Let’s play. Imagine you are a principal of a chronically failing school that is trying to turn around. The school has 25 homeroom teachers (25 classrooms of students). I’m going to give you one million dollars at the end of the school year for properly staffing your school the entire year. Seriously, the district or network is going to give you $1,000,000 after just one year. Of course, you will ask me what “properly staffing” means and how we would measure it. It’s simple: properly staffing is measured by the number of days of high-quality instruction every student receives. You get a million dollars, principal, if every class of students in your school receives high-quality instruction every day, every period (for 185 student-teacher contact days).
Now, every time a classroom full of students receives poor or mediocre instruction, we subtract $10,000. So, if you have to have a substitute fill in for a teacher for a day – let’s say 5 class periods – you lose $50,000 (unless that substitute is incredible and follows a great lesson plan that keeps the students on track and on pace). If you have a vacancy for a few days, we subtract $50,000 times the number of days – i.e., 4 days and we subtract $200,000. Maternity leave – subtraction; non-proficient, inexperienced teacher – subtraction; teachers hiding behind closed doors – subtraction; teacher out two days for professional development – subtraction; teacher unprepared – subtraction; Internet down and teachers scrambling to put a lesson together – subtraction; day before winter break and Christmas movies are the staple – subtraction.
Oh, and if you go into the hole, you have to pay that amount to the network or district or we subtract it from your salary and then the other administrators salary. Still want to play?
What if I told you that it IS POSSIBLE to have close to 185 days of high-quality instruction for every class? That principals could be in the black if they have the right staffing model? What could you do to get as much of that million dollars as possible?
Perhaps you could hire several teacher apprentices who would be trained early and who would be prepared to step in as soon as there is an absence or vacancy. You could have the lesson plans, assignments, PowerPoints, demonstrations of learning, answer keys, and other materials provided for the teacher in advance. You could differentiate teacher responsibilities so they focus on the quality of instruction and all other responsibilities – making lesson plans, grading papers, aligning the curriculum, making copies, doing lunch duty, disciplining students – are taken from them. Perhaps you could differentiate salaries and pay teachers more for high-quality instruction. You could implement a coaching model that provides real-time feedback on the quality of instruction. You could coach up or coach out non-proficient teachers. You could stop allowing “docked days.” You could design a system that is focused on the quality of instruction and a staffing paradigm that provides students with high quality instruction every day (regardless of the person providing it).
This principle is fundamentally different than the traditional paradigm of trying to be fully staffed at the beginning of the year, filling vacancies quickly, and trying to retain as much of the staff as possible. The old (actually current) recruitment and retention practices are no longer adequate for the current and future workforce. It is past time to think about systemic changes to how we staff our schools.