By: Kim Ratcliff
Now that I’ve had a chance to catch my breath after attending AASPA in October, I’ve been reflecting back on what I learned.
Here’s the bottom line: So many school districts are innovating in the space of people experience for educators, from kindergarten teachers to bus drivers and school principals.
What stood out most to me was a session hosted by Recruiting and Retention Specialist Chelsea Clark from Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437. She shared this 6,100-student Kansas district’s process for gathering insights from employees through one-on-one interviews with educators (teachers and paraprofessionals) that led to the creation of personas to guide HR and manager one-on-ones and overall leadership moving forward.
Instead of focusing on transactional HR touchpoints, her session highlighted the value of transformational moments with employees—in conversations driven by intention and empathy.
Lessons learned included the following:
1. Be smart about the timing for gathering insights: Clark timed one-on-one interviews she hosted with employees to align with the timing of her own job start. As a new employee to the district, she was able to enter the conversations with an objective point of view.
Added bonus: She also had an insider’s perspective, having worked in the district as a teacher prior to her time in the private sector. Being an informed interviewer has its benefits when seeking out insights from employees. This means she knew how and when to ask smart follow-up questions.
2. Create personas driven by the research: With meetings conducted through her combined HR role and seeing through the lens of her own past experience, Clark sourced powerful information to further engage with employees.
A critical component of the one-on-one's led by Clark was focusing on new teacher hires. In this line of questioning, she sought to uncover the REAL reasons for teachers to leave or stay in the district. Given the teacher shortage and her district's attrition data in the first five years of teaching, this was essential information, giving insights to the WHY behind the question: “Should I say or should I go?”
She then created a set of paraeducator and educator personas to guide next steps. Benefits of the research process and outcomes included:
3. Pivot from insights into manager one-on-one’s: Anyone can conduct a one-on-one meeting with an employee. But all of us can use reminders about how to make them intentional. Once she gathered insights from her own research, Clark created a tip sheet and questions to guide managers.
The tips cover timing, content, listening approaches, and how to ensure the one-on-one drives actionable outcomes. Questions to ask address:
Through this, Clark helped to make the one-on-one a worthwhile use of everyone’s time—in the moment and scaffolding the development to learning priorities over time.
Are you eager to delve into more intentional listening to employee voice and enhancement of employee experience, or are you already taking action for change? This Harvard Business School blog post has additional ideas for how to initiate and sustain meaningful stay conversations with employees, and to understand the why’s behind their perspectives on work.
Let me know more about what’s resonating for you at email@example.com.