It’s time to start over: Let’s toss out the job descriptions in education

A friend of mine who works in marketing asked for my opinion a few days ago. She emailed me a job description for a training and education lead for her national firm. The job description had literally nothing to do with anything I would consider myself ‘smart’ about; but it had the word education in the title so she sent it my way (feel free to laugh).

The “favor” of giving her feedback was a blessing in disguise. To be honest I have only formally applied for four jobs in my entire life; the first at a Hinky Dinky grocery store to be a cashier at the age of fifteen.

Admittedly it’s been a while since I’ve thought at all about job descriptions in our K12 educational system. So there really was no time like the present to take a peak out there to see what the current landscape looks like.

Taking a peak sent me down a rabbit hole; that was disappointing and thought provoking to say the least.

Start with teachers.

While a lot of current job postings for teachers had “preferred characteristics” most had nothing but grade level assignments and the catch all “teacher.” Here is one job summary from a school district in Arizona:

Teachers will help students learn subject matter and skills that will contribute to their development as mature, able, and responsible men and women.

Here is a “definition of a teaching position” as stated by a Baltimore district:

Under the direction of the school principal, plans and provides for appropriate learning experiences for students. Instructs and supervises students in a variety of school-related settings. Monitors and evaluates student outcomes. Performs other duties as assigned.

For good measure I checked out an innovative school district to see what they had going on in terms of job descriptions. The first thing I read on their employment page:

Come Invent the Future of Education with Us

They even have YouTube videos of what jobs look like in their school district. They have their instructional philosophy (of the district), they have a copy of the welcome address from the superintendent. They have links to “who we are” and “what we believe.”

Here is a job description for a teacher at a school at ACPS:

At Woodbrook Elementary School we believe in creating a positive, diverse learning environment that inspires and fosters student curiosity while embracing and learning from a variety of cultures, while continuously working to provide opportunities for all to succeed. We believe that each student has the potential to succeed academically when our staff first focuses on students’ social and emotional development. We believe in supporting and encouraging individual and collective development of students and teachers through shared experiences with our parents, staff, and surrounding community. Woodbrook Elementary is seeking to hire a classroom teacher for the 2018–2019 school year for our amazing group of diverse learners. Classroom structures at Woodbrook provide students and teachers with independent and co-teaching/learning opportunities within both single and multi-age environments. You must be a high qualified teacher with experience in teaching in a diverse school setting. Experience supporting K-3 students preferred. Candidates must be flexible and highly collaborative, as they will need to interface across grades with a variety of teachers. Above all, must have a passion for young children and their curiosity as learners in a big world.

Holy hell. Think about the job descriptions I’ve shared so far and ask yourself: Which district would you want to work for if you were a rock star teacher?

Onward to check out principals.

Job descriptions for principals are a little more dynamic but there is still a broad range of exemplars.

Here’s a job description for a principal for a school district in Michigan:

The Principal will provide leadership and administration which will motivate instructional and support personnel to strive for superior performance so as to provide the best possible opportunities for student growth and development, both educationally and personally.

Then here’s a job description for a principal in Arizona:

The job of HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL is done for the purpose/s of maintaining overall site operations; receiving, distributing and communicating information to enforce school, district and state policies; maintaining safety of school environment; coordinating school activities; communicating information to staff; and addressing situations, problems and/or conflicts that could negatively impact the school. This job is distinguished from similar jobs by the following characteristics: Masters degree in Educational Administration or Curriculum and Instruction or related field. Experience at the elementary level, teaching and administrative/supervisor experience required. Demonstrated experience in culturally diverse educational setting. Any equivalent combination of training, education or experience that meets the minimum requirements.

Then there’s one for a district in California:

The job of Principal — Elementary School was established for the purpose/s of promoting and maintaining high student achievement by providing curricular and instructional leadership, maintaining overall school site operations; receiving, distributing and communicating information to enforce school, District and State policies; maintaining a safe school environment; coordinating site activities and communicating information to staff, students, parents and community members.

And here is one from a district in Illinois that caught my attention. It actually talks about this century, learning, and students. And it makes note of the differences between management and leadership.

