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Rethinking teacher absenteeism: How to be more proactive and prepared

(BPT) - By Nicola Soares, president, Kelly Education

Chronic absenteeism has become a pervasive issue across multiple employment sectors driven by several factors, including personal and family health challenges, stress and burnout. This problem is notable in the education sector, where consistent, strong educator-student relationships are crucial.

The 2023 Kelly Global Re:work Report revealed that nearly one-third (28%) of surveyed talent was ready to leave their jobs within a year, highlighting a mismatch between workforce expectations and organizational realities that may worsen absenteeism. This holds particularly true in the education sector - a field predominantly staffed by women, who often shoulder additional caregiving responsibilities for children or the elderly. Educators are increasingly taking time off to prioritize their personal responsibilities as well as their health and well-being. Such dynamics raise absenteeism risks and mark a pivotal moment for educational workforce stability.

A Heritage Foundation report illuminates the significant learning loss affecting students due to chronic teacher absenteeism, which impacts academic and nonacademic student development. This trend paints a troubling picture of the cascading effects of teacher absenteeism, highlighting the need for strategic, proactive measures to address this growing concern and safeguard the future of education.

For school administrators, it is challenging to find positive ways to address frequent absences, but adopting proactive strategies from the business sector can help mitigate absenteeism, underscoring the need for adaptability and preparedness in maintaining educational excellence amidst challenges.

Provide a culture of support

In an urgent call to combat the educator shortage, it is essential to highlight the critical role of a supportive work environment. Research across sectors underscores that employees, including teachers, are more engaged and consistently present when they feel valued by their organizations. Embracing a "whole educator" approach, akin to the holistic "whole child" perspective in education, schools should consider implementing comprehensive wellness programs, providing mental health resources and creating a more inclusive community that fosters a sense of belonging and participation in decision-making. Such measures bolster educator well-being and enhance the overall educational climate, leading to improved student outcomes.

Foster open communication

Open communication between school administrators and educators is critical in addressing the root causes of absenteeism. Encouraging educators to voice their concerns and challenges allows school leaders to identify patterns and implement targeted interventions. Regular check-ins and feedback sessions further nurture a sense of community and commitment. Moreover, adopting a supportive stance towards staff members' personal hurdles, coupled with facilitating more compassionate and effective solutions, cultivates an environment of trust, effectively reducing stress and burnout. Such flexibility is vital, especially in today's job market, where flex time is increasingly becoming standard. Employees should have access to both passive and proactive channels of feedback and communication.

Be prepared for absences

Even in the most positive, supportive workplaces, absences will happen. The Re:work Report underscores that resilience in businesses - and by extension, educational institutions - often hinges on the strategic employment of contingent workers to introduce much-needed flexibility.

Schools can tap into a vast pipeline of qualified substitute teachers, paraeducators, tutors and therapists by forming partnerships with specialized staffing providers such as Kelly Education. This eases the administrative strain of managing and recruiting specialized personnel and ensures the continuity of high-quality education. This approach addresses the immediate challenges posed by teacher absenteeism and contributes to a broader solution, emphasizing the urgent need for collaborative efforts between the education and private sectors to navigate the current educator shortage crisis more effectively.

Encourage continuous education and upskilling

The key to retaining and attracting talent is the investment in continuous professional development, which offers educators opportunities such as online training, collaborative projects and mentorship programs. These initiatives enhance educators' skills and boost their job satisfaction and commitment, which is crucial in combating absenteeism and ensuring a dedicated workforce. Moreover, integrating stress management and resilience training prepares educators for how to handle professional pressures more effectively.

In an era where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing industries globally, lies another example of a lesson education leaders can learn from the business sector. By training educators to master AI tools, we can dramatically alleviate administrative tasks, thereby unlocking opportunities for deeper, more meaningful educational interactions. This approach does not only streamline operations but also fosters the adoption of innovative teaching techniques that significantly enhance student learning outcomes. This strategic focus on upskilling underscores the urgent need for a modernized professional development framework that aligns with the evolving demands of the education sector.

The challenge of teacher absenteeism is significant, but not insurmountable. It is paramount to recognize and value educators by creating an environment that respects their needs and addresses their challenges. Through such concerted efforts, we can build a more robust and adaptive educational workforce equipped to offer high-quality, uninterrupted learning experiences. In doing so, we not only safeguard our children's futures, but also affirm our collective commitment to nurturing the next generation of leaders, thinkers and innovators.

Learn more about ways to make school administrators' days easier at

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