A Black educator wearing a yellow dress stands in the hallway of her destination district school.

Recently, TPT surveyed 1,200+ educators across the United States to understand what school leaders can do to attract and retain educators. According to the results, a “top attractor was the possibility of working with an inspiring and supportive school leader, underlining the importance of school and district leadership as a key driver in recruitment and retention.” 

But as an administrator, what does it mean to be a supportive school leader? One way to help support your school community and teachers is to elevate your school or district so that it is a place where educators want to work and where families want to live — otherwise known as a destination district.

What is a destination district?

In short, a destination district is a school district where:

  • Teachers and principals want to spend their careers.
  • Families want to live so their children can attend school there.
  • Students feel cared for and experience success.

Destination districts lift up all the people in their school community to better achieve success for everyone. As a result, more people – educators, students, and caregivers alike – want to join and stay in the district, creating a positive feedback loop. As you invest in the district, more people come, opening the door for further growth. 

How can administrators create destination districts?

There’s no singular path forward towards transforming your district. Thoughtful dialogue and intentional planning will be needed throughout the process to determine what will work for your schools. The following steps and strategies can help you formulate a plan to get there. 

Create a shared vision.

In order to get where you want to go, it’s important to know where you’re going. Bring together a cross section of stakeholders to help define what vision the district wants to embody and work toward. Consider answering these questions:

  • What do we want to be known for?
  • What do we want students to experience here?
  • What qualities do we want graduates to embody?
  • What values do we want to define our district?

While the vision you create during this process may be big, it can also be useful to distill it into a short, memorable vision statement. This vision statement can then be used as a motivator for teachers and students, a way to set expectations for the school community, and a north star for project and program goals and benchmarks.

Determine a differentiator for the district.

Being known for a particular curriculum or program can help your district stand out among other neighboring districts. Ask yourself, what will set the district apart and make it unique? How can we build on programs that we already have and level them up? Some examples include:

  • Career pathways development
  • STEM/High-tech curriculum
  • Environmental science initiatives
  • Comprehensive visual and performing arts programs
  • Early college programs 
  • Dual enrollment, AP, or IB courses 
  • Diverse world language offerings

Develop a strategic plan to achieve the vision.

There are many ways to formulate your plan. At this phase, it’s important to include a variety of stakeholders again. This will help ensure that blindspots are not missed and that your plan is as inclusive as it is comprehensive. Ask yourself and the group – what are we already doing well and what can we improve? What are the actionable steps we need to take to bring the shared vision into reality? 

Once you’ve brainstormed and discussed, narrow your focus, make sure your differentiator is supported, and plan out the strategic steps you’ll take to reach your goals. As part of this, you can craft a mission statement to support your vision. This mission statement can serve as a guide to or roadmap of the concrete steps your district is taking in its evolution.

Invest in educators to build trust, support community, and show commitment to teachers’ well-being.

Educators are the foundation of the district. Specifically investing in teacher well-being is key to recruiting and retaining educators, building a tight-knit school community, and becoming a destination district. The September 2022 TPT State of Education Report found that all teachers said a higher salary (94%), a supportive and inspiring school leader (89%), and allocated funding to select and purchase resources (84%) would definitely help retain teachers.

A bar graph answering the question "How much would each of the following help to keep teachers like you working in the teaching profession?" Higher salary: 94% said definitely would help, 5% said would somewhat help, 1% said not likely to make a difference. Working for a school leader who is inspiring and supportive: 89% said definitely would help, 10% said would help somewhat, and 1% said not likely to make a difference. School leadership that shows demonstrated commitment to teacher well-being: 88% said definitely would help, 11% said would help somewhat, 1% said not likely to make a difference. Allocated for teachers to select & purchase classroom resources: 84% said definitely would help, 15% said it would help somewhat, 1% said not likely to make a difference.

Administrators can invest in their teachers in particular ways to ensure their schools are places where educators want to spend their teaching careers. Teachers need different things depending on where they are in their professional journeys. As the districts evolves, some specific ways you can support your teachers at different experience levels are:

Additionally, a district subscription to TPT School Access can help achieve these goals and initiatives while also improving teacher retention.

Capture what you’re building — create marketing materials for the district.

Create consistency between your vision and how your district is seen through your marketing collateral. This collateral may be the first way prospective students, families, and even educators interact with your schools, so it’s important to think about it strategically.  Some questions to ask are:

  • What logo and catchphrase embody the vision for the district?
  • How will we talk about the district with staff, families, students, and community groups? 
  • What images do we need to show our mission and vision to prospective students and families?
  • What is the best way to reach our community — email, web, brochures, school tours, etc.? 
  • How do all of our marketing materials relate and function together to create a cohesive district image?

No matter what marketing direction you choose, it is important to create synergy and consistency across your different materials and channels. This way, your district conveys a unified message that your community can grasp, engage with, and understand. And eventually the community and new residents will start seeing your district as the destination for the education you envisioned. 

Leadership matters a great deal in the success of students and the district. Collaborating with stakeholders to build a shared vision and defining how to boldly differentiate the district from others creates community excitement. It attracts inspired educators and ultimately results in better educational opportunities for students. It’s one powerful way to attract and retain teachers and to reimagine what’s possible in education.

Find more ways to recruit and retain teachers by downloading the September 2022 State of Education Report.