"As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." - Bill Gates
I have no problem saying that most leadership is average. Most leaders fall into the status quo.
Nationwide many businesses are reporting that they are hiring. In fact The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports as of Sept. 2021 that there are 10.1 million job openings. Some have said, people are getting stimulus money from the government and do not need to work.
However, I have a different take.
The arguments over the current workforce issues are far more complicated than who's receiving stimulus checks. Let's take a closer look at a couple different scenarios.
The first one is EDUCATION. Nationwide our country has a teacher shortage. I'd take it a step further and say, we have an educator shortage. The profession is in dire need of paraprofessionals, teachers, substitutes... and the list goes on. In April of 2021 Frontline Education surveyed 1200 district leaders and discovered that ⅔’s of districts are experiencing a teacher shortage. The number one area of need is in special education. Recent reports share that 71% of districts looking to hire are searching for special education teachers.
The question becomes, Why Is There A Teacher Shortage?
This is a layered question, but let's take a look at some major points.
First, the obvious is salary and benefits. Did you know - Teachers make about 20% less than other professionals with similar education and experience. If you are going into college why choose to enter a profession that is paid less and ridiculed more? Additionally, multiple states have had large scale strikes due to wages and benefits.
Second, educators are receiving increased scrutiny and expectations, with less support. Mental Health issues are drastically on the rise, and educators are experiencing this firsthand in classrooms. The result is increased behaviors and needs of students. At the same time we are expecting more from teachers, they are also dealing with more problems than at any other time in the profession.
Third, the dreaded word...burnout. We shouldn't be surprised. Many teachers feel the need to work multiple jobs due to salaries below the cost of living wage. Burning the candle at both ends, dealing with challenging families, and feeling less support than ever would likely lead anyone to feeling burned out.
The final point takes us back to Status Quo leadership.
A very popular saying in education is, "Kids First!" The focus of nearly all school leaders is putting students and families as the top priority. The main focus. But here is the problem...
Who is most influential in a student's success?
The answer is unequivocally the teacher. Here is the problem. As a profession and a society we are not taking care of our teachers. I hear from leaders across the country that the top priority is parents and students. What I have learned throughout my leadership experience is, I cannot touch every student every day. But you know who can? Teachers.
I personally shifted my focus. I began to empower, connect, and lift up staff. What this began to create was improved morale and thus a positive environment throughout the school.
Kids First… but why can’t it also be Teachers First?
Dare To Be Different
In the mid 90's Continental Airlines was easily one of the lowest performing airlines in the industry. Company shares were as low as $2. Everyone inside Continental talked of a toxic culture. And then came Gordon Bethune.
From the onset he created an open door policy and eliminated 39 VP positions. The aim was to improve culture throughout the company. Most specifically he wanted an "employee first" mindset. Bethune focused on this... “Are my employees feeling good about where they are?”
Managers should be asking themselves the same question. Are your employees feeling supported and fulfilled?
Change must come from the inside if change is to take place and morale is to climb.
This is true with all of us. Are you performing at your best when you are stressed, down and out, or feeling attacked? Chances are the answer is no. Supporting how an employee feels is in direct correlation to how happy a customer feels about their experience and whether they return..."
Gordon Bethune's approach was drastically different from the majority of owners and CEO's. The school of thought has almost always been, "customers are the lifeline", they pay the bills. There is no disputing that customers help the company pay the bills. The dispute is, from a leadership lens, who is best suited to take care of the customer? The Leader or the employee? I believe employees are the first line when it comes to customers and this is the same thinking Gordon Bethune had as he made Continental Airlines into a $50 a share giant and one of the top 100 companies in the world. Gordon Bethune made Continental so attractive that they were eventually purchased by United Airlines.
Leadership sets the tone. Leadership shares the vision. But leadership cannot touch every customer. That's why the employee is so critical in passing services of joy, support and kindness to all customers.
Will Anything Change?
What has me completely stumped is that when Covid first hit and educators were forced to adjust on the fly the overwhelming sentiment was praise for teachers. But in a what have you done for me lately, society we now see educators as part of the problem. Society points the finger at test scores, critical race theory, science, and the challenges of teaching reading. Gone are the days that the focus is on building a partnership with families. That together schools and families can help students succeed. Now it has become the blame game.
Between that mentality and low wages it is no surprise to see these statistics; Americans have been quitting jobs in record numbers, and educators are no exception — 30,000 public school teachers gave notice in September alone, according to the Labor Department.
Sadly, thirty-thousand educators gave notice. When will society take notice that the day is coming that class sizes will significantly increase due to a lack of teachers?
Some people believe the problem can simply be fixed with money. I'm here to say, that is only one component. The educators I know and talk to are looking for systemic change.
If we want to encourage more people to go into education these things need to happen NOW.
But Wait, There's More
The final point is in the form of leadership. Too many leaders have helped to foster an Us versus Them environment. They go to the bargaining table every few years and they downplay the value of the teacher. Many leaders pride themselves in being Student Centered and Connecting with Parents. But again, the person that has the MOST direct impact on the student is the teacher.
The time has come for educational leaders to serve. Serve their schools. Serve their teachers. Serve their communities. Being a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
I'm personally saddened by the current reality. There is most definitely a teacher shortage. But inside the teacher shortage is also low morale. If we do not change the systemic culture of education in our society the teacher shortage will only get worse.
The time is now to take a page out of Gordon Bethune's book. We need to put our teachers first. We need to show teachers the respect and gratitude that they deserve. Our future needs educators and if we as a society don't realize that, the road ahead will surely be turbulent.
Mr. Gilpin is a people first educator that is focused on serving others, building relationships, student engagement and empowering staff.