Why Increasing Pay Won’t Solve the Teacher Shortage Crisis

Why Increasing Pay Won’t Solve Teacher Shortage Crisis

Here’s a truth we need to understand: increasing pay will not solve the teacher shortage crisis.

Don’t get me wrong. Increasing pay would be a good thing. It’s deserved and needed (and my teacher friends would not be happy with me saying otherwise 🙂 ).

But it won’t solve the problem.

It’s just like putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm that has a cut hoping it will fix it. It’s focusing on a symptom, not the disease.

To solve the central issue, we need to dive deep into what is the real problem, not just the symptoms of the problem.

While the many issues in education are complex, and I cannot tell you how we can solve each one specifically, ultimately, all those factors stem from one problem:


The reason we have the issues we have today in education (and other areas) is the lack of good leadership in our educational system (and those making laws for education).

Let me explain.

The success and failure of an organization depends on leadership

John Maxwell, Jocko Willink, Simon Sinek, and many other great leadership authors will tell you that the success or failure of any organization depends on its leadership.

You can have the same team and get completely different results based on one change: the leader. It’s been shown over and over.

From the military to police forces to car factories to businesses to education – what makes the difference is the leadership in those organizations.

Even Jim Collins when researching Good to Great tried to factor out leadership and focus on other factors – but he couldn’t. He found the beginning of any great organization begins with great leadership.

The success of student learning, the school as a whole, and the school district (and beyond) all depend on the quality of leadership.

Too often, though, in education, people don’t realize this, and/or they don’t really know what great leadership looks like to know they are lacking it.

And, when those at the top lack the leadership skills they need (or lack the knowledge of the importance of leadership), then the whole organization gets filled with poor leaders.

And that is one area education definitely struggles in.

What Causes this Lack of Leadership

There are a variety of reasons why we have poor leadership in education. One major reason is this:

They don’t understand the importance of leadership – and it’s not emphasized

Many don’t understand how vital leadership is – because if they did, they would put more of an emphasis on it. Instead, it seems to be often given a nod and the focus pointed elsewhere (for example, in training, the emphasis might be on duties and “knowing your strengths” instead of learning the principles of leadership that make effective leaders).

If they understood how important it was, they would emphasize it much more.

Part of that is because:

They don’t know what great leadership is – but they think they do

They don’t know what great leadership is – but think they do

One major reason for the many leadership issues in education (and in all organizations) is that people don’t really know what great leadership looks like – and it’s not necessarily all their fault.

There is much confusion and misinformation about leadership out there (conventional wisdom is generally superficial and often wrong), and if one follows it and doesn’t take the time to dive deeper, then it hurts them.   

Learning from others

Many learn leadership from others in the educational system – and they are learning from other leaders who don’t really know what great leadership is (but often think they do). So, they put the not-so-great practices into place thinking it is normal and correct because it’s what they have seen.

It’s as if you grew up eating grass off the ground your entire life. It’s all you’ve ever had.

When I ask you if you know what great food tastes like, you will say “Yes! The grass with the yellow flower!”, but you really don’t know, because all you’ve ever eaten is grass. You’ve never experienced anything else.

It’s similar to leadership. All they’ve experienced is poor to mediocre leadership, so they think mediocre leadership is great.  

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

There’s also the Dunning-Kruger effect which says the less you know about something the more confident you are about what you think you know. So, we have a lot of people who think they know leadership and are confident about it but really don’t know.

It’s like learning guitar. You’ve learned a few chords and can strum to some songs. Do you know how to play guitar?

Yes and no. Yes, you know “some”, but, no, there’s so much more you don’t know.

That in itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s part of the process of learning, but the problem is if you think you know it all and are great at it and don’t realize that there’s so much you don’t know.

That’s where many leaders get stuck. They know a little about leadership, and so they think they know all they need to know. They don’t realize they just know a few chords (if that), and that’s it. 

And because of the lack of understanding of the importance and knowledge of what great leadership looks like:

Many lack effective leadership training

Yes, assistant principals and principals (and higher-ups) have many tasks they must accomplish in their positions that they must learn about. For example, they need to understand the Special Education process very well because, if they don’t, they and the school could get into a lot of trouble.

