Everything I know about being a CEO, I learned being a teacher

jessteaching

“How can you be a CEO when you were just a teacher?”

This is one of the most common questions I have fielded as the CEO and founder of Allovue, an early-stage financial analytics company. Initially the question offended me; I prickled at the insinuation of all the worst teacher stereotypes: teachers aren’t as smart or shrewd as other professionals, teachers are lazy, teachers are fluffy.

Now, I’m amused by the question. After all, teachers are the unsung CEOs of the world. Teachers manage hundreds of people every day (who are not paid to show up!) Teachers prepare and present 4–6 hours of unique content every day, and are evaluated based on those hundreds of students’ ability to process and retain this new content. Teachers make all their own agendas, PowerPoints, and reading materials. They often buy their own presentation tools and office supplies — for over a hundred people. Sorry, no T&E reimbursements! They make their own photocopies of materials they created or purchased themselves. They give individualized feedback to over a hundred people on a regular basis. Hey, CEOs — when was the last time you reviewed and evaluated the daily work of +100 employees after doing all your own work and meetings for the day? And don’t forget to call all of your employees’ parents at least once a week to let them know how they’re doing at work! Great teachers are virtually superhuman masters of management and logistics.

I’ve come to realize that most of my favorite management strategies were fire-tested in the classroom, not a boardroom. Having taught students from kindergarten age up to the graduate level, I’ll let you in a little secret: managing adults is not all that different from managing children.

Public praise, private punishment

This is a staple of classroom management. Can you remember a time that you were called out in front of your peers for doing or saying something wrong? Can you feel your cheeks getting warm just thinking about it? Now, think about a time that someone praised you for a job well-done in front of all your colleagues. I bet your chest is still swelling with pride. This is a pretty basic tenet of human psychology: most people appreciate public recognition for good work, but feel humiliated by screwing up in front of their pals. Publicly chastising people for mistakes might create results in the short term, but it’s no way to build a strong culture in the long term.

As often as possible, we make an effort to let our team know about all the awesome things their teammates are doing — we also share a weekly newsletter with team shout-outs and appreciations, ranging from small helps (“Thanks for giving me a ride home”) to big wins (“Great job closing that sale! Coffee for everyone!”)

On the contrary, if something is going awry with process or performance, we address these issues privately with team members, and we focus on figuring out why something isn’t working and what steps need to be taken to fix the problem. It is difficult to consistently do this without egos and finger-pointing. We are not perfect at it, but couching these discussions in terms of finding solutions instead of allocating blame goes a long way.

Give credit, take blame

As a general rule, when something good happens, my team did it. When something goes wrong, it’s my fault. As the CEO, you have little to lose by accepting blame. It takes pressure off the team and frees up their mental space to focus on solving the problem. Are you sensing a theme here? People don’t function well when they’re embarrassed or scared.

As for giving credit, let’s harken back to Obama’s “you didn’t build that” decree. No matter how much of a 10x-programmer-visionary-wünderkind you are, it’s extremely unlikely that you built something great alone. Give credit where credit is due — and then some. Elevating others does not diminish you. Take every opportunity to credit your team, investors, advisors, and customers because this is an all-ships-rise-win-win situation.

Bring cupcakes

I don’t care if you are 5 or 50 — people love cupcakes. I have studied this extensively, and the effects of cupcakes on a classroom or office are the same: good cheer and a burst of productivity. We are lucky enough to have the gourmet cupcake shop La Cakerie down the street from our office and we are frequent patrons. Birthday? Cupcakes! Engagement? Cupcakes! Good press? Cupcakes! Thursday? Cupcakes! Celebrate each other. Celebrate wins, big or small. Celebrate just because you are all in this together, doing the hard things, fighting the good fight, and goddamit, you deserve a cupcake.

The Lynchpin of Suspension

This week, The Baltimore Sun’s education reporter, Erica Green, ran a story on a controversial Baltimore City Public Schools incentive program: teachers and principals are eligible for monetary rewards up to $9,500 for successfully reducing suspension rates.

Great, right? Educators can be compensated for reducing suspensions:  improving school culture and decreasing disciplinary issues to keep kids in school and safe environments.
Oh, logical fallacies are so sneaky!

Logical fallacy: A reduced number of suspensions are necessarily the result of improved school culture and/or a decrease in serious misbehavior.

Likely reality: A reduced number of suspensions are the result of assigning fewer suspensions.

