Nate Eklund asks: Where are the great-workplace rankings for our schools?
In February, we featured a blog post about the realities of personal and corporate change by local educational consultant Nate Eklund. In a conversation with him after our issue came out, I learned that one of Eklund's passions--his "trademark" concern, in fact--is making schools better places for teachers--better workplaces.
Does this sound like "teacher pampering" or "forgetting about the kids"? Eklund's rejoinder: Teachers who are happy with the conditions under which they work, teachers who are treated as professionals, teachers who get respect from their superiors and experience a culture of cooperation, are likelier to create the best educational experiences they can--for the kids--than teachers who feel stressed, harassed, and exploited.
At a time when we in the Twin Cities are joining with many others across the country to address worrying gaps in the education process--skills gaps, achievement gaps, equity gaps--this better-workplace argument seems to me to noticeable mostly by its absence. (Full disclosure: I am the son of an award-winning veteran junior-high teacher who was never hesitant to connect her own workplace satisfaction with the quality of her work; she loved kids but did not believe that fine teaching runs on that love alone.)
When Eklund addressed the issue in a recent post, I knew I wanted to share it with
The Line readers.
Recently the Minneapolis StarTribune came out with its annual list of “Top Workplaces”
in the Twin Cities. It’s a fantastic listing of workplaces throughout Minnesota who work really hard to make work work.
There are no schools listed.
There is no list of “Top School Workplaces.” Anywhere. Ever.
I have often noted that in my own bolder moments I feel like I’m leading a revolution. I want to revolutionize the way schools think about themselves. I will know without a doubt that the revolution is happening when schools begin to be ranked publicly as great places to work. There are scads of other school rankings: student test scores, teacher salaries, graduation rates. But nowhere does a school have to stand up and declare that it has truly invested in the quality of the experience the educators have being employed. Does anyone else think this is insane?
Schools Should Compete for Teaching Talent
I recently led a workshop for 30 Minnesota superintendents. These are 30 CEOs of pretty major Minnesota companies. One of the central messages I imparted is that while they’re certainly amongst colleagues, they should also see that in that group they’re amongst competitors. They should be actively competing to recruit and retain the best talent the state has to offer. I want a free-market-economy approach where they’re leading their organizations to be significantly more aggressive to create schools that are likely to attract talent. I mean WAY more significantly.
I want to be very clear. Workplace quality in schools is measurable and utterly viable. I’ve worked with schools across the country. Almost all of them have taken my survey measuring teacher job satisfaction. I often tell them that I could sit with my wife at our kitchen table and look at their data and we could easily pick the schools where I’d want to work. I can take two schools from the same community, look at their data, talk to their teachers, meet their principal and know without a single doubt which one is a better place to teach.
In fact, when the revolution has started, that’s exactly what will happen. Prospective employees will want to see the data. They will want to see the plaque on the wall that says, “This school is a certified great place to work.” They’ll read the annual rankings. And schools will hustle like crazy to be on that list.
What Makes a Great School Workplace?
I encourage you to read the whole article that lists the top workplaces. It’s full of values and ideas that schools and school leaders could immediately translate into their school DNA. Here are just a few:
My good friend and colleague J. Forrest, who has his own organizational improvement consulting firm, is quoted:
“If you strip it away, my take on great places to work is they’ve established community, and by that I mean there’s a sense of belonging. It can’t just be about the work.”
Schools, please note. There’s nothing about budgets, testing, contracts, mandates, or any external factor keeping you from working intentionally at building community beyond “the work.” Some schools do it well. Some don’t do it at all.
Here’s another: “Michael Solberg, president of State Bank & Trust, said he firmly believes in the company motto, ‘Happy Employees! Happy Customers!’”
Look it’s pretty simple. If schools aren’t working really hard at teacher job satisfaction, students suffer. There are two versions of each individual teacher who can show up in the classroom: happy, energized teacher or defeated, exhausted teacher. Take your pick.
No, It's Not Just About Students and Parents
One section of the article praises excellent CEOs in the area. The title of this section has this byline: “What makes a CEO a great leader? Our three award winners know the answer: It’s all about taking care of their people.”
This one deserves an entirely separate post. Suffice it to say, there’s tremendous confusion in education about who’s the CEO and who “their people” are. One of the great blind spots in education leadership is that too many leaders see “their people” solely as students and parents. This myopic approach to customer service can lead principals to forget that at the end of the day, “their people” are the educators who are doing the heavy lifting. Disenfranchise those people, and chaos ensues.
Honestly. I could go on. Just know that in a few years when you start seeing billboards touting a district as a “great place to teach” or a public ranking of the best schools in which to work you know the revolution is upon us.
For the sake of education, let’s all hope so.
In response to a comment on his blog, Eklund lays out a way to assess schools as workplaces:
It ain’t rocket science. Here’s what I would foresee.
a. Survey staff using our School Workplace Satisfaction Survey.
b. Look at school data pertaining to teacher turnover and retention.
c. Meet with groups of educators and administrators for targeted conversations around workplace culture and climate.
Add that all up, and it’s pretty clear if you’re a great place to work or not. If you are, I’m presenting you with a plaque to the effect of: “This school has been certified as a great place to work by Eklund Consulting.” You get to hang that plaque in your office. You put that distinction on your website. And from now on whenever a potential teacher comes in for an interview, they get to ask, “Where’s your plaque?”
I’m seriously looking for some schools to opt into this. If you believe you’re a great place to work, let’s prove it, celebrate it, and market it. If you’re not, let’s improve you until you are.