As a school administrator, the decisions you make over the next 90 days will determine the success of your school and your students next school year.
Next year will not be better than your talent and your school design. So what will you do now to make sure you and your school are in the best situation to achieve excellence? Now is the time to consider how you will adjust the talent mix in your program to maximize the opportunities for everyone in your community. No pressure, but this is what leadership is all about!
What will you do with your bottom 20%?
A glaring failure common to school leadership is the inability to address underperforming employees in a timely manner. Nicknames for this practice vary and the damaging results for children are undeniable. Some states mandate this management ineptitude. California, for example, aggressively enforces a state law of Last In, First Out seniority, where the most recently hired teachers are required to be pink-slipped first, regardless of aptitude and ability. The arguments in support of such policy largely focus on the idea that faculty need academic freedom to properly teach controversial issues and need safeguards against administrators and parents. (Economist, March 2014) What happened to making students the top priority?
Pay them to leave if you must. That's what Amazon, Zappos, and some other companies do. Amazon's Pay to Quit program was introduced this year, offering one-time payments to leave the company. The offer is made once per year to employees in certain divisions of the company, with the payment to quit being $2,000 in the 1st year, and increasing by $1,000 each subsequent year to a maximum of $5,000. (Harvard Business Review, April 2014) Whatever it takes, your leadership and the future of your students will be determined by how you address your bottom 20%, and you must have personnel who are devoted to your mission, culture, and strategies.
Make your renewal and hiring decisions out of principle and strength rather than fear and uncertainty. An example of the latter is an administrator who recently fired a coach who was in the midst of preparation for next school year. His communication to parents of this change was unprofessional and actually hid the fact that he wanted to make this change all along but was afraid to pull the trigger until he had a replacement. This style of management will inevitably undermine trust and collaboration in your organization. Lead with courage and never stop building your bench of future teachers and staff.
How will you learn from past hiring mistakes?
Hiring great faculty requires more science than art. You know the benefit of learning from the past, so why do you expect different results from the same recruiting practices and activities? It may be the way you perceive failure, defaulting to blame and deflection that never improves the organization. How sad for schools that long to be models of learning and growth.
Failure creates a learning opportunity. A school culture that makes it safe to admit and discuss mistakes and failures can support high standards for excellence. The causes for these situations will vary from intentional behavior to lack of preparation and/or effort. As you continue to innovate on your school design, however, you can use failure to introduce meaningful experimentation that produces valuable progress and growth for employees and students. This includes how you adjust the recruiting, coaching, and evaluation processes in your school.