If Destiny and Jaqueline get into a physical fight in class, the suggested disciplinary action in the Code of Conduct is a suspension, but the actual disciplinary action comes down to administrative discretion. If the principal is eligible for a monetary reward for reducing the number of suspensions, on which side of the disciplinary action spectrum do you suppose that discretion will fall? It doesn’t take a doctorate in behavioral psychology to imagine the negative consequences of this policy.

Unfortunately, the attention to the flaws of this initiative obscures the crux of the matter: suspensions don’t work. Suspensions have almost nothing to do with school and everything to do with home and parenting.

In 13 years of rigid Catholic schooling – where you could get detention for the wrong-colored socks, being one minute late, or wearing a flagrant hair accessory – I never got a single detention. Why? Well, because I was a goody-goody. But ALSO, because I did not want to even fathom the sort of wrath I would incur from my parents for receiving disciplinary action. Because I was terrified of even a single indiscretion on my “permanent record,” which I believed was very important because my parents told me so since forever. Because I knew the disciplinary action I received from school would pale in comparison to whatever my father deemed a suitable punishment. I did not worry about school infractions. I worried about what my father would say when he found out. I still shudder to imagine.

So what happens if this sort of disciplinary support doesn’t follow through at home? Nearly all of the punishing effect of detentions and suspensions are predicated on parents reinforcing the seriousness, legitimacy, and severity of these consequences at home.

In reality, many of my students viewed suspensions as a mental health day: a day of video games, Cocoa-Puffs, and Facebook.  At worst, they were bored. At best – vaaaaacation!

As a teacher, I had many students with incredibly supportive parents – we chatted frequently on the phone, via email, and at conferences. They checked homework, helped with studying, and monitored grades. Not so coincidentally, these students were never in danger of being suspended.
For fairly obvious (yet complex) reasons, it is the students who do not receive adequate support and attention at home who are usually the repeat offenders for misbehavior, violent conduct, and truancy. Suspensions won’t work, because the lynchpin of the punishment is missing. Unfortunately, sending a message that extreme or violent misbehavior will be ignored or downplayed is a recipe for school chaos – that message travels fast.

What to do? These students do need some form of disciplinary action to send a clear message that certain behaviors will not be tolerated. However, they are also likely in desperate need of additional support services. Unless you have an intensely Hobbesian view of human nature, it’s fair to say that students don’t generally go around cursing, punching, and threatening people without an underlying cause.

Without digging deeper to unearth and address the root causes of the misbehavior, those students (and their schools) will be caught in a vicious cycle of crime and punishment. Maybe they need therapy and counseling services, maybe they need a positive outlet for aggression (like joining a sports team), maybe they need a personal tutor… but one thing’s for sure: a mental health day won’t fix the problem, and neither will sending them back to class.

Show Them the Money? Why Merit Pay Doesn’t Work

Last week, Newark school district revived the debate on merit pay for teachers when the union passed a new teacher contract that awards $5,000 bonuses to highly effective teachers and up to $10,000 bonuses for highly effective teachers in low-performing schools and high-need subject areas like math and science. Proponents of merit pay argue for incentivizing effective teachers, while opponents of the measure claim that it will pit teachers against each other to the detriment of students. Merit pay doesn’t work, but not for the reasons cited by the opposition.
Schools are not businesses and school districts are not corporations, but like businesses and corporations, schools and school districts are operated by humans, which means that basic laws of human nature apply. Educational leaders would do well to explore some of the literature and research on motivation and leadership that has been so heavily marketed to the corporate world. Almost all of the business and social science research from the last decade on motivation, drive, leadership, management, retention, and job satisfaction agrees: it’s not about the money.
Again and again, research shows that the carrot/stick approach fails to motivate people. Daniel Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, draws on 50 years of behavioral science research to argue that external rewards like money are not motivators for high performance. Instead, Pink’s research shows that the best motivators are intrinsic: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When implemented strategically, these motivators lead to increased job satisfaction, higher retention rates, and stronger organizations.
One of the most famous case studies illustrating this point is Tony Hsieh’s turnaround of Zappos. When Hsieh became CEO of Zappos in 2000, the company was worth $1.6 million and floundering. By 2009, Zappos was worth over $1 billion and cited as a world class example of corporate culture and growth.  Zappos achieved success by empowering every employee, down to call center representatives, to make whatever decisions necessary to make the customer happy.  Hsieh instilled a culture of delivering happiness (the purpose) and then gave every single employee the autonomy to achieve that purpose. He didn’t build a company of devoted employees on bonus checks.
In spite of overwhelming research to the contrary, education “reformers” still think waving a fat check in front of teachers will somehow lead to higher test scores. This is insulting. It indirectly suggests that teachers are not already doing everything in their power to teach students successfully. It implies that by sweetening the deal with a few grand, teachers will magically whip out a secret arsenal of teacher tools they’d been holding out on until the district ponied up the cash. Oh, there’s a check at the end of the line? Well, I guess I’ll teach Johnny to subtract, after all! Sound ridiculous? It is.
No, school districts aren’t selling shoes, and they’re not looking to make a profit, but there is (or should be) a uniting purpose to educate students and grow their academic success. That won’t be accomplished with a carrot/stick approach. It will be accomplished by giving teachers the autonomy to make decisions about how to teach their students and increase their own teaching mastery.
If you want a dog and pony show, then offer ribbons and prizes. Real, systemic growth and change can’t be bought.

