Coach ‘em up before you Coach ‘em out: A Post-Pandemic Personnel Practice for Principals

Author: James Hopper, Superintendent, Venus ISD

More than ever, schools are now in competition for teachers, substitutes, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc. Every position has been affected by the Great Resignation, the ability to work from home, fear of the pandemic, and by other enticements to simply not work for a living.   But this is nothing new.  There was a growing teacher shortage well before the pandemic, and it has been exponentially exacerbated since then.  Simply put, there are more teaching positions than there are teachers, and that isn’t going to change overnight.

At the same time, the moral obligation to provide excellent instruction for students still looms large.  We cannot lower organizational standards just to keep a warm body.  But the problem demands a fresh approach, and on many fronts.  We will address only one in this blog: Identifying weaknesses so they can be addressed.

Before you start replacing people, make the ones you have better.  We simply don’t have the luxury of having disposable teachers.  This necessitates a systematic plan for a higher degree of intentional mentorship than ever before.  In order to do so, you have to pinpoint the weaknesses of your team members and address them.

Start by dividing your personnel into their job descriptions.  Teachers, paraprofessionals, etc.  On a spreadsheet, rank the people in every job description you have, top to bottom.  If you have 50 teachers on a campus, someone will be #1, and someone will be #50. Every conscientious principal can do this list in their head in a matter of minutes.

On the first pass, take no more than 120 seconds to consider any one teacher.  There is scientific validity in the gut response or intuition and besides, it speeds the process along.  On the second pass, you will take a bit more time, and consider why you placed each one in the spots that you did.  You may even want to move some around, based on further consideration.  You may even find it advantageous to first use a quadrant rubric, based on aptitude and attitude.

Once you have them all ranked, then go back and consider whyJoe Bulldog was ranked #27 and Suzy Q was ranked #28.  There is/are a reason(s) you placed them that way, and that needs to be placed in comments beside each one.  Therefore, each row will contain a brief description of the compliments and concerns that you need to address with each person.  As a means of accountability, this list should be shared with the superintendent.  But otherwise, no one else should ever see the list.  No teacher needs to know that they are #27, or that any such list exists.

This exercise helps to pinpoint areas of concern, and to begin planning for follow-up on addressing them.  This is only the beginning, and should be followed up with intentional training and mentoring of each one.  If there aren’t enough teachers to go around, you’d better make the ones you have better, while simultaneously working to keep them.

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