However, when they say “leadership training”, it often focuses on the position and the tasks of that position, not actually the ability to lead and the principles needed to lead. The emphasis is often the duties, not actual leadership (at least in what I’ve seen – and the evidence elsewhere).

And when conventional wisdom is taught, such as the focus on knowing your style, strengths, and preferences, instead of principles of leadership, it makes it even less effective.

Also Read: Why Leadership Training Fails So Much (How We Do It Wrong)

Many are hired into leadership positions based on education and/or experience instead of leadership ability

This, of course, goes back to understanding the importance of leadership.

Education is highly valued in, well, education. When hiring leaders, many times the focus seems to be on their educational level or experience in the classroom, etc. versus actual leadership ability.

However, having an educational degree, even an educational leadership degree, doesn’t mean you know anything about leadership or are a great leader. It just means you have hopefully gained some knowledge and that you have a degree.

Classroom (or other) experience also doesn’t mean you know leadership and its functions. Those are two different jobs. The experience can definitely help you if you understand good leadership, but without the leadership knowledge, classroom experience doesn’t mean much.

Poor leaders are passed on from school to school instead of dealt with

I understand in education firing someone can be harder at times (though it shouldn’t be). Sometimes it seems leaders can’t get fired unless they do something majorly wrong.

Often it seems (again, from my observations) that poor leaders are passed on instead of dealt with. A principal has constant high turnover and low morale, and the school begins to do poorly. So what happens? The principal is moved into another school (or position).

How poor leadership shows and manifests itself

So how does poor leadership show itself?

This section shows many of the signs and examples of how poor leadership shows itself.

Note that each of these may not be present in every situation – but many often are.

People sometimes think they know more (or are better) because they are in a leadership position

People sometimes think they know more because they are in a leadership position

Sometimes, especially if they weren’t trained in leadership well, “leaders” think they know better because they are a leader (or even think they are better because of it).

They think that because of their position, they know the answers and what works best. However, that, of course, isn’t true.

Being in a leadership position doesn’t mean you know anything about leadership or are better or know better. It just means you are in a different position with different functions and tasks.  

Not only that but when one is put into a leadership position:

The leaders often become detached from the reality of the schools and the classrooms

 This happens in all types of organizations. Leaders get into leadership positions, and they become detached from the reality of the frontlines.

They sometimes think they know better, but they don’t.

They’re detached.

So instead of talking and getting the feedback they should from those who are working directly in the situation, they make rules and decisions or use the “latest research”.

They end up implementing policies and so on that seem good on paper but, in reality, don’t work.

It ends up frustrating teachers and school personnel.

And, if that process and mentality continue when their failed-from-the-get-go policy doesn’t work, it’s likely not the leader and their failed-from-the-get-go policy that gets blamed, but the teachers for not implementing it correctly.

This helps lead to:

Listen to Podcast: Episode 7: One Great Danger of Position

A lack of trust toward teachers (and micromanaging)

I get it. If you ask if they trust teachers, they will say, “Yes”.

But when you feel like you must micromanage teachers to get the results that you want, that’s not trust.

And there is a lot of micromanaging going on.

When you fill up a teacher’s tight schedule filling out admin paperwork to prove that they did what you wanted them to do, that’s micromanaging.

When you tell them exactly how to do the class or aspects of it to make sure it’s “done right”, that’s micromanaging.

Lesson plans can easily be a micromanagement tool. Yes, teachers and everyone should plan ahead. Coming into a lesson without a plan is not smart.

However, lesson plans can easily be a tool to control how teachers do it. Some can be extremely long and difficult to fill out – and it may be claimed to be there to help the teacher – but it’s often not.

When the paperwork is filled out to make the admin happy and then the teacher goes and does what they know they need to do to prepare for the class, that’s not helpful.

The detachment also leads to:

Unrealistic expectations

It’s amazing the expectations that are thrown onto teachers and what they are expected to do and the lack of real support some are given.

All of the paperwork, phone calls, grading, and planning – and only given a small window that may also be filled with meetings and other tasks – becomes burdensome.

And then more seems to keep being thrown on.

