by Ed Latham
In all professional sports, teamwork is vital to a successful year. Each team has an owner and a head coach. Most have an offensive coach and a defensive coach. Additionally there may be other specialist that work with different positions so I will call them positional coaches. All of the coaches must have a philosophy and means to get every team member on the same page in order to build a culture of success. For the sake of discussion, lets compare these vital structures to the educational team and talk about educational “success”.
The owner of the team basically is responsible for the money. This equates to the school board and both parties want to see some measure of success for the investment.
The head coach is the heart and soul of the team and ultimately directs the leadership in which direction the school is headed in, what aspects need highest attention and even some possible ways to accomplish those goals. This is our school superintendents. They take the charge of the school board and works with the administrators and public to set up the organization of people to make it happen.
The offensive and defensive coaches can be thought of as managers of squads of players with specific foci. These are our principals, elementary school and middle/high school, that work day to day with the staff to help accomplish goals specific to their grade level learners. The principal will also have to pick up some of the public relations with parents (similar to the media in sports) who are always interested in why things are the way they are. In sports, the head coach has that responsibility. In education, our superintendents and principals share that role of trying to educate and sometimes, placate, the public that has some investment in that team.
Finally we have the players. Our teachers and our grant people working on literacy and numeracy and technology all fill these rolls.
Now that we have our team assembled with their team responsibilities outlined so that every team should now be successful, right? Much press has been out in the last decade about failing schools followed by “Why?” questions that to this day everyone still questions. From a sports perspective I offer the following reason why.
Education does not have ANY form of free agency. In professional football (American, not soccer), considered by most to be the most popular televised sport in the world right now, there has been a free agency system that has created not only successful teams, but a successful system of organizations that produce most of their goals, (entertain, create interest, generate money …). In case you are not familiar with this system let me offer a short summary. Each professional player in the league has an agent and is represented by a league wide players union. The player’s union(teachers union) works with the owners (school board) to ensure just rules and regulations for both parties exist. The agents for each player are charged with finding the organization (school) in which each player’s strengths and weaknesses best fit with the team they are hired to work at. The coaches on that team (admin staff) have an evaluation period of training camp (first two years of teacher contract) in which to work with each player to find out how well that player fits “the system”. When cuts come up, the coaches (admin staff) contact all the other teams with notes and suggestions about which of their cut players (teachers) may be better suited for the desires of other coaching staffs. In this system, a player that does not “fit” is not discarded, rather the system encourages directions the player can go to find a better fit. When that system works, the teams are highly successful.
Schools have much of the free agency system foundation in place. We are missing agents for teachers and any sort of system in which administrators can move staff to systems in which the teacher’s skills can best be used. In effect, every administrator is “stuck” with the staff they have. Granted, the diverse skills and attitudes can be a great boon in some ways, but the lack of cohesion and attitude prevent true teamwork. Again, back to the sports world, there are teams in most sports that throw money at talent and assemble the greatest collection of talent (on paper) for a year and that team almost always bombs horribly. Almost any collection of superstars, all individuals with great talent, fails if those individuals do not buy into some team philosophy or direction. No matter how talented the individuals are, no staff with diverse personal agendas, philosophies and goals can be as successful as a cohesive team of lesser talented individuals all believing and working in the same system.
Lets look at this “new” system for success. I am a new administrator to a system. I get in with my staff and work with them for two years. During that time I am evaluating my players (teachers) to see their strengths and personal goals to see how that fits with my administrative goals. Meanwhile both the teachers and the admins above me are looking at my fit in the system. If any group feels there is a mismatch, there is a system to resolve. I, as an administrator have an agent. This agent may represent other admins around the state, around the region, or even a whole country. My agent gets paid by taking a slight percentage of whatever wages are negotiated in each school she gets a teacher or admin hired at. Therefore, my agent has a vested interest in helping me find a system that best fits my skills and directions and she gains from my success and longevity. If there are difficulties in my placement in my new school, my agent is getting all this feedback. She processes that and helps to hit up the other schools that may better fit based on the feedback she receives. After my two year try out, I know I either fit the system or my agent has a short list of places I can land and some constructive feedback for me to better my next placement.
The same works for teachers and their agents. The admin comes up and shares a direction and some methods the system wishes the staff to adopt. I don’t successfully adopt either by ability or attitude and my agent is getting all this feedback to best determine where I might be successful as a teacher. After my two years, if I fit, I am in a system that not only fits my abilities, but my attitudes and goals are at least in a similar line.
By now union people are screaming at this idea, but let me remind you that the teachers union, the admin union, and heck even the school boards could have a union all work together to help create and maintain a fair workplace for all. After all, our current union structure’s main focus is on the group, not the individual. It is impossible for any one union to best represent each individual’s need. For that you need a personal representative, an agent.
Educators all want success and many are feeling there is much lacking in terms of success nationally and locally. I suggest we can all find our educational home in a free agent system as described in professional sports. Sports that are highly successful in accomplishing individual team (school) goals and the entire organization like the National Football League (NFL) to prosper just like we wish to see Education prosper. The salvation of education lies in getting the right players connected with the right leaders to create teams all accomplishing their goals rather than forcing reformation that has annual circularity.