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The Dance of the Lemons isn't Limited to Public Schools

Dance of the Lemons isnt LimitedFor years we've heard about the "The Dance of the Lemons," an unflattering description of the way some public school administrators tend to pass around ineffective teachers from classroom to classroom, school to school. Sadly, this phenomenon is also found in a high percentage of private schools as well. 

Why? What is it about education leadership that enables such a high tolerance of underperformance?


That's the four letter word that most contributes to the "dance." Fear of legal reprisal by an employee. Fear of the emotional damage to the faculty culture and family relationships. Fear of the unknown--will a better replacement be available in time? Fear of the difficult conversation. 

This fear is actually quite understandable. No one with a heart likes confronting underperforming people and sometimes firing/non-renewing them, and professional preparation for educational leaders is particularly devoid of tools and training regarding talent development. Very few school administrators participate in classes on how to build a team of talented educators, and then how to create a culture that builds energy and engagement. 

Yet, the most successful and economically sustainable schools are extraordinarily disciplined at building leadership capacity, organizational health, and continuous improvement. They utilize advanced talent strategies that are data-driven and relationship focused.

Private school leaders are just as susceptible to the avoidance of difficult personnel decisions as public school administrators.  

Talent Audit Fact

Over the last decade we have conducted nearly 100 Talent Audits for private schools across North America. We created this straightforward process to equip school leaders with accurate data along with the mechanisms to make improved, more courageous personnel decisions.

Our Talent Audit produces a performance rubric that enables the calculation of the school's Talent Quotient (TQ)--a leading key performance indicator (KPI) that can be used to more accurately predict enrollment growth and financial viability. (Boards particularly appreciate the value of these tools and metrics)

From the data we have collected across this broad sampling of schools we found that nearly 50% of the lowest performing faculty in private schools have been employed by the school for 5 or more years.

98% of these institutions have no teachers unions nor they do have to manage around issues of tenure or similar barriers to personnel decisions. They just fail to make the difficult decisions like their public school counterparts at a dangerously high rate. This is a major contributor to organizational dysfunction (and enrollment problems)!

Anyone Can Teach

"Anyone can teach" is obviously a FALSE STATEMENT, but the unfortunate leadership behaviors of a significant percentage of administrators undermines and demeans the profession of teaching. The gift to teach is real. Some have it and many don't. It isn't conveyed through a college diploma--even from Harvard or Johns Hopkins.

From our Talent Audit data two consistent factors have emerged regarding the most effective school employees: They possess a high level of self-awareness and of emotional intelligence--neither of which are assessed on the typical observational feedback tool. 

Autonomy over personnel decisions at the school level is often expressed as the key to solving the lemon problem among public schools. If only principals could select and train the teachers they know are capable of doing the job well, they would be able to accelerate school improvement and build a pattern of success.

But the track record among private schools demonstrates that autonomy alone isn't the complete answer. PK-12 schools are extremely complex organizations with an ecosystem of emotionally charged relationships. School leaders need the training and tools to build a remarkable team of talented, energized, engaged educators, and then the capacity to love them like they are.

Pay Them to Leave?

Many schools will send out a "letter of intent" to their faculty in this spring semester asking whether they plan to return next year if offered a contract. But what if your leadership team did something radical and took an approach similar to Amazon.  Annually the company offers to pay full-time employees at their fulfillment centers up to $5,000 (depending on years of employment) to leave the company. (Read More)

The purpose is to prompt employees to pause and think carefully about their commitment to the organization, and that is exactly what you should challenge your faculty to do. With such an offer you might actually create the conditions for a better employee culture because the people who stay are all in. They had the chance to leave but they chose not to pursue other options because of their joyful belief in your mission, your leadership, and your plans. 


The personnel decisions you will make over the next 90 days will determine the future trajectory of your students and your quality of life in 2020-21. Don't let another year go by where fear gets in the way of your goals. You can do this, even if it requires courageously fighting against a system that is heavily inclined toward status quo and mediocrity. The stakes are simply too high to compromise on personnel decisions.

This is the year to Get R.A.D. (Radically Against Dysfunction) by developing the disciplines of effective school leadership and advancing the quality and engagement of your faculty. 

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