“Just one more thing. You can fit it in. No big deal.”

It’s odd to me, too, that many who get into these leadership positions were once teachers – who dealt with these issues.

Now it seems they have forgotten and are detached from the workload of teachers.

When teachers are constantly stressed or must work from home to get work done, that’s a problem.

And the unfortunate thing is, the expectations and overload are just seen as normal now. It’s expected.

And it shouldn’t be.

A focus on process vs outcome

Focus on process vs outcome

Poor leadership can also lead to a focus on the process versus the outcome.

In education, that can show itself in multiple ways.

Take the behavior management systems. The goal is good behavior, but sometimes the focus can become the process of supposedly getting that behavior.

In theory, behavior management systems are supposed to help better student behavior (and I’m not saying some of them don’t help or that the principles behind some of them aren’t good).

However, people are often hired to make sure the system is implemented. Their focus is on the process, not the outcome.

For example, if, in your classroom, you don’t follow the system exactly, but the process you have yielded great behavior from your students, you will still get docked for not following the “process”.

(Yes, I know it’s a complex issue and that certain parts may need to be consistent throughout the school – but I hope you can see it for the example that it is meant to be).

Or take student learning:

Different fads and trends or “this is the way” systems have come and gone. Sometimes schools and leaders will start grading teachers based on the implementation of the system versus the outcome.

If they are emphasizing student choice and collaboration, for example (which definitely can be good), they may grade teachers how much they put those into their lessons.

If they see it, they praise the teacher. If they don’t, they may be reprimanded – regardless of the result of what the teachers are doing.

They praise a teacher for putting choice into something – though they may not really be learning.

They may rebuke a teacher for not having it – though the method that the teacher used created student learning.

(Yes, another complex issue – but there isn’t a magic bullet. Certain aspects are good, like student choice, and they can help students learn; however, student choice and the others aren’t fix-alls. Sometimes the focus can be so much on the process instead of what is most important – the outcome – student learning).

L. David Marquet in his book Turn the Ship Around said, “When it comes to processes, adherence to the process frequently becomes the objective, as opposed to achieving the objective that the process was put in place to achieve. The goal then becomes to avoid errors in the process, and when errors are made, additional overseers and inspectors are added. These overseers don’t do anything to actually achieve the objective. They only identify when the process has gone bad after the fact.”

Listen to Podcast: Episode 9: Process vs Outcome – What’s Your Focus?

Not receiving or asking for feedback

Great leaders seek feedback from those around them. They want as much information as they can to make the best decisions.

Poor leaders generally don’t. This can be for a number of reasons (or a combination, thereof), including:

  • They think they know better because they are a leader
  • They are detached
  • They are insecure about their position and their image
  • They have a large ego
  • They don’t care
  • They don’t think those below them have any valid input
  • They don’t see or understand the importance.

The problem is, because of the detachment, when you don’t ask for feedback (as we mentioned earlier), you make poor decisions because you don’t have all the information.

During my teaching career, there were so many things I was hoping to share on how to improve – from onboarding to training to summer school (and the many issues we had) – but no one ever asked.

Sometimes when I gave input, I felt like I got that smirk smile, and a pat on the head (because they knew better, obviously).

Not only that, there was no set way to give input. If your principal wasn’t one who accepted feedback or listened, then there definitely wasn’t a set way to share anything with the district (and sharing with your principal didn’t guarantee that anyone in the district would listen anyway).

Many of the surveys were just 1-5, fill-in-the-bubble with few-to-none open boxes to actually give input on how they could improve.

Even the exit survey did not ask very good questions to really understand why teachers left. It’s like they didn’t care.

If you really want an effective school system, you would talk to teachers and gather as much information as you can to constantly make things better.

Education especially should be about constant growth, experimenting, and change – not holding back because of tradition, fear of looking bad, ego, or just assuming you know better.

Ignoring the hard issues and only focusing on the positive

Yes, I get that we shouldn’t always focus on the negative. We need to also look at the positive and what good is happening.

At the same time, focusing only on the positive doesn’t solve the issues. The negative needs to be looked at and worked on to fix it.