The 21st century principal provides leadership, management and supervisory skills that promote learning for each student. They lead others and stand for the ideas and values that help to develop globally competent citizens. They are stewards for learning — student learning, staff learning, and parent learning. They provide a clear vision, inspiration, energy and insight for all stakeholders in an enlightening and high functioning school community. They are focused on nurturing global citizens for an active role in a democratic society. They have a WIRED focus with special emphasis on creating a learning environment that is world focused, integrated, reflective, engaged and full of discovery. They are the conveyors of best practice, catalysts of learning, and protectors of the whole child. They are attentive to habits of mind, data driven decision-making, the change process, accountability, conflict resolution, team building, and a well-organized school. They have a set of beliefs and a skill set that guides the school in day-to-day operations to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all students, staff, and families. The principals orchestrate a complex, dynamic, and collaborative learning community each and every day where students and student learning are always the central focus.

Again I say, holy hell. Think about the job descriptions I’ve shared so far and ask yourself: Which district would you want to work for if you were a rock star principal?

Onward to check out district administrators.

So far the quest to check out the nature of job descriptions is lacking any excitement; but there are a few examples that knock it out of the park. My main thinking at this point is: how will we ever change what we are doing in education if we don’t change what we seek in its professionals?

As I look for examples of superintendent or district administrator positions I am faced with the same frustration; why do these things look like they were drafted in 1990?

Here is an example from a Kansas school district:

The job of Superintendent was established for the purpose/s of managing the overall operation of the district as designated by the Board of Education by addressing administrative needs and processes; establishing long and short term strategic planning; communicating with a wide variety of internal and external groups and individuals; and ensuring compliance to policies and/or codes.

Here is one from a Minnesota district:

Chief administrative officer for the School District and ex officio member of the School Board. Shall be responsible to the Board for the recruitment and employment of all personnel, for the development of curriculum, administrative rules, regulations and procedures to implement the educational program within the framework of State laws, rulings and regulations of the State Department of Education and the policies of the School Board.

Here is what I would consider an innovative option (that moves beyond the hum drum) from a district in Washington:

The Superintendent is responsible for providing educational leadership that will result in continuous improvement of teaching and learning in the District. In fulfilling that prime goal, the Superintendent will be expected to work effectively and openly with the school board, staff members, students, parents and community patrons. The Superintendent will be expected to: Promote a common vision and establish effective communication to build support, unity and trust among the board, administrators, building level staff and community stakeholders. Facilitate the ongoing development of education that will allow all students to achieve their highest potential and be successful in meeting Washington State and Federal prescribed learning standards, while continuing the District’s focus on providing well balanced education and activities programs. Work with the Board and District to prepare and plan to operate the School District for several years with reduced state and federal financial support in which to manage the District in a fiscally responsible manner. Finding creative ways to bring in revenue and spend prudently, while maintaining an appropriate fund balance. Provide leadership in the development of a collaborative decision-making model that assures input from appropriate individuals and groups and provide feedback to all those affected by the decisions. Recruit, employ, train and retain the highest quality teachers, administrators and support staff. Provide recognition for good work to individuals in all job categories. Understand the dynamics of demographic, economic and social change in the greater Darrington community and provide proactive planning to meet the needs of a diverse student population. Sustain and support a culture of student success through the deployment of district practices that encourage cultural awareness and a safe and nurturing learning environment.

And again I say, holy hell. Think about the job descriptions I’ve shared so far and ask yourself: Which district is looking for a leader instead of a manager?

So what’s the point of all of this? Good teachers and leaders in our schools are dynamic, smart, connected individuals who work towards learning that is purposeful and meaningful for all of our nation’s kids. They ask tough questions, lead towards a vision, learn from others in their field every day, pay attention to what is next (instead of remaining solely focused on what is now). They are not what these somewhat lame job descriptions call for, so why are we leading the selection and recruitment of our educators and leaders in such a traditional lens?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that we won’t get anywhere if we keep thinking of educators in traditional “bucket filling” roles. We need to do better and if your district is innovating make sure the systems of hiring communicate what you are looking for to take your organization where it is going (not just where it has been); your words matter, you will get what you ask for.

You want excellence? Jump out of the box and toss out the job descriptions in education that we have used for decades.

Do better. Be better. Hire better.

Our kids deserve it.