Building A Culture That Attracts The Best And Brightest

K12 education is desperate for a deeper and wider talent pool and is grappling for how to solve it without the money to attract it. The good news is that many young prospective candidates don’t make money a top priority. Study after study shows that the generation currently entering the workforce prioritizes working where they can make a difference over making top dollar.

Attracting these workers to education is your hope. They are your opportunity to fill your classrooms with smart, determined, and innovative thinkers. They CAN be recruited and retained — IF they feel they can make a difference AND if they are attracted to your school professional culture.


This is the easy one. There are few professions where someone can make such a specific difference in the life of a person. Education IS that profession. We are positioned perfectly to attract smart, creative, and altruistic Millennials… except for one thing: our culture.


The culture of K-12 education repels the best and brightest preparing to enter the workforce. In a study conducted by think tank Third Way, 65% of Millennials think teachers are NOT smart. Regulations, complex structures, and a perceived lack of public and political support headline stories of K-12 education.

In social media feeds, we see educators and advocacy groups condemning and championing the very same issues. News stories highlight the standards and assessment wars. Infighting, political posturing, and burn-out are the pervasive narrative — on and offline.

So that’s the answer: create a vibrant, flexible, transparent culture of making a difference and the candidates will be lining up at your door.

Here are two strategies for developing a culture that can attract the best and brightest and help you hold on to those you already have.


Culture starts with having similar values. Think about your own culture or cultures. They are based on shared values — values you most likely respect and celebrate. If your school doesn’t have shared values that are understood by everyone, your culture will most likely not be one that encourages loyalty and that attracts others.

When the leaders at Roma Moulding (a high end eye glass company) took on the issue of company culture, they started by asking each employee what they value. They took that giant list and collaboratively processed it down to what now are their core values.

Roma’s CEO, Tony Gareri states, “At Roma we are all doing our best every day to live and breathe our culture. Our values are prominently featured on our website, on the walls of our office, and they are on a picture frame on everyone’s desk. They help guide us in all we do.” (Read more.)


Transparency starts with making sure your employees connect with your humanity and understand where you’re coming from. In a 2012 article in Harvard Business Review, Dorie Clark contends that what makes employees “go above and beyond is their relationship and loyalty to you — and you’ll never get that if you don’t let them know you as a person.”

Practicing a radical level of transparency, Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz shared his own performance review with his employees. Fishkin used his review to challenge himself in front of his company — modeling how evaluations are an opportunity for growth. By doing this, Fishkin held himself to the same level of accountability he has for his employees and modeled true leadership.

The next step toward transparency is letting your employees know what you know. Be strategic with this. Share data, facts, and assumptions that align to your core values. Be clear about each. Do not share an assumption as a fact, and do not share data by front-loading with assumptions. Trust your people to process each for what they are, and make sure they have a space in which to do so. (Read more.)


The online store Zappos is famous for its company culture. They talk about it almost as much as they do their products and service. They are so tuned into culture they conduct Culture Camp for other executives. They also publish a blog titled Culture Exchange.

Google made company culture popular. With their incredible perks and super modern offices they are known world-wide for being a place that focuses on making their employees happy. They also have an area dedicated on their website to culture, a compelling marketing tool for attracting prospective candidates.

Spending time and energy on your school’s culture will pay off. You will more effectively engage your current staff, and begin to be a place where prospective candidates flock. You may not be able to pay them what they are worth, but they will be able to feel their worth in your school. And that is what most people seek everyday.