Ignoring them doesn’t make it better. In fact, when you ignore the problems and issues and just talk about “the great things happening”, it makes you look ignorant, detached, and absent from reality.

Just telling people to “focus on the positive” doesn’t help.

People want to know you recognize the problems and that you are working toward them.

Don’t avoid the elephants in the room.  

Blaming others instead of taking responsibility

Blaming others

When a leader blames instead of taking responsibility, that’s a sign of poor leadership.

This can manifest itself in many ways in a school system.

Principals can blame teachers for the problems of the school. Higher leaders can blame IT or other people for why things aren’t running as smoothly or being as prepared as they should be.

Whoever is blaming who, when blame instead of ownership is happening, that’s a problem.

And when you blame or have a culture of blame, the focus becomes who is at fault instead of taking action to fix the situation or make things better.

Thinking because they do or did something a certain way, everyone should

Sometimes leaders who, say, were teachers first, think that because they did something a certain way or they prepared lessons a certain way or they ran their class a certain way, everyone else should do it as well because it “worked” for them.

Or when they were a principal, they ran the school a certain way, so all principals should.

That, however, leads to micromanaging and focusing on methods versus the outcome. It also ignores the fact that just because you did something one way, it doesn’t mean everyone does it that way or even that your way is the best way.

Removing teachers’ ability to deal with issues

Sometimes leaders tie teachers’ hands where they are unable to deal with issues well, whether with kids, parents, or other issues. Instead of empowering teachers, there may be a lack of trust and level of control, and everything must run through the “leader” first.  

Blanket rules for all teachers and staff (lack of differentiation)

At least in some places (I haven’t been everywhere), differentiation for students is preached consistently. As teachers, you are supposed to differentiate instruction, etc. to the needs of individual students.

However, when it comes to teachers, there’s sometimes/often no differentiation. If a teacher messes up, instead of dealing with that one teacher, there may be a new blanket rule that applies to everyone. If a teacher needs help with something, there may be blanket training.

To “help” with lesson plans, for example, new paperwork may be required by all teachers – even the ones who have been doing it for years. Instead of differentiating and dealing with individual needs, it’s the same for everyone.

Using bureaucratic rules to fix people’s problems or to control teachers and staff

The above point is how many bureaucratic rules come about that hinder progress – someone messes up, and instead of just dealing with that person, a new blanket process is placed that everyone must deal with.

If a secretary isn’t doing something right, there may be a new blanket rule that slows everyone down because of that one person’s actions. If a teacher messes up, it’s a new rule everyone must deal with.

It’s a weak way of dealing with people’s issues.

Rules can also be created because of a lack of trust and control. Leaders feel they can’t trust their people, so they make rules to control them.

All these rules end up hurting productivity and learning instead of helping. Except for legal and ethical reasons, the only rules you really should have are those that increase productivity and learning, not hamper it.

And a culture of compliance is not a healthy culture. That is far from the best way to get the best from your people and get the best outcome from your schools.

Fake Empathy

Leaders may show fake empathy toward staff. They know that teachers (and others) are overworked and overburdened. Instead of doing something about it, they sometimes just give fake empathy.

When a teacher asks or says something about an issue, they are given platitudes. They may hear “I know it’s hard, you can do it. We believe in you.” Or “You’re a super teacher; you’ve got this,” but nothing is done to make it better.

Or they go through the year in faculty meetings expressing understanding of how hard it is, talk about how great a job they did at the end of the year, and then do the same thing (but possibly with even more requirements) the next year.

Worrying about looking good vs admitting or acknowledging they don’t know or made a mistake

Sometimes a leader doesn’t know something or makes a mistake (gasp)(hint: that’s normal – we’re all human).

Maybe they only taught the lowest grades and must do something with some that are higher.

Maybe there is just something they don’t know.

What sometimes happens, though, instead of saying “I don’t know” or asking for input, they worry about looking bad. They don’t want people to think they shouldn’t be in that position. They don’t want to look inept. They worry about their status.

So instead of gathering input or saying, “I don’t know” and focusing on learning, they get defensive, or they just make something up. And then when questioned on it, they double down.

It’s not about the good of anything, it’s about their image.

