I’ve been working in school improvement for 5 years and have learned a lot about what it takes for schools to successfully serve the communities in which they are located. I’ve learned that the likelihood of success for American schools increases when the schools are funded adequately and equitably, are located in modern, safe facilities, and are stocked with the best resources. I’ve learned that schools with a culture of high expectations and However, I’ve worked in schools where all of these things were present and the schools underperformed (as measured by graduation rates, standardized tests, etc.) because the leadership (local and district) failed to place the proper emphasis on people and processes, which, in my opinion, are the foundation upon which any serious school improvement efforts rest.
People and processes are the two most important, and often overlooked, aspects in school improvement, to the detriment of many schools and districts all over the county. The people (teachers, bus drivers, administrators, cafeteria staff, custodians, media specialists, etc.) are the lifeblood of every school. The work just doesn’t happen without them. However, not every person hired will be right for the job. Sure, the teacher, administrator, or media specialist may have the necessary skills and abilities to carry out the essential functions related to the work, but they may not be up to the task of transforming a toxic culture. They may not be posses the cultural competence and compassion necessary to work with an ethnic or socio-economic group that is too different from the one from which they come. Their philosophy of education may be diametrically opposed to that of the school or district in which they work. There are any number of reason why otherwise highly qualified people would be a bad fit for your school improvement efforts. This is why hiring, training, and retention are so crucial to the early success of a school in the midst of improvement efforts. When working with schools or districts that have to fill vacancies I like to address the following:
- Do you share your current levels of performance and where you expect to go with potential applicants? You should so that you attract only those individuals who are most interested in working with you.
- Have you constructed a profile of the ideal candidate prior to posting the position? And by profile I do not mean a job description. I mean have you given some thought to the type of person you think you will need to improve your school? If not, you should.
- Will your interview process allow you to see if the applicant is a good fit for both your existing culture and climate as well as the one you are trying to create? Will teachers conduct model lessons? Will there be a panel interview or will the interview process only include the Principal or other hiring manager? Think through this process.
- Once a person is on the job, how will you support them? What training will you provide to ensure that they have every opportunity to be successful?
- What opportunities exist for the ambitious members of your team? Is your organization a learning organization or are your efforts only focused on reaching some kind of stasis ?
Those are a few of the questions I pose to school leaders engaged in the school improvement process when they have vacancies to fill. However, having a staff full of good people isn’t enough if your organization is unstable and unpredictable. Have you ever worked in a school or a district where the priorities are every few weeks? What about working in a school where things like lesson plan templates and the set-up of your board is different every single year ? Not only are changes like that frustrating to great teachers, they often aren’t real priorities in school improvement work. So, you can see that it isn’t enough to hire and train well (although, if every hiring manager hired well, problem like the ones I just pointed out would rarely exist), reliable, replicable, and sustainable processes must exist to ensure that the right people are able to do the right work.
Unfortunately, for many new leaders in education, process development isn’t an activity that comes naturally. For so many, the transition from the classroom to leadership is abrupt, and many leadership development programs at the district (if they exist at all) and university level fail to address the need for process development. Process development is a simple, yet indispensable activity, that addresses the following:
- What needs to be done? Make a list and then prioritize…because you can’t do it all at once.
- How will we do it?
- Who will be responsible for implementation? Who is our backup person?
- Who will be responsible for monitoring? Who is our backup person?
- Who will be responsible for providing support if we fall short of our goals? Who is our backup person?
- How will we measure the effectiveness of our initiative? What evidence and artifacts will we capture to show that what we’re doing works?
- What resources do we need to ensure success? Do we need training?
- How much will the resources and training cost?
- How will we capture our process so that if someone leaves and a new person arrives our work can continue uninterrupted?
The work may be captured using any number of formats or programs. How the work is captured is irrelevant. THAT it is captured and addresses each of the above questions is essential. I am also of the opinion that in terms of priority, processes can be addressed before you address the issue of people because the development of processes can be done at any time by anyone, and can be revised rather easily to reflect the changes in the culture and climate of a school or district. Hiring, training, and retaining the right people takes significantly more time and involves large sums of money. So, people & processes are essential, but if you’re in a bind and have weaknesses in both areas, addresses processes first, particularly the process for adding the right people to your school or district.
If you’ve taken the time to read this post, I hope it’s been helpful. Pardon the typos, grammatical errors, etc.
Thanks for reading.