When you think of schools and educators, what would you list as the most important tasks for administrators? Is it ensuring that teachers who are hired have a strong academic background in their field? Is it maintaining an appropriate climate, one in which students know the rules and there is follow-through when rules are broken? Is it working to support teaching and learning by facilitating the acquisition of textbooks, hardware, software, and other needed in-class resources to enhance the instructional process? Is it publicizing all of the many good things your school, students, teachers accomplish so that the community understands the quality of the school and staff? Is it simply to do whatever is needed to help further the school and the district’s mission?
All of these are certainly important in helping schools become effective learning centers. But no one of them is what I consider to be the most important task of administrators. No one of them is at the core of all schools and is so essential to good schools. There is a responsibility that all others are built off of and that is the basis for what we do.
When I am asked to present at a college class, or at a workshop or conference, or even when engaged in everyday conversations, eventually the topic of resources for schools arises. I am often asked what I consider to be the most important resource that Shaker JHS possesses. The answer is clear; our faculty. This is a no-brainer. Everything we do, everything we depend on getting done, everything we provide, anything at all related to us completing our mission is dependent upon our staff. We wouldn’t have the results we do, we wouldn’t provide the programs we have, we wouldn’t enjoy the reputation we have without the high quality staff members who work here.
So, what’s our most important task as administrators? Hiring, no question…and with that, the even more important decision to sever relationships with people who don’t fit into your philosophy, mindset, expectations, or ethos. You need to look at hiring as an opportunity to begin a partnership with a professional who will further the objectives of our school for many years. Openings are indeed opportunities, sometimes to replace a person who’s difficult to replace, but other times to upgrade, to positively impact instructional practices, climate, or even a department’s approaches. Every opening is an opportunity to improve your school.
I wish hiring was an exact science… but it is not. There is always guesswork that goes into selecting someone who could be with you for thirty years. Sometimes you hire well, but people change with time; the person you have today is not the person you hired. That happens in every school. But, you should be able to look at your body of work over time and say “We hired well.” It’s easy to assess: good hires become good colleagues and good teachers.
Which leads to the connected process of getting rid of people who aren’t good hires. Sometimes this is easy to see and to do. I’ve had situations in which within a couple of months you know the person isn’t a good fit for your school. The difficult part is to address it. It’s not easy to tell someone that they are not being asked back, that they need to look for another job. The timing of when to have this discussion is also worthy of thought. Believe me, it becomes easier to do with some experience, but a fairly inexperienced administrator has to recognize the disconnect and correct the problem. Remember, creating the opening is key, it provides an opportunity to try again.
Other times the quality of “fit” isn’t so obvious. In these cases I refer to a wise colleague of mine whose mantra was “when in doubt, don’t keep.” That sounds a tad blunt, after all, if you’re not sure shouldn’t you give the benefit of the doubt and some extra time to see? No, you shouldn’t. Compare this situation with one where you know you’ve hired well. It’s obvious, isn’t it? So, good fits don’t grow into positions, they demonstrate their fit early on and it’s never a question. You need to be willing to put up with some short- term turnover for the bigger picture, a better staff.
Have I always lived by this credo? In all honesty I have not. It hasn’t occurred often, but I admit that I have been guilty of keeping a question mark a couple of times. Although keeping these people has mostly worked out, looking back I chastise myself for not listening to the voice saying “move on”. And that’s partially why you’ll never have a staff that’s exactly to your liking. For sure, some hires over time will change from who they were when hired, which can’t be foreseen. But other times you take chances (which at the time you believe are good) that may or may not work out as well as anticipated. My advice: if you feel you’re taking a chance with someone, don’t do it. Look for someone else. It’s easier to bear the short-term angst of those staff members who are upset that a person they liked was not retained than to live for 20+ years with a staff member who does not meet the needs or mission of the school. (And who reminds you of this deficiency from time to time!) Based on my experience, your school will be better off for your decision.
And, that’s my perspective.