Or maybe they made a mistake. Instead of acknowledging it and working toward fixing it, they argue and double down on the decision they made.

Maybe they bought software that didn’t work out so well. Instead of admitting that, they double down on using the software.

Maybe they didn’t know something about the standardized testing that a teacher brought up. Instead of acknowledging it, and thanking the teacher for showing them, they double down on what they want and what they think, despite the evidence.

Also Read: 3 Must-Do Steps To Overcome Leadership Mistakes Effectively

Silos are built around departments

Poor leadership leads to silos in an organization. You end with every department thinking they or their viewpoint is the most important one, and they focus on getting all the resources, etc. they can for themselves instead of everyone focused and working together on the one main mission – student learning.

The effects of it all

What’s the impact of poor leadership?

High turnover

I put this first because this is mainly what this article is about – the teacher shortage. Why are teachers leaving? Ultimately, because of poor leadership.

Why do so many quit after the first year or so? Ultimately, because of leadership.

You may so, “No, Mr. Awesome Writer Guy, it’s the overwhelm! It’s the student’s behavior! It’s X!” But if you look at the sections above, you will realize all of those ultimately are because of leadership.

If you want to fix the teacher shortage, you need to fix leadership in education.

This applies to individual schools as well. If teachers keep leaving a certain school year after year, that’s a good sign the leadership there isn’t doing well.

Low morale

It makes sense with the section above. When poor leadership is manifested, when teachers are micromanaged, and overworked, their hands are tied, and the list goes on, morale lowers.

When morale is lower, teachers leave and the following also happens.

Low Engagement

Poor leadership leads to low engagement. You end up left with teachers (not all are this way, of course) who are there for the paycheck (however much it may be), or stay just because they are close enough to retirement they don’t want to quit.

They may just go through the motions to get by and don’t give it their all anymore. They’ve been beat down.


Similarly, it leads to burnout. Teachers feel overworked, and tired of dealing with idiotic bureaucratic policies, and they burn out.

That leads to low morale, low engagement, and turnover.

Wasted time and money

Poor leadership leads to LOADS of wasted time and money. The difference in productivity you have when teachers have high engagement and are allowed to truly teach would be tremendous.

But it’s not just there, how much money is wasted thrown at programs or other things that they just thought would work?

How much money and time is spent on teacher turnover?

A lot!

And again, when they don’t even take the time to find out why teachers are leaving, especially with the cost to student learning? It blows my mind.

Lower student learning

Ultimately, and most importantly, the whole purpose of education, student learning, is negatively affected.

Not just the turnover, but many of the ways poor leadership shows itself hurts teachers’ ability to truly teach kids.

If we really want to help student learning, we need to fix our leadership problem.

Solutions: How to Fix the Leadership Problem

So how do we fix the leadership problem? What are the steps we can take?

Here are some steps we can take to make it right. It will take time, as leadership is a process in itself, but the sooner and the better we do it, the sooner and better our schools will be and the better our students will be learning.

Understand the importance of leadership and having great leadership throughout the organization

It’s, vital, VITAL, that we understand that leadership makes or breaks an organization. We MUST have great leadership throughout the organization.

If we don’t emphasize that, we are going to lose.

We need to recognize that leadership is vitally important and do whatever it takes to make sure we have great leadership from the top down.

If it’s not something we see as vital and urgent, then it’s something that won’t happen.

Provide real leadership training

Provide leadership training

We also need to implement real leadership training throughout the school systems for anyone in any kind of leadership position.

There should also be training that teachers can take to prepare to be leaders if they decide to move to a different position.

The teaching should emphasize the principles of leadership. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can be good and helpful, but just knowing your strengths doesn’t make you a great leader.

Knowing the principles of leadership and learning the skills and behaviors and mentalities of great leaders and practicing them is what makes you a great leader.

Leadership should be emphasized and consistently taught and checked throughout the organization. It shouldn’t be a one-and-done training.

Deal with leadership issues

If someone is a toxic leader, and they are unwilling to learn or change, get rid of them. If someone is just a mediocre leader, not performing to excellence, and won’t grow despite effort and opportunity, then you need to move them out.

