District Level Leaders: Can New Job Titles Improve Schools?
Leadership Insights

District Level Leaders: What’s in a Name?

By Terry Wilhelm March 8, 2016
District Level Leaders: Can New Job Titles Improve Schools?

In my last post in this series, I discussed the positive impact of identifying employees’ personal goals and supporting their achievement, even if it means losing the employee in his or her current position. Starbucks offers a good example. Its website states, “Our culture values and respects diversity and inclusion, and our goal is to create a place where everyone can be a leader. A place where people can acquire the skills that will help them succeed in whatever career they may ultimately pursue.”

Starbucks uses (and backs up) the title ‘partner’ for employees

By acknowledging that not every barista aspires to work at Starbucks for life, the company builds ownership in their success through supporting employees’ personal goals and dreams. Additionally, Starbucks employees are referred to as “partners,” and it’s not simply for the purpose of using a more attractive term. All company employees are eligible to participate in profit-sharing through its BeanStock program. Other companies use terms like associate to convey more status and importance. Some cities dub their garbage collectors “sanitation engineers.”

Would calling classified staff ‘co-instructional leaders’ improve student learning?

But how do these ideas translate to a school district’s central office? Do they make a difference? One district began by referring to its classified management staff as “co-instructional leaders.” The purpose? To provide a standing reminder to non-certificated managers at all levels, from supervisors through cabinet members, that the district’s purpose is to support and improve student learning.

It is easy for the Assistant Superintendent of Instruction or Chief Learning Officer (CLO) and his or her staff to remember this. Their daily work is to lead and support instruction and learning, and they typically spend plenty of time in the schools, and working directly with teachers and principals. But since the daily work in Maintenance and Operations (M&O), Transportation, Food Services, HR, and the business office is quite removed from the classroom, that personal, mental and emotional connection is typically missing.

Instructional training for non-instructional cabinet members opened their eyes to how their jobs support learning

Next, the superintendent asked that the non-instructional members of cabinet — the Chief Business Official (CBO) and Chief HR Official (CHRO) — attend instructional leadership training with himself, the Chief Learning Officer, and the principals. The CBO confessed to me later, “I went kicking and screaming.” However, she went on to express how this had completely changed how she viewed her job and her role. She had never worked in a school, and like many CBOs, had come to her first school district role from the business world.

When she moved her next district, an HR director and former principal commented, “I’ve never met a CBO like her, who asks questions like, ‘If we put that money there, how will that improve our graduation rate?’ or ‘How will that improve student learning?’ Our former CBO cared about nothing but facilities and guarded the purse strings of the budgets as if we were going broke, no matter what shape we were in fiscally. We could never get a dime for instruction.”

District leaders: Model how non-instructional staff support students

Leadership begins at the top. When top-level non-instructional leaders see the importance of supporting instruction and learning, they begin to lead and model differently for their own departments and divisions. And it can all start with a name change.

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