Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great”, created several phrases that have become part of our institutional vocabulary. Expressions such as “The Hedgehog Concept”, “Turning the Flywheel”, and “Level 5 Leadership” have been used (and probably overused) in the last ten years. My personal favorite for schools, however, is “Getting the Right People on the Bus.” I like this human resource analogy for a number of reasons. First of all, the bus allegory seems to be a good way to think about getting people on board a vehicle that has a route in mind. I often picture a school bus when I read Collins description. Not the comfortable tour type of bus, but rather the old yellow one with sticky floors, challenging windows, vinyl seats that stick to your back in the summer and a driver who opens the door with a smile and a “good morning, Tim.”
Many of the principals I know are bus drivers ( both literally and figuratively). They know the route, how fast to drive, and who needs to be on the bus. As a principal, I enjoyed driving the bus. School buses are filled with energy and excitement, an enthusiasm for getting somewhere. Kind of like school faculty who are fully on board with the mission and vision of the school. And, on the bus, you can switch seats (sometimes while the bus is moving) if you or the driver don’t think you “fit” into the one you are in. While this is difficult to do, sometimes it does not make sense until you are further down the road and can look back. Finally, you might want to get off the bus or the driver might ask you to get off the bus. Again, a very trying time for the driver and rider, but there might be a different bus that will get you where you need to go.
The right people in the right seats. Christian schools are in the middle of the hiring season. Dr. Todd Whitaker says, “The best thing a principal can do to build parent relations is to ensure every student has a phenomenal teacher.” To do this, we can start by hiring the right people. Every time schools have the opportunity to hire, it is a cultural leverage point for a school. Finding the right candidate who has the content knowledge, pedagogical skills, and critical dispositions is a challenge. Add to this list the understanding and demonstration of what it means to teach Christianly, the greater the challenge becomes. How does a school meet this challenge?
My first suggestion is to consider the hiring process holistically, as one of the interdependent parts of a system that is designed to attract, induct, retain, and develop talent. When we realize that hiring a teacher is a multi-million dollar decision, it is important that we do this well. When we realize that this teacher will have the opportunity to mentor hundreds, even thousands, of students, over the course of his or her career, it becomes critical that schools do this well. And, while a Barna study found that close to nine out of ten parents of children under age 13 (85%) believe they have the primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spiritual matters, the same study found that a majority of these parents do not spend any time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious materials with their children. The Christian school teacher has the challenge and opportunity to help each child grow in such knowledge and wisdom.
I agree with Dr. Whitaker. Every child needs a phenomenal teacher. Not only a teacher who has the deep content knowledge, excellent pedagogical skills, and critical teacher dispositions but one who realizes that the task and vocation titled “Christian educator” is of high calling. The first step for schools and “bus drivers” is to attract and hire well, knowing how many lives are at stake.
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.