The Year of the Faculty
Updated: Aug 21, 2022
Well, that's every year, right? I mean, they're the value proposition. Not the natatorium, not the STEM curriculum, the state championships, the outdoor education program, all of which remain theoretical until great teachers bring them to life, could in fact be profoundly disappointing if less than great people are directing them. It's the faculty, and specifically, that new second grade teacher, the one with two years of experience, for whom you have great hope, who will deliver something like 80% of the (insert name of your school here ) experience for her 18 students and their families. She's the value proposition. So, yes, every year is the Year of the Faculty, but heads should make this year a very specific kind of Year by elevating two things: the independent school teaching experience, and teacher recruitment.
Over the last 3 years, the pandemic took away many of the joys of teaching. Occupied with COVID precautions, distanced from their students and colleagues, limited in their pedagogy, independent school teachers watched their students languish. In addition, at many schools, teachers saw the culture wars chew up the scenery turning the schoolhouse into a platform for adult posturing and absorbing enormous chunks of institutional bandwidth. This year heads will be more able to protect and promote the elements of independent school life that teachers value most--autonomy, collaboration with colleagues, the opportunity to know students well and feel part of a mission-aligned, joyful community--by playing the long game with school-wide initiatives and through clarity in expectations for them and the rest of the community. This, not coffee carts, gift card raffles, and pizza at faculty meetings, is faculty retention. To use Al Adams' descriptions from 31 Windows: the Evolving Metaphors for Headship this is the year for the Head as Mayor, Culture Creator/Arbiter, Pastor, Pater/Mater Familias. And lest this work be mistaken as "soft," I remind you of the rampart-standing Mayors are often called on to do. We're hearing a growing number of stories about heads who've had to invoke parent behavior language in enrollment contracts and dismiss families who seek to change the mission of the school through petty insurrection.
The second effort heads should make in the Year of the Faculty--building a year round faculty and staff recruitment practice--will require more creativity. Unlike most other industries and despite the fact that people are the value proposition at schools, independent schools have persisted in a Groundhog Day hiring strategy in which only after a team member has told them that they intend to leave, does anyone responsible for hiring swing into action. This flat-footed approach has become less and less effective over the last fifteen years and is a disastrous strategy in the current employment climate. I've written extensively on a year round strategy to recruitment (as opposed to "hiring") here and here and presented on this topic frequently last year with a client, Vanessa Alpert, the Director of Human Resources at Pembroke Hill School. Vanessa has worked with Pembroke's Head, Brad Shelley, to transform her role into Chief Recruiter and now spends most of her time generating leads, cultivating relationships with referring partners and coaching her colleagues in building a growth culture in their divisions and equitable, incisive search processes. Like stewarding donors, this approach to hiring builds exponentially over time as the number and depth of the relationships grow. There is no better time to start that effort than this year and by this year I mean today, the first day of the school year.