Education reform is a critical enterprise of any modern nation. The global economy increasingly requires a highly-skilled labour force in order to remain competitive and produce long term productivity gains.
So what should we focus on to bring about the educational gains that we so desperately need? The roll out of laptops to every student? Rigorous national assessments standards? Or perhaps a further reduction in class sizes? I propose that the key to an “education revolution” is the attraction, development and retention of a new generation of quality teachers and educational leaders.
Research and experience confirm that the quality of teacher determines the quality of education more than any other factor. A recent study by consulting firm McKinsey and Co (September 2007) reported that the ability to attract high quality teachers and professional development in teacher instruction were two of three differentiating factors demonstrated by the top performing school systems world wide. Unfortunately, the wave of evidence points to a critical shortage of talented workers who are committed to a path of teaching and educational leadership. This problem is wide spread across the developed world.
Workforce pundits are clear: we are heading into a global talent crunch. Employees are now “shopping” between companies, and even whole industries, to find a job in which they are valued, trained and have the opportunity to contribute to something bigger. Teaching is viewed as an “old school” profession with an unimpressive employer brand.
Furthermore, those talented individuals who choose teaching due to intrinsic reasons, such as the desire to make a difference, are leaving five to eight years into their career. Against the backdrop of a tightening labour market this situation should not be taken lightly. It is time to take action.
So first, let’s shift the focus of the conversation away from teacher remuneration. Teacher pay has held the focus of the debate for too long and has produced no improvement in the situation.
Should teachers be paid more? Absolutely. But would even a rapid 10 per cent increase in pay really encourage the best and brightest into education? The simple fact is that the additional $6,000-8,000 would only marginally improve comparative wage justice against other professionals with 10 to 20 years of experience. Furthermore, only an overhaul of the award-based pay system will really bring about the changes necessary. This will take significant time and require sustained negotiations with all of the relevant stakeholders.
In my experience of speaking with young talented teachers, the real challenge in attraction and retention is not money, but the uninspiring, conservative school cultures - and an absence of collaborative and innovative workplace environments.
Interestingly, after presenting these concerns at a recent conference for senior educational leaders with Peter Sheahan, a consultant on the global workforce and Gen Y, many leaders acknowledged that they have not yet created the right culture in their school. They also acknowledged that it is time they, as leaders, did more to attract and retain the best of the next generation of educators.
While much effort is expended in determining the schooling experience for students, providing stimulating, rich, diverse experiences, unfortunately educational leaders have spent little time analysing and shaping the daily experience of their employees. Too rarely have educational leaders asked “why would a talented teacher choose to work at my school rather than within another industry or school?” Consequently, their employer brand has become uncompetitive in the wider labour market.
School organisational culture and employer brand is the key. Educational leaders, in partnership with state and federal governments must re-focus their attention on building new school cultures and a new brand for education that will authentically attract and retain the best and brightest. It is time to focus the conversation around building innovative, collaborative and stimulating employment cultures. In simple terms, it is time for educational leaders to join the “war for talent”.
Educational leaders can learn from other industries that have responded to the tightening labour market by more aggressively competing for talent. For too long schools have adopted the problematic belief that “no one is like us”, and thus have failed to make the adjustments necessary to stay competitive in the present employees’ market. Drawing on the lessons and successes apparent in other industries, educational leaders can transform their school culture, re-brand the educational profession and actively attract talent into Australian classrooms.
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