The Only Way Out Is Up

“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to teach teachers,” said no one, ever.
You may be surprised to know that being a teacher of teachers is a highly coveted position in education circles. After a few years in the classroom, many teachers discover that their passion lies not so much with teaching children, but, as it turns out, other teachers. With all the wisdom of two, three, or five years of professional teaching under their belts, they will earnestly tell you of their newly realized professional ambition: supporting teachers.
As social beings, humans seek order and hierarchy in complex systems. Not unlike other industries, education professionals are organized in a complex and hushed hierarchy of respect, authority, and salary.  But unlike other professions, the people most directly responsible for outcomes are at the bottom of the totem pole, scavenging for resources.
Teaching is a relatively static profession. There is no clear career ladder with universally accepted benchmarks of achievement. There are few, if any, promotions. In law, one might aim to someday be a judge or make partner at a prestigious firm. In business, young associates set their sights on the C-suite.  In medicine, there’s a strict progression from intern to resident to attending. But in teaching, a prolific career could blossom in the same classroom, with the same title, over the course of 30 or 40 years. The salary increments are marginal. The prestige is limited and local. The accolades are private. An enduring teaching career runs counter to almost every indicator of success in our culture. It’s less like a ladder and more like a Ferris wheel.
But Americans, particularly Millenials, are not conditioned for success in stagnation. Raised on titles and trophies, we’re looking for the next rung before we’ve even steadied our footing. In a commencement address at Harvard Business School, Sheryl Sandberg compared the 21st century career path to a jungle gym instead of a ladder. But a jungle gym still contains a variety of heights – encouraging risky jumps and maneuvers to become king or queen of the playground. Rather than allow for some professional gymnastics within the teaching profession, the education industry has outsourced the monkey bars to various “Offices Of.”
It pains me to admit that a certain Miley Cyrus song seems particularly prescient here: it’s the climb, and young education professionals seem to be always looking for the next mountain to conquer. Suddenly, dozens of new positions with fancy titles exist in schools and districts and Teach for America offices across the country. Instructional Support Teacher, Model Teacher, Lead Teacher, Program Director, Vice President of Leadership Development, Director of School Leadership, Director of School Design, Director of Teaching and Learning, etc. Surely, all of these roles are filled with passionate, well-intentioned, intelligent people working to improve the country’s education system and provide excellent learning experiences for children. But arguably, the easiest way to provide excellent learning experiences for children is to be an excellent teacher of children. Many of these newly invented roles are filled by former teachers, which begs the questions: are these new roles truly necessary for providing excellent education, or have they been created to make adults feel better?
Most of these positions are accompanied by salaries and benefits equal to or better than those of teachers. And instead of managing and catering to the unique needs of up to 150 young people every day, these other education professionals can retreat to comfortable climate controlled offices where they will engage with (mostly) rational adults all day.  What sane person wouldn’t view this as a step up in the world: equal or better pay for an easier job that still serves a higher purpose.  Certainly, these professionals make worthy contributions to education. However, I have to wonder if their contributions are absolutely essential to the education system, or if they are diverting the already scarce human capital and other resources away from the classrooms they aim to serve.
In its simplest form, education involves only a teacher and a student (think Socrates). What would happen if we streamlined all resources for the direct benefit of students and teachers? If instead of having PowerPoints and Curriculum Manuals and managers and managers of managers, every classroom had three certified teachers and one-to-one internet-ready technological devices? In which system would students thrive? In which system would adults thrive in their chosen professions? And might they be one and the same?

