Sunday, August 16, 2015

How do we save our Public Schools from a teacher shortage?

In my life time I have had two friends with neuropathy.  This is a condition where the nerves, in this case to the feet stop working.  It's a problem for two reasons.  First the person can have trouble standing or walking.  There is so much information we receive from these nerves which help keep us upright and moving around.   The second issue is that infection or injury can occur without the person knowing about it.

I mention it because it is very similar to what is occurring in public schools now.  Many states are experiencing sudden debilitating shortages of teachers.  Some are holding special sessions of state congress to study the issue, some are taking any warm bodies they can find to stand in, some were resigned to teachers only wanting to work less than 5 years.  Unfortunately the problem has become so great it will no longer be ignored.  The symptoms are serious and require immediate attention.  And the problems could have been averted if information was traveling from the ground up.

The 'doctors' / PhD's are looking for answers.  They are trying to regain balance and restore health to the public school systems.  They are putting their heads together and trying to guess the problem. They are trying to figure out why no one wants to teach for them any longer.  They think they are so smart they can get into a legislative session and figure it out. All of the information is readily available but it is not accessible to them.  The lines of communication from the ground have been severed.

It doesn't take Einstein level brilliance to understand what is happening.  Instead it takes a listening ear.  The decision makers need the information from the teachers who have recently left and are still working.

When humans get neuropathy the disease usually cannot be reversed.  They can only manage the effects.  When systems like governments and schools get ' neuropathy' the cure is available and other institutions have self healed.  Communication and action can repair the damage.

One approach which could help is to use a Kaizen model.  Kaizen means continuous improvement and has guiding principles.

  • Good processes bring good results
  • Go see for yourself to grasp the current situation
  • Speak with data, manage by facts
  • Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems
  • Work as a team
  • Kaizen is everybody’s business (bullet points reprinted from

Much has been said and implemented around improving education.  These changes have occurred and some of them have been designed to block 'nerve' signals.  By ignoring issues raised by the teachers who serve our countries children we have lost many of our best and brightest from the profession.  We have some new teachers who are willing to fill a warm body slot for a bit but it takes longer than 5 years to become a solid teacher.  Many new teachers today will not stay that longand fewer are agreeing to try the work at all.

If we implemented a Kaisen strategy to restore the health of our public schools what would that look like?

1. Good processes bring good results-  You cannot create good processes without all of the information. Teachers would be involved in the dialogue. Actual teachers not solely union or professional organization representatives.

2, Go see for yourself to grasp the current situationPoliticians would take the course to be a successful substitute teacher.  They would then sub, tutor and volunteer in local schools without the photo op nonsense we see today.  If they will do this they will see the situation.  By doing so decision makers will meet some teachers and students. They will learn real ways to retain and attract great teachers and build solid public schools.

3. Speak with data, manage by factsRealize genuine working condition data should be collected.  This is typically not able to occur through multiple choice survey. Teachers should be protected from punitive action when they share specific facts with the authorities able to make the changes.  Principals who lose more than 1/4 of their staff  should be placed on focus.  The working conditions in that local school should be closely scrutinized.  Unless the admin is able to justify the loss he/she should face demotion or termination.  Our teachers are valuable and their loss should not be taken lightly.

4. Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems- When the issues become evident we will make changes to restore our schools.  This may mean replacing crumbling buildings, creating open source teacher driven texts/ tests and managing issues which have been so uncomfortable we would rather ignore them, such as the effects of childhood poverty.  If we want professional grade teachers we will need to restore teaching to a profession.

5. Work as a team- Like one body- head, hands, heart and feet

6. Kaizen is everybody’s business- which is why I am writing this article. I have two children in public schools. Both have great teachers and I want those teachers to stay in the profession. I know that my teachers' working conditions are my children's learning conditions.  Lets improve those conditions together.- Amy Flatt (These thoughts are my own.)

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