels, think about how do you reach the one group you most want to, and then build from there.
[Informational Segment End]
Tyler V: Superintendent Mayo, I'm curious, like what advice would you give to other superintendents, especially someone maybe starting out in the role, and maybe they're not as familiar with HR or recruitment as you have been in your past. What would you tell them as they think about building their team as they recruit teachers and stuff?
Jeff: Well, I think the most important thing as a new superintendent that you have to have is you can't do it all yourself. That's, you know, a lot of people, you know, myself included in other roles that I've had, you know, are the personality of the the different roles that I've had, that personality usually that goes with those roles is, you know, you're gonna, you're gonna be the person, you know, doing it, leading it, being in charge of it. And that is just, it's not only possible to do that in the role of superintendent because there's so many areas to manage.
So my best advice is to make sure you have really strong, talented people in those areas that you trust and that you can empower to go out and, and do their jobs. And I think that's probably one of the things that's made us as a team here at the district office work so well together is once the team members were, you know, I brought in a couple of new team members, but there were some already team members that were existing from the previous administration that I too had worked or had helped hire in my other role.
But I think once I shifted roles, then there's, you know, people want to sit around and wait and see what that's gonna look like or how it's gonna be different from the previous administration. And once my team members got the understanding of the position that I hold was, “I'm going to empower you to do your position. I'm not gonna micromanage you. I expect to know what's going on in pertinent areas. I don't like any surprises. But as far as it relates to day to day work, that is your work to do, you're paid a really good salary to manage this yourself.”
And that, that became I guess my mantra in becoming a superintendent was to make sure you have good people, you know, free them and give them autonomy to do the work that you've charged them to do. And that has worked extremely well for me because as I said earlier, there's no way I can manage all these areas.
You know, having a competent CFO is very important, but equally important as the competent Chief of HR, Chief of Academics, Chief of Accountability, a communications person, all of those are key areas within the district. And that's the best advice I can give. You know, surround yourself with people that have skills that you don't have.
And as Tyler spoke to earlier, when we first started the district, I was thrown into the role of communications. I have no background in communications and the only thing that he's shown me is what pitiful job I did when I had that role because of all the things that he's been able to bring to the table.
And I think that's been a really huge part of our district's success as well, is the engagement through communication that we've been able to provide as a result of the work that Tyler has done in the district. Because I feel like our families, our employees, they feel very closely connected to what's going on in the district and all of those means of communication and, you know, the showcasing of the students, showcasing of the employees. It lets people feel like they know what's going on around here.
There's no, you know, secrets of what we're doing to prepare students. And all of those things tied together creates a great team. And at the end of the day, yes, I'm in charge. And I may make a decision that my team may not understand why I made that decision from my perspective, but I've not had the experience where they did not show me support for that decision. And I typically don't make decisions in isolation.
That's another piece of advice that I would give to a new superintendent. What may be clear to you may not make sense to people that are closer to the work. And so typically when there's a big decision that needs to be made, we meet together, we hammer it out, we talk about it, we get different perspectives.
And then I may take a perspective from accountability, a perspective from HR, and then from my own perspective and I'll make a decision based on that. But I never make big decisions without collaborating with my team. And I think that's very important. In keeping the team together, but also making good decisions.
Tyler V: I think explaining the why behind the decision can be important too. Right? Sometimes there's a decision that's like, that's what you're paid for, That's your role, you're gonna have to make the call. And you can't necessarily share that burden all the time, but it's still helpful to those other people.
Sometimes collaboration is more about kind of understanding the why, and, you know, in the future if we had the same decision and you're not in the room or you're outta the country or something, you know, what is it that you could do you know, to help other people understand how you got to this decision point.
Jeff: Right. And I think one of the things that my team has seen hopefully in me is when we have. Collaborative meetings, they've seen me change directions based on the feedback that they have provided from their perspective. I may come in with one decision. This is what I think I'm, I think we need to do with this. I wanna get you guys feedback on this. And then someone may have a totally different perspective. And I do change my mind sometimes based on that perspective, because again, that person is closer to the work than I am, and it makes more sense to them to approach this in a way differently from what it made sense to me before I had that conversation.
And so I think that that also continues to build a collaborative process. They, any of my team members know they can come to me, we can talk something out, and then it's either their hub helping me to understand their perspective, or I'm helping them understand my perspective and why I have to stick with the decision that I think I'm gonna make.
But we communicate a lot, you know, we pass that down to our employees. We make sure our employees are clear on things that before the public gets an announcement of closing schools or, you know, a shift when we were doing shift in Covid protocols or anything like that, it was very important to me to make sure that employees had that information first.
They got the information first, and then it was fed out to other stakeholders. And I think that's been a real, you know, appreciation point from our employees to feel like, “Hey, we matter and this really is stuff that we're gonna be implementing anyway. So, you know, we're thought enough to get this information first before it goes out to the other consumers.”
Tyler V: That's something I'm seeing more and more as I would call it like internal comms or internal marketing, which is, you know, districts and even businesses are thinking more about what's our communication strategy internally. Instead of just kind of hoping people hear about it, being more strategic about that, and like you said, having a plan first internally, and then once that's completed, having a strategy that goes outside.
One of my last questions here, and I wanna start with an observation from SchoolCEO Magazine’s research. We found that people, teachers, specifically millennial teachers, typically find out about their job in the district they're in through someone that works in the district, we've talked about that, the district website or an online job board, which makes sense, right?