Either find a non-leadership position to put them in that fits them better or, if they are a toxic leader especially, get rid of them.

Keeping someone to be nice is not nice. It hurts them in their job, leaving them in a position they can’t do well, but, more than that, it hurts the organization, teachers, and ultimately students.

Not dealing with people’s issues directly because it’s uncomfortable is an act of selfishness, not care.

Hire for leadership abilities, not experience or education

If the person is coming from outside, see what kind of leader they are before hiring them. If it’s internal, make sure they’ve been through some quality leadership training and that they have exhibited positive leadership behaviors.

Do not under any circumstances hire just for experience or education. That’s a recipe for disaster.

When hiring in general, you want to focus more on the character of the person and cultural fit. When hiring leaders, you want to make sure they have the right qualities, even if they aren’t the most trained, to be a great leader.

And then you want to keep training them and helping them grow in it.

Also Read: The 15 Leadership Qualities Every Leader Should Embrace

Talk to those around the ones you are promoting

This is one of the things that really blew my mind in education (at least where I was).

Someone would be hiring an assistant principal, for example, from a school. No one ever asked the teachers what kind of leader that person was.

Or if they were hiring a teacher to move up to assistant principal or such – no one asked the teachers around them what kind of leader they were, or their character, etc.

People often act differently with their bosses. They may boot-lick and act all nice to them, but others they may treat like trash (and it could be the other way around – they are great around other teachers but the principal doesn’t like them).

If you are hiring a leader, especially one that is internal, it just seems wise to find out from those around them what kind of leader they were.

Change pay scales where people don’t have to move into leadership positions to get paid more

One reason there are so many terrible bosses in companies and organizations throughout the world (besides what we’ve discussed in this article) is that management or leadership positions are the only way to move up in many of these organizations.

It’s the only pathway.

If you want to make more money, if you want to advance your career, then you MUST move to management.

There needs to be another pathway.

Some companies have created other pathways for employees to move. For example, if they are an engineer, they can move up to different positions and levels within the engineering track with higher pay.

Doing something like that for teachers could be huge. That way you don’t have people who don’t want to be leaders (or care to learn how) moving up to these positions just because it’s the only way to make more money.

Remove the perks

Sometimes leaders think leadership is about them. It’s about the perks and what they can get out of it. It may be seen as a reward for their hard work.

But that’s poor leadership. True leadership is service.

I encourage all schools to remove the leadership perks and the separation that other actions create.

You don’t want people becoming leaders for the perks or thinking they are above or better than others because they are in that position. They aren’t. It’s just a different position with different functions.

The mentality should be working with and for the staff, not being “above” the staff or thinking the staff is there to work for and serve them.

Those in leadership positions should not group themselves away from staff or always eat by themselves away from teachers and staff. They should park in the back or where everyone else parks. They are one with everyone, there to serve, not above.

True leadership is service. – Thomas R. Harris Click To Tweet

Remove all the bureaucracy you can (trust your people, and deal with people issues directly)

I get there are legal issues and such that cause certain policies to be in place (though we may need to work on adjusting some of those as well).

However, as much as possible, districts need to stop making blanket rules for staff and stop creating bureaucratic policies that hinder instead of helping productivity.

Show trust in your employees. If you don’t trust them, then you need to look at why. Did you set clear expectations? Did you provide the resources, training, and support the person needed in a timely manner?  Is the person in the right seat? Is it because you hired poorly?

If you don’t trust your people, it’s on you as a leader, not them.

Set clear expectations and provide autonomy within those expectations. For teachers, set clear guidelines and expectations of outcomes and then trust teachers to get there. If some need support, give support to those who need it. Don’t just throw blanket policies at them.

If you have people issues or someone is struggling, work with that person individually. Differentiate. Don’t use policies to solve people’s issues. Stop doing that. Please.

Teachers, secretaries, clerks, councilors – they shouldn’t have to jump through 50 hoops to get something done. It should be simple and easy.

It’s not that you can’t have safeguards, etc.  – that can be smart, especially with money- but all these blanket policies and rules are killing productivity and student learning, not helping.

