Vail Daily column: Decisions backed by our values
July 19, 2016
Those who get to work closely with me know that I'm an absolute geek when it comes to studying how complex organizations tick and how they can be improved. This work involves researching different organizations and taking note of their approaches to changing conditions and pressures.
While studying education organizations, such as other school districts, is part of this ongoing learning, I also keep close tabs on lessons from businesses as well. I'm a regular reader of the Harvard Business Review and also try and keep up with the latest business management books. Though some may disagree, I've found there are significant lessons that school leaders can learn from business.
The learning can go both ways. At least in my professional opinion, there are also significant lessons businesses should be learning from the education field.
Recently, I've gone deep into the catalog of business writer Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni is perhaps best known for his 2002 work, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team." However, he's also published other works that I've found informative to our work in building a great school system for Eagle County.
In one of his latest works, "The Advantage," Lencioni stresses the importance of an organization having a powerful and clear sense of its values. To provide the foundation of organizational culture and health, these values have to not only separate a firm from its competition in a meaningful way, but they also require tough and difficult choices and decisions be made that are in keeping with the values.
In 2013 and early on in my tenure with Eagle County Schools, we were approached by the national nonprofit, Teach for America, which wished to begin placing its candidates in our schools and had already begun making connections to local philanthropists to fund the effort.
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Teach for America's model is to identify service-minded students from some of the country's best colleges from non-educational backgrounds, provide them with a summer boot-camp training program and then place them in schools throughout the country with a two-year commitment. Originally, its mission was focused on placement into heavily impoverished areas, but that has now expanded more broadly. Teach for America relies heavily on philanthropic donations from education-reform minded foundations and individuals to bankroll their efforts.
At that time (2013), we were still in the process of forming a new vision for the school district, one built on the lessons of the best performing education systems in the world. While we weren't yet certain what this new vision would encompass, it was clear that the systems we wished to emulate followed what I'd call a professional model of teaching.
To us, this professional model means that teachers see the field as something they have a moral calling to do, rather than a job to punch in and out of on the way to something else. A professional model also involves a high level of preservice training, clinical experience, selectivity and an ongoing commitment to professional growth. Adhering to a professional model brings a belief that not everyone can or should teach — and we should be choosey about whom we allow to work in our classrooms.
Teach for America's work to bring educated and talented young people into impoverished communities is laudable — but their approach is closer to the Peace Corps than it is other professions, such as law or medicine.
While we were enticed at the idea of creating a pipeline of excited young people working for our school district, we ultimately turned Teach for America down. This is not an indictment of that program or what it is trying to do — lots of talented people have served with Teach for America. Rather, it was a decision based on our values.
For us to say Eagle County Schools values empowered professional educators, and then turn around and begin hiring people with little to no preservice training, clinical experience or ongoing moral commitment to the work would have been inconsistent with what we were saying to our community and employees.
The identification of meaningful values that differentiate our schools from others has been powerful work in clarifying our direction and purpose. But for values to be more than just an inscription or a phrase on a t-shirt, the organization and its leadership must be willing to make tough decisions that are in alignment with those values.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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