If motivation is important for students mustn’t it be equally important for teachers? If it is, how does that happen?
‘Improving teachers and teaching’ is replacing ‘accountability’ as the theme for improvement. But, like so much on the improvement agenda, the effort at ‘teacher quality’ takes existing arrangements as given; in this case, the boss/worker traditional in K-12. And this is tough going. Might people be more motivated to come into teaching, and to stay, were teaching to become a better job and a better career?
One of the important insights of public life is that problems are the product of circumstances; that success often comes from ‘modifying the circumstances’. [See Jean Monnet, Memoirs, 1978, page 291.] What if we were to try that approach to the issues with teachers and teaching?
About 1982 a former teacher pointed out that teachers are almost the only professionals who have to work for administrators. Why, she asked, can’t teachers have the option to work as professionals in a group they control? Get out of the labor/management framework and perhaps many of its problems would disappear. One of our associates likes to say to (complaining) superintendents: “You wouldn’t have a problem with bargaining if you didn’t insist on being an employer!
We’ve worked at that, and it turns out that teachers can work in public education as most professionals have the opportunity to do. A partnership model was one of the first innovations to appear in the charter sector after the Minnesota Legislature opened that opportunity in 1991. Later the idea was transplanted successfully into the big-city unionized environment in Milwaukee.
We’re now at the stage where the partnership concept is ‘proved’. Research has not yet picked up on this. But as best we can see, behaviors do change remarkably when the school is the teachers’ school. And this does seem important to the ‘teacher quality’ discussion.
Albert Shanker used to say: If you want to hold the teachers accountable the teachers have to be able to run the school. It’s not impossible he was counting on the system never giving teachers that authority. But it turns out that where they can design the program and make the decisions teachers do accept responsibility for school and student success. Recruitment, assignment, effort, compensation, performance and accountability seem to be handled if anything better in the partnership than in the confrontational boss/worker model.
Certainly Richard Ingersoll at Penn’s GSE has found that schools work better where teachers’ control is greater. In the partnership model ‘control’ is emphatically collective, collegial.
We’d love to know how teachers in partnerships innovate; to see how they change the approach to learning. Our impression is that they customize student work, introduce technology and enlarge students’ responsibility for the way the school runs. As students take more responsibility for their learning, student behavior changes. And the teacher’s job upgrades.
You do begin to wonder how things might change if policymakers, weary of the conflict generated by the boss/worker arrangement, were to encourage a shift to the model that internalizes the ‘quality’ issues within the partnership framework. E|E has in fact been discussing a strategy along these lines with teacher-union leadership, at both the local and national levels.
We’d appreciate your thoughts about this. It certainly seems to us that along with efforts to get good people into teaching there should be a comparable effort to make teaching a better job for its people.
—Guestbloggers Joe Graba and Ted Kolderie, Education|Evolving