That's not too surprising. But what was surprising to us as we did this research was that more than 56% reach out to current and former districts to start researching. So they might find out about the job from a job board, but more than half are reaching out to a former or a current employee, and then 81% or more actually are looking at the district's website.
And I think that's one of the really critical pieces that gets lost in hiring as we think about the interviews, the offers, the salary. But before any of that is, you know, what are they gonna find when they land on your website? Are they gonna find, you know, school closures because of weather, or are they gonna find a careers page that makes the case for why they should work there?
Right. So I'm not sure who wants to take that question, but it's just something that's really stood out to us and we've seen more schools pay attention to this, but there's still so many schools that think about hiring as a process and not as marketing and communication.
Jeff: Yeah, I will, I'll take a jab first, and then Dr. Clark will probably have some information to add.
You know, from my perspective, I think that's why you have to have a balance in all of those areas because as you mentioned, different people are looking at different avenues to learn about the district and whether this would be a good fit for them as a potential future employee.
And I think we see a lot of that. We see all perspectives, especially if someone's moving here like their spouse is relocating with a job, then I think that person is probably gonna rely more on the website and what information they can glean from that. Whereas if it's a person moving from another municipal district or Shelby County Schools, that I would say is more gonna be about word of mouth.
And especially once the school year has started and we have vacancies, a lot of those jobs that come open during the school year clearly are based on connections with other employees. And those employees will go tell their principal, Hey, I've got a friend that's over here in this district or that district and they're really interested in moving to Arlington.
Well then the principal calls Dr. Clark and then Dr. Clark tries to figure out a strategy of, you know, how can we maybe bring that personnel without being in violation of state contract law if a person's already under a contract with another district. And so, you know, there's a lot of things that go into that, but clearly at this time of year when we have a vacancy and we're able to fill that vacancy 9 times outta 10, it's because of an employee referral.
And I'll see if Dr. Clark has anything additional.
Tyler V: Dr. Clark, is there a strategy to involve teachers more directly? Like that's kind of always been happening. Hopefully it's happening more because of the employee experience and the culture, but are you telling teachers and staff specifically, like through your own internal communications, like we have these 10 positions open, if you know anybody. I'm curious, how do you go about that part and what does that look like if there is a strategy?
Dr. Clark: So always my strategy is, and I want to make it look even more presentable and Tyler's in the process of helping me do that, is I post the job postings not only on our website it goes to, but I do it through Facebook and I do it through Twitter.
Then I let the principal know it's been posted. You know, there are, I know a lot of teachers in our district, so if I feel like they know some people, I'll let them know. However, the most common path is the principal will go announce to the faculty, “You know, we're real excited for Mrs. Smith, who is transferring outta state, will miss her, but we're excited that her husband got this wonderful job opportunity and we'll miss her,” and then right there, they, they will come and they'll share.
And in matter of fact, we have an SPED (Special Education) opening at the middle school. And right now I'm in the process of working with this applicant that the principal has gone ahead and recommended. And that person came from someone on her staff.
That's how this person knew about the position. And there's where I spent, I think about two hours total the other night, answering all her questions, getting the information because when someone's been with one school district for many years and they want to come to another district, they've heard great things, but they wanna know, how will this impact my pay? How will this impact my benefits? What am I– Is everything gonna be the same? And are things going to really be that much better? Because teaching is stressful and it's hard to believe sometimes that there could be a great place, especially when you've been with one system for such a long time, you're comfortable. And that employee's taken a chance on moving to another district, or that applicants take that chance?
Tyler V: Well, I think that's where the careers page comes in, right? Especially talking about authenticity and marketing and careers pages all wrapped into one is people want to know that it's real. But a lot of times you don't really know what you've gotten into until you're already there. Right? Most jobs, you kind of find out two months in what it's really like and it's pretty hard on the front end before you apply or even in the interview process, to really know what it's like.
And I think that's why it's exciting to talk to someone that's heading up HR and Communications working together to really solve that problem.
Jeff: Well, one of the, one of the other things as far as marketing is concerned by current employees is we will notice too that a lot of our employees will share the post, like on Facebook. They'll see it and then they'll share it. And so then you've gotten that exposure to their, you know, 1,200 however many friends on Facebook they have, and they'll put little messages on there, “Hey, come teach with me.” “Come teach next door to me.” “ACS is the best.” “It's the greatest district ever.” So they'll–
Tyler V: Is that happening organically or is that incentivized?
Jeff: Yeah, it's just happening.
Tyler V: Fantastic!
Jeff: And, again, I think that speaks to the climate and culture, you know, of our district. That people are just, you know, inherently taking those posts and passing them around saying, you know, “Come teach next door to me.” You know, “this is a great school.” “This is a great school district.”
And that probably is something that we could increase our strategy toward involving employees more, but we're having that happen anyway just because of, which is a good thing and we wanna keep that momentum going. But it probably is an area to look at to have more intentionality with getting our employees on board.
Tyler H: But it does, it happens on every single post, whether they share it or, which is pretty cool, they'll just go to the post and start tagging friends.
Tyler V: Yeah. That's awesome.
Tyler H: And so that is an employee stepping out and really kind of putting their name out there and putting their face on the district organically. I mean, it happens on every single post that Dr. Clark puts out.
Tyler V: Thank you so much for the conversation. Really enjoyed it and look forward to sharing this with more people.
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