By Crystal Land, Head of School, Head-Royce School
I’ve just started watching the remake of the 1960’s show “Lost in Space” whose reruns I watched as a child. Back then (when I was 10), I loved the campy show, the cool-looking set and of course, the intense characters. But most of all, I loved Will Robinson, the small boy for whom everything seemed to converge, even in the darkest of moments. In the new rendition, the young Will Robinson finds himself in unknown and unusual circumstances and somehow manages to view the world with an open, flexible and accepting perspective. He is small, sensitive and extremely resilient. He even manages to turn an angry alien into a devoted robot friend, all due to responding authentically to the moment. Every time he is in danger, he hears, “Warning, Will Robinson!”--if we could all be so lucky!
So, what in the world does this have to do with the theme of “resilience over strength” in our schools? I can’t help but think about the ever-changing landscapes of our schools. In many ways we are exploring different worlds with new kinds of schools (online, blended, one-to-one, semester programs), a diverse population of learners and ever-changing challenges in the hiring, training and retention of our faculty. It’s not exactly “alien” but if we are not careful, we might certainly be outdated in this unusual landscape.
This year my school focused on strengthening our hiring practices by becoming focused and strategic. And we have needed to! Situated in the Bay Area with a high cost of living, we are losing qualified faculty members to other locations where housing, cost-of-living and childcare is more affordable. We’ve also observed changes in mindsets about teachers’ career as those new to the profession (many of whom are millennials) may be embarking on a short exploration of the teaching field, not a 15 or 25 year commitment. In addition, the need for more diversity in our teaching team is also an imperative. According to Whiplash, we need to adapt to the new environment rather than adhering to the way it was: “Over time focusing on resilience over strength may also help organizations develop more vibrant, robust, dynamic systems, which are more resistant to catastrophic failure.”
How do we ultimately hire and then retain teachers who will meet all these needs? I believe we need to adapt our perspective and approach to the hiring process with a laser sharp focus on retention, diversity and flexibility. “Back in the day” schools often focused on traditional candidates--those who were specifically interested in teaching. These candidates often hailed from prestigious universities, were highly focused on content, and were interested in investing in a career in independent schools. As we see millennials move in and out of the profession and navigate costly geographic areas, we need to think about a shorter retention window of three to five years, strong salaries to allow teachers to live in key metropolitan areas, training and mentor programs to help them be successful, and vibrant professional development offerings make staying for longer than a few years more enticing.
Additionally, my administrative team has carefully focused on “strategic hiring”--searching for candidates who can forward our school’s strategic priorities, are able to work with a diverse community, who connect effectively with students and who are exceedingly flexible in both content and programming areas. The research on hiring a diverse faculty and administration is clear--it works to make organizations better at all levels. As Katherine W Phillips, author of “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” (Scientific American, June 2014) states, “The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think.”
We may not be able to keep our faculty as long, but perhaps with more flexible, supportive and well-crafted hiring, we can be more nimble in our approach to this key area of success for our schools. Every year I interview seniors as they depart from the school. Year after year they cite their teachers as the the single most important factor in making their school experience stand out. As I continue to watch “Lost in Space,” I’m reminded that we need to meet this new world by learning from our mistakes and adapting to a changing environment. Ito and Howe state that there is “No Fort Knox in the digital age.” The status quo is no longer an option; it’s crucial that we adapt.