Addressing Teacher Shortages: Leveraging “Grow Your Own” Strategies with Simulations

March 12, 2024

By SchoolSims & Ken Spero (President & Co-Founder)

In the wake of the ongoing school employment challenges that began with the changes forced on schools by the COVID-19 pandemic, the education sector has been grappling with significant shortages of teachers and administrators. This dilemma, often referred to as “The Great Resignation,” has further exacerbated the learning and learning-loss obstacles experienced by students. Amidst these difficulties, districts increasingly turn to innovative ways to help increase teacher supply, and one key strategy for cultivating well-prepared future teachers is the focus on “Grow Your Own” initiatives. This article explores the intersection of teacher shortages, teacher development, and the role of simulations in preparing educators for the evolving demands of their roles.

Transitioning to the “Rapidly Prepare Our Own” Approach

With the unprecedented teacher shortage, the focus on “Grow Your Own” strategies needs to evolve into a more urgent “Rapidly Prepare Our Own” approach. Schools are facing a pressing need for educators who can adeptly address the diverse needs of students, fill staffing gaps, and navigate the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. The challenge of Learning Loss from COVID has been exacerbated by behavioral challenges being experienced in unprecedented numbers. Adjusting to virtual, hybrid, and in-person classes has created new teacher issues. As schools look to enable and prepare candidates to be effective in the classroom quickly, experience is one of the fastest ways to make that happen. This accelerated preparation is essential for new teachers and existing staff members who are increasingly called upon to step into teaching roles. Establishing a supportive school climate becomes paramount in facilitating adequate preparation and ongoing support for educators.

The “Grow Your Own” approach entails cultivating talent within local communities by identifying and supporting potential educators from diverse backgrounds. This can include paraprofessionals, career switchers, and even high school seniors interested in teaching. By providing mentorship, on-the-job training, and access to higher education educator preparation programs, school divisions can create a mentored pathway for aspiring teachers. These programs address teacher recruitment challenges and empower individuals to become well-prepared teachers ready to make a difference in their local classrooms.

Harnessing the Power of Simulations

Simulations offer a dynamic tool for providing safe experiences for teachers to deliberate on the challenges they will face, which shows the opportunity to exercise judgment and make decisions, even if they are uncertain about what to do. They then have the chance to deal with the consequences of their choices to expand their ‘experience portfolios’ with the kinds of blowback they might experience and reflect on. Through simulations, participants are immersed in realistic scenarios, making decisions in a safe place where they can make mistakes and learn from them. These simulations promote skill development and team-building, fostering collaborative decision-making and peer-to-peer discussions.

With this opportunity for social learning, teacher candidates can share experiences with peers who may see things differently and respond in ways other than what they think is appropriate. In this way, they expand their ‘experience portfolios’ with their own experience in the Simulation and the life experiences of their peers. This expansion of the learning provides a memorable and de-isolating experience as the candidates realize that they are not alone on their journeys. They not only gain insight from the different perspectives but also expand their network of peers they can reach out to when they are stumped and need help figuring out what to do. In addition, by integrating simulations into professional development/learning programs, districts can effectively reinforce their values, beliefs, and priorities while equipping educators with the adaptive skills needed to thrive in evolving educational landscapes.

Fostering Adaptability and Cultivating Culture

In an era of rapid change, adaptability is a crucial attribute for educators. Simulations provide a platform for Teachers to hone their decision-making processes, emphasizing critical thinking and problem-solving skills over prescriptive solutions. Moreover, cultivating a shared organizational culture becomes paramount for fostering cohesion and aligning efforts toward common goals. Districts must prioritize reinforcing cultural beliefs and values throughout educators’ professional development journeys to sustain a positive school climate and drive student success.


As districts and schools grapple with teacher shortages and the evolving demands of education, “Grow Your Own” initiatives and online simulation-based training present a promising and scalable pathway for building resilient leadership pipelines. By prioritizing educators’ rapid preparation and ongoing support within a supportive climate, schools can adapt to the present challenges while laying a foundation for sustained success in the future.

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