Staff matters

May 2, 2017

Matt Thompson

Over the past month, I’ve enjoyed facilitating some reflective discussions with five very different schools (elementary, middle school, high school, rural, urban, etc.). As part of each of those conversations, they have checked back in on their Purpose & Mission. In each school, there was reflective discussion around the school’s mission specifically, reflecting on the “what” and “how” for their “why.”

Unprompted, when each school discussed their “what” and “how”, they all kept pointing to the dynamics within and culture of the staff as being critical to how effective they could be in making progress on their purpose. Yet that idea didn’t show up explicitly in any mission statements.

Maybe it comes across the wrong way to some stakeholders if a school’s mission says something about making sure “the staff are connected, challenged and honored.” Maybe someone could extend that thinking and read “this school cares more about the staff than my kids”? After all, a mission is supposed to be filled with pedagogical buzzwords (e.g. rigorous, PBL, student-centered). Right?

I do think some of those buzzwords matter and should be part of a mission (assuming those words have depth in your school), but, after this last month, it’s been clear to me that a school’s mission should be about the students AND the staff in the building. And it’s important to say that publicly and explicitly, rather than keeping it as some hidden or implied truth.

My colleague, Jim May, and I put together a presentation of learning as part of our internal learning at New Tech Network. We used a couple of pictures to frame our presentation.

In the above, the alien-ish looking figure on the left represents someone with influence on learning in a school (e.g. principal, instructional coach), the middle figure could be a teacher, and the students are on the right. As it suggests, the staff member in the middle is often positioned as just a means to an end, with the end being improved outcomes for students. And, of course, student outcomes are a worthwhile end to focus on.

But, as this second picture suggests, what I’m arguing for here is that the outcomes for STAFF in a school building matter just as much. As Jim said well (which he’s known to do), it’s important we see staff as a “legitimate end unto themselves” rather than a means to an end. They are humans after all, who merit the same connection, challenge and honor we seek to provide students.

Show me a staff team that is connected meaningfully, challenged to learn deeply on a regular basis, and honored as individuals, and I’m confident the classrooms will mirror that.

So, include the focus on staff outcomes (collectively and individually) as part of your mission. Say it loud and proud. And then actually USE that mission to guide how you design what happens, or not, in your school.

This blog originally appeared on Learning From The Cheap Seats.

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