"Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design."
Fisher, D., Frey, N., Hattie, J., Thayre, M., & Fisher, D. (2016). Visible learning for literacy: Implementing the practices that work best to accelerate student learning: Grades K-12. Corwin/A SAGE Company.
THE MEAT (The Main Idea)
Hattie, Fisher, & Frey’s quote, "Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design," is a statement that, at its core, conveys a powerful message: we are essentially recognizing that, sadly, not all students have equal access to quality education. It forces us to confront a reality that many may be reluctant to acknowledge. So let's break down the quote further:
So, what does this quote mean for us? It is a call to action. A challenge. It prompts us to consider:
Equity in Education: Are we ensuring that all students, regardless of their zip code or socioeconomic status, have access to great teachers?
Teacher Quality: How are we attracting, training, and retaining exceptional educators?
Systemic Changes: What reforms are needed to transform education from a game of chance to a system of purposeful design?
THE CHEESE (Added Depth)
If every student truly deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design, then we must begin by designing great teachers.
So how do we design great teachers? Well, the answer may lie in an interview I recently listened to during a podcast episode on "Better Leaders Better Schools." Host Daniel Bauer discussed teacher retention with Superintendent Dr. Lisa Stanley, known as Dr. Lisa, from North Texas Collegiate Academy. Dr. Lisa's insights sent a jolt of inspiration through my perspective on this critical topic. While their dialogue initially centered on the crucial matter of teacher retention, it swiftly became evident that her ideas could be applied in other areas. But, before we start down this road to designing great teachers, we must first understand the pathways and roots that have given rise to them.
The initial finger often points to the educational lottery or the geographical lottery of birth – the infamous zip code. It's an undeniable reality that where you're born can shape the quality of schools and teachers you encounter. However, this issue extends beyond mere zip codes, even within school districts. Disparities persist even in one district. Why do some schools excel while others lag behind? Yet, if we confront this issue with unvarnished honesty, we discover even more significant disparities within individual schools. It's an unequivocal truth that some educators excel far beyond their peers (one good, one not so good). So, the question that looms large in the shadows of these disparities is whether we can realistically confront and address them. While achieving absolute equity in education may appear as an ambitious goal, this does not absolve us of the responsibility to actively pursue it.
Dr. Lisa's insights pinpoint a path to potential solvability. Let’s look deeper at three areas.
Addressing Your Culture: Dr. Lisa adopts a remarkable practice known as the "Stay Interview." It involves one-on-one interviews with each staff member, posing a single question in December: "What do we need to do for you to ensure your continued presence with us next year?" Collating the responses, she presented them to the Board of Education in January. By February, she identifies common denominators and commits to resolving them. It's a tangible demonstration of a commitment to the well-being of her staff. (Sidenote: Dr. Lisa stated not one staff member identified more money as a means to make them stay.)
Feeling Valued: Making someone feel valued is no small feat, yet Dr. Lisa has a remarkable approach. When she encounters exemplary teaching during classroom visits, she may request the teacher to call a loved one on their cellphone. In front of the class, she voices words of praise, acknowledging the teacher's excellence and expressing a desire to retain them. It's a heartwarming gesture that extends the idea of a positive phone call home to the teachers themselves.
Teacher Voice: Dr. Lisa firmly believes that every decision should bear the fingerprints of teachers. She understands that when educators have a say in decision-making, they are more likely to take ownership of solutions and invest in the effort to resolve challenges.What profoundly resonated was when Daniel Bauer highlighted teachers’ willingness to drive through and past closer school districts to work for her in her district. She is not just retaining teachers; she's attracting them. This suggests that her approach has the potential to design and cultivate exceptionally skilled educators, ultimately benefiting her students and the broader educational landscape.
THE OLIVES (A Surprising Element)
If every student truly deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design, then it follows that every teacher deserves a great leader. While we often focus on developing exceptional educators, we mustn't overlook the equally crucial aspect of nurturing effective school leadership. It's often said that people don't resign from their jobs, they resign from their bosses.
So, how do we then ensure our leaders supporting our teachers are supported? The concept of coaching and creating a supportive ecosystem plays a pivotal role in this equation. Coaching should not be confined to the classroom; it must extend to those who guide and lead our educators. Just imagine a school district where every school leader, from principals to administrators, receives dedicated coaching and support to enhance their leadership skills and effectiveness—a "safe person" who is focused on shining them up for others to see their sparkle.
You might wonder about the practicality of such an endeavor and its financial implications. It's a valid concern, but let's consider this: the district incurs costs one way or another. You can choose to invest in your leadership and support them through coaching, or you can opt for the alternative. What's the alternative, you ask? It involves the recurring costs associated with high turnover in leadership positions. When effective leadership is lacking, it often leads to resignations and frequent changes in leadership roles. This not only disrupts the educational process but also incurs substantial costs. Think about the hours of human resources spent on recruitment, the logistics of filling interim positions, organizing interview committees, and the extensive onboarding process for new leaders.
So, which would you rather invest in? The proactive approach of coaching and supporting your leadership to foster a positive, stable educational environment? Or the reactive approach of dealing with the continual cycle of recruiting, onboarding, and retraining new leaders, which can be financially and operationally draining?
Investing in coaching and support for your school leaders isn't just about the immediate financial aspect; it's about investing in the long-term stability, success, and quality of education within your district. It's about acknowledging that intentionally designing great teachers, not leaving it to chance, requires us to design great leaders who, in turn, can effectively support exceptional educators, which every student deserves.