Monday, December 27, 2021

'Merit based' in DOE, permanency and retirement

As an employee, I rarely criticise my employer.  This comes from my corporate roots, if you are in conflict with your employer, find another job or risk being demoted or fired.  

I'm also known for considering the teachers union an anachronistic parasite, similar to the entire union movement.  I'm not an activist and I don't represent (or seek to represent) anyone. I just seek to find ways to improve things and this so far has kept my little blog out of harms way. 

DOE has a highly skilled workforce, with the majority of staff university educated.  The Department is run as a hierarchy, with Principals at the top in schools and the Director General above Principals.  In schools, a teacher can aspire to be a Principal, a Principal can aspire to be the Director General with steps in between.

As with any pyramid hierarchy there are fewer positions available the higher you get.  Those aspiring are well known and mentored by those above them.  Although there is no seniority per se, it is built into the system.  The idea of merit has created a "seniority based" approach as mentors are required to successfully apply for higher positions - it is not about demonstrating good practices at current level, it is about demonstrating the skills and capability required for positions above level that you are not doing, or are doing in relief capacities, and being able to apply for promotional roles in the form required (answer selection criteria, use SAOs, etc).  An incumbent has a significant advantage as they know the position and can more easily meet merit based requirements. Without help from a mentor you will not create a competitive application to get an interview.  Schools do not want disruption or introduction of a person that could break a fragile culture and restricting access to promotional positions is one method to achieve this.

This can lead to a disatisfied workforce where staff are unable to attract mentors as they lack connections to the leadership team they are attached to.  In these instances promotion is seen as favouritism - which is true to a degree, the system requires staff to bend to the needs of the organisation and show that they can do the tasks required before being given the position.  There is a lack of understanding that the process is not about the job you are doing.

The protection of school culture is a safety net though, as the wrong person at the wrong time can negatively disrupt a culture, especially if they view the current culture as flawed.  The culture is set by the Principal and although a Principal can be influenced to change their position directly, they cannot be undermined by school leaders whiteanting a position.

Permanency causes a problem. In the corporate world the person would be encouraged to move on or be counselled to change their views if they were in direct conflict with management.  An underperforming staff member in DOE is tolerated as long as they do not cause headaches with parents and are isolated from causing harm.  

Mental health is a common concern. Teaching is a highly stressful activity at times, when combined with family trauma, children growing up, constantly dealing with adoloscence, caring for elderly parents, sickness, dips in performance can occur.  Staff can also be reaching retirement age and lose some of the drive found earlier in the profession.

Underperforming within the protection of permanency is not necessarily bad.  The 'Merit system' with promotion the positive objective, has taken the "teaching college" and tried to force it into something it is not.  To avoid the disgruntled workforce, we need to change how we think of teaching and not see promotion as a career objective.  Permanency is the correct strategy but does not need to be tied to a Merit approach.  Culture is instead the key. 

1. We do it because we love teaching
2. The outcomes are not promotion but delivery of the next generation of students and teachers to their aspirations
3. We have a responsibility to protect the college by mentoring younger teachers through the early crisis years
4. We have a responsibility to assist those at risk and guide them back to being productive students and teachers
5. Those with reduced capacity heading towards retirement have significantly contributed, need to be valued, recognised, cared for and given productive work
6. Recognition that most staff roles have a management requirement, unusual in any other industry
7. Recognition of success and failure through an evidence based approach
8. Acknowledgement that our working conditions are better than most other industries
9. Recognition that promotional positions do not have remuneration commensurate with the increase in responsibility. 

If you haven't asked yourself, "why do I teach?" now is always a good time to do so :-)   There are those suited to promotional positions, but they are not for everyone and should be given to those in the correct frame to do the job well.  The real return and fulfilment is in teaching children, not money, not promotion.

What our profession does not need:
1. Tokenistic care through 'here's a card, call them' without follow up.
2. Use and abuse workforce
3. Cliques
4. Promotion to incompetence (misuse of the Merit approach)
5. Faddish application of research (explicit teaching of "all" I am looking at you!)
6. Being risk averse: poorly managing innovation/risk taking/workload
7. Undervaluing management under the guise of a "Leadership" focus
8. Leaders without proper guidance and accountability
9. Poorly defined roles
10. Political interference

All the elements of a great system are there but it needs a new lens to consider how to take the best of the system and provide members with a feeling of contentment and worth through student performance, rather than through promotion.  Without this, we risk losing the heart of teaching and will not garner the respect earned in countries where education is a key part of the national culture.  As our industry moves from dig it/sell it mining base to a service based economy, education is the biggest element to providing export dollars from students working internationally or in manufacturing with high levels of automation which will subsequently protect our high standard of living. 

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