Monday Jan 15 2018
M is starting to feel better. It’s snowing out – supposedly only a dusting, but it’s starting to stick – so a good day to enjoy the long weekend by lounging inside.
A few days ago, I was asked to put together some resources about hiring practices and innovative teachers. What does it take to attract, compensate, and retain innovative teachers? The question was asked as I was compiling resources for our board about strategic planning for technology at our school. So my resources leaned towards “what is innovation?” and “what do you look for in an interview?”
Now I’ve had a few days to sit back and think a bit more about what I, as an innovative teacher, would need to see in an employer’s actions to attract, hire, and retain. It’s an interesting question, having just come from a community that made it clear there was no interest in retention, and moving to a community that is working hard to attract and hire.
At my previous job, I had repeated conversations about compensation, benefits, and workload. There was refusal to incorporate any transparency in the compensation scales – I asked over multiple years to see the salary scale and was refused. With a low base salary, I took on multiple roles to make ends meet – two job titles, three seasons of coaching, trip leader, and professional development stipends. (Keep in mind, this is in addition to tutoring 5-6 hours on the weekend and being a single parent. The base salaries are that low.) While I appreciated the opportunities to earn stipends, I was exhausted. With a child at the school, tuition was greatly reduced, which I very much appreciated. But the schedule was draining. One Friday night, with my daughter on the bus with me & the middle school basketball team at 7 pm driving back in rush hour from a game, I realized that this wasn’t good for either of us. As the faculty rep to the Board on matters of compensation and benefits, I began to exercise my voice. I asked for an increase in my base salary, petitioned the board to increase stipends, asked administrators to move me into a leadership position, and requested a waiver of my daughter’s after-school care expenses. It was all to no avail. Even with a child enrolled at the school, the school did not budge in any round of negotiations. I felt unappreciated, knew I needed to look elsewhere, and was disappointed that my daughter would need to start another new school.
I was lucky to find my current school. I knew it would be a great fit when I read their motto: “Learning is a Way of Life.” That is how I have always approached education, and I was excited to find a school that valued learning as an ongoing process that never ceases, and instills in its community a sense of drive and purpose in education. While my new salary is low compared to my public school counterparts, it is higher than my previous school and approaches the appropriate range of compensation for my position. Yet the step scale of compensation remains, and seems out of sync with the school’s motto, which I see practiced daily by my colleagues in the classroom.
So as I think about how the school can attract, compensate, and retain innovative teachers, I want to see compensation policies that reflect the school’s mission and motto. Which teachers demonstrate and encourage learning as a way of life? How can attract, compensate, and retain those teachers?
Professional development immediately comes to mind. At my prior school, they offered a stipend for each non-school day that a faculty member spent on professional development. It was a generous theory, but the practice was a bit flawed. The goals of the program were unclear, and as a result, the stipend was a reward for attendance (measured in increments of 3 hours) at PD, but not necessarily engagement or results. There were no requirements that faculty bring the PD learning back to the classroom, or represent the school to the PD community in a meaningful way. I’d love to see my current school thoughtfully implement a compensation benefit that encourages professional development in alignment with “learning as a way of life.” The stipend should be results driven so that the school community benefits from the faculty professional development work, and the return on investment is clear.
Collaboration should also be recognized as a factor in compensation structures. When I first started teaching, it was an isolating experience. I was the only Latin Teacher in the Language Dept, with a department head who wanted to see the Latin program gone, and peers who didn’t understand the archaic subject matter. In many ways, I was successful because I sought out a PLN with whom I could learn and grow my teaching practices. Once I found the Latin Teacher Idea Exchange group on Facebook and attended the American Classical League Institute (thanks to the school’s PD funding), it became easier to envision an innovative Latin curriculum that was my own. Over time, I also found like-minded teachers within my school who were interested in innovating the learning experience and we created cross-curricular projects that elevated student performance and understanding. Collaboration is key to improving teaching, and it should be both facilitated and recognized by school compensation packages.
How can we inspire faculty to breathe new life into curriculum, innovate the learning experience, and embrace risk-taking in their teaching? I cannot imagine a scenario where the answer to the question is: “hold faculty to a step salary scale based upon years of experience.” If the salary steps are truly necessary, which I contend they are not, then there should at least be incentives that acknowledge the many levels of excellence in teaching.
A salary step scale is disconnected from the mission of many independent schools. In an environment that is not driven by test scores or standards-based curriculum, why have independent schools adopted a public school compensation model? Years of experience and graduate degrees are only two factors in a teacher’s performance, yet the independent schools where I have worked have based compensation solely on those two factors. It is the easy way out, and it does not inspire teachers to innovate or improve.
With regards to benefits, I am surprised that more schools do not offer exemplary tuition and student loan repayment assistance. Schools are multi-million dollar organizations whose primary focus is on education. A few offer tuition assistance for employees who are pursuing higher education degrees. Those benefits do not extend to family members of employees who are in school. I am not aware of any schools that offer student loan repayment assistance. Schools should be the most fervent supporters of education and should make every attempt to help their employees and their families engage in educational pursuits.
While I understand the theory behind reward systems, I’m concerned about putting a committee in charge of deciding how to award faculty for their work. Finances are much too important to risk personal biases. For example, I would love to see a “mission-driven stipend” that acknowledges teachers who promote the mission of the school. But there would have to be a well-designed evaluative process deeply embedded in trust for such a rewards system to be successful.
There are many ways to develop compensation and benefits. And I’m sure my thoughts will continue to develop on this issue. For now, the best answer I can give is this: to attract, compensate, and retain innovative teachers, we must design an innovative compensation system.
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