No policy should ever be set in stone. Saying, “It’s the way we’ve already done it” is a terrible reason to keep doing something.

Question every policy. Does this really help? Is this really needed? Is there a better way to do it? (asking for feedback can help with this).

Listen to podcast: Episode 5: One of the Big Killers of Business

Involve teachers in decisions and get feedback from them

Involve teachers in decisions and get feedback from them

Seriously, get feedback.

Ask for it. Listen to it. Welcome it.

Even if it’s negative, it can tell you a lot.

Create systems so feedback is frequently flowing. If there are problems, you want to know as fast as you can so they can be dealt with as fast as you can.

Otherwise, you have hundreds of teachers leaving and you don’t know why because you never listened.

And you definitely want to know why teachers are leaving so you can work to make it stop (In fact, you likely want to ask them during the year how things are going so you can work to fix those issues before they leave).

The teachers are on the frontlines facing the issues every single day. It makes no sense to not listen to them. They likely see what the real issues are and likely have good solutions.

And even if a teacher is new, make sure to listen to them as well. New teachers give perspectives you may not see otherwise. When we have been in the midst of something for a while, there are things we don’t see or see as normal (even when it shouldn’t be), but new teachers come with an outside perspective and see things we don’t.

Give as much decision-making power as you can to teachers. They are the ones directly facing the problem.

If students aren’t learning or there is a need, talk to the teachers – they likely have ideas because they are the ones actually working with the students, not people a few miles down the road in a separate building.

Get feedback about leadership

Part of getting feedback is getting feedback about how people are doing as a leader. If they are a secure leader, they will be asking for feedback for themselves.

But you also want to keep your ear open in the feedback process or even ask in surveys about people’s psychological safety and the leadership around them. If there are bad leaders, deal with it in a timely manner.

Focus on the outcome, not the process

Instead of focusing on how teachers and staff do everything, focus on the outcome. Set clear expectations of what the outcome should look like, set whatever parameters are needed, and focus on the results.

Be there to offer support and training to those who need it, but don’t create blanket policies just because of a few people.

Have realistic expectations

It should not be normal for teachers to be overloaded or to have to work from home or to work late every day to get all the paperwork and everything else done.

We need to create realistic expectations and remove the junk that hurts us from being there.

A great way to start is to listen to teachers, what hinders, and what helps, and start working from there.

Reduce admin paperwork

This is partly covered in some of the points above, but we need to remove useless admin work.

I get some have to be there for legal reasons (e.g. Special Education), but for everything else, we should really examine and ask why we require the paperwork. Is it from a lack of trust? Data? What?

And if it’s data, are we overwhelming ourselves with data? Sometimes simple is better.

Is that data paperwork something that’s really needed? Adding paperwork to teachers because you think it will “help” them doesn’t mean it will help them.

Find ways to reduce paperwork.

Advocate changes needed in state and federal law – listen to teachers

I’m not sure the best way to do this personally, but we need to create an easier way for teachers’ voices to be heard when it comes to education.

Sometimes laws are passed with good intentions, but the consequences are far from that. We need a way to work with lawmakers to reduce bureaucracy and create laws that help instead of hindering teaching.

To governmental leaders and school board members

I encourage you to take the extra time to fully understand the impacts, implications, and unintended consequences of the policies you consider passing.

I know of one law specifically that teachers and schools were required to fill that, intention-wise, was good, but the implementation was nigh impossible. The requirements to do it made it incredibly difficult.

Talk to teachers and others first – get outside viewpoints from those you normally get it from. Find teachers in different districts (or for school board members – talk to the teachers in the different schools in your district), share with them the proposals, and ask about the impact and feasibility of it (and if they have any other ideas).

If we want to fix the teacher shortage and our schools in general, we need to fix the leadership in our schools

Increasing pay and benefits and all is nice – but it won’t solve the core problem: Leadership.

To do that, we need to recognize the importance of leadership and work to make sure we have great leadership throughout the organization (and not tolerate anything less).

If we do that, we will start seeing more engaged teachers and students who are learning more than ever before.

And think about this: with the high cost of turnover, if we fixed that issue, then we would have more money to increase pay and invest more in the schools. Win!


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