Doctors for America

“Are you having trouble finding a doctor who will see you? If not, give it another year and a half. A doctor shortage is on its way,” warns John C. Goodman is his Wall Street Journal op-ed. He’s wrong. According to Businessweek, there’s already a shortage of 15,000 doctors, with projections of a 130,000 shortage of doctors by 2025. So why not increase the supply of doctors to meet the demand of the 30 million new patients ushered into the US health care system with the Affordable Care Act? Currently, doctors are trained through a rigorous residency program, lasting three to seven years, costing $145,000 per year per resident. “The residency programs to train new doctors are largely paid for by the federal government, and the number of students accepted into such programs has been capped at the same level for 15 years. Medical schools are holding back on further expansion because the number of applicants for residencies already exceeds the available positions.”

Wait, isn’t this supposed to be an education column?
Internet trolls love to snipe in comment threads about Teach for America, “Imagine if we had Doctors for America – would you want someone performing brain surgery on you after five weeks of training?” Frankly, this is blissfully ignorant First World snark. Partners in Health, founded by the brilliant Paul Farmer, trains community members as public health workers in impoverished settings like Haiti, Rwanda, Peru, and Malawi because they have a severe shortage of doctors. The only reason the United States doesn’t have Doctors for America is because America is not facing a severe shortage of doctors… yet.
Goodman’s op-ed dances around some very important ethical and economic questions, but unfortunately, he abandons them for low hanging fruit like “wait time” at the doctor’s office, which will be probably be the least of the US health care system’s problems in the next decade. Universal healthcare will inevitably create some of the same supply and demand issues that plague the public education system. That’s basic economics. And as doctors increasingly feel overwhelmed and underpaid, they too will burn out and leave the profession for private pastures.
I wonder if the internet trolls will gripe how lazy doctors have become, as public health professionals across the nation try in vain to address the ailments of 30 patients at a time?
As a moral, socially conscious citizen, it is a popular liberal opinion to agree that healthcare and education are basic human rights that should be provided by the government. But as a society, are we willing to make the commitment (and sacrifices) required to actually provide those rights? Or do we just want to feel better about ourselves by nodding our heads and passing laws without footing the bill for the financial capital and human resources required to make those lofty provisions a logistical reality?
The two-tiered healthcare system that Goodman prophecies is essentially the education system we already have – wealthy people evade the system by paying for high-end education through private schools, while poor/middle class people are stuck with a resource depleted public system. Does America have the capacity to provide high-quality social goods and services to everyone? Or is a two-tiered system inevitable? Is a two-tiered system acceptable as long as the lower-tier provision isadequate? These are uncomfortable questions to ask, especially when politically palatable answers are not always economically feasible. Of course, it does not help matters that our nation’s political “leaders” are busy quibbling over the technicalities of rape instead of solving actual political and economic problems.
If you need immediate cardiac care, would you rather take your chances and wait a year for a top notch doc, or go under the knife with a 22-year old-who learned how to wield a scalpel last week (but was, like, so good at Operation)?
And if neither of these options is acceptable for our bodies, why is it the fate for so many of our nation’s young minds?

The Best Lesson I Didn’t Teach

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” – Joan Didion
We share our stories in order to survive. Story-telling is uniquely, beautifully human. Our ability to communicate and connect through our mutual experience distinguishes us in our mammalian lineage. We paint our stories, dance them, sing them, act them out. We tell stories, we write them.

Story-telling is civilization.

This week we embarked on our final unit of the Baltimore Renaissance Project, during which I will challenge my students to change their world. Wednesday, we began with a Socratic circle discussion. Why do we need a Renaissance in Baltimore? They talked at each other. They talked over each other. They talked around each other.

They did not talk to each other. They did not listen to each other.

Thursday, we told stories. We learned to listen. Stories are the root of communication, the root of civilization. We recorded their Baltimore Stories. A recording device demands attention. Preservation implies importance: your words matter, let’s save them.

Tell me a story… a Baltimore story.

We sat in a circle, surrounding one chair in the center, reserved for the storyteller. One by one, they took they hot seat. They shared their stories.

Baltimore… Me and my friends. I was, like, I was 10, and this boy, Bernie B., right? He was 14. So, we around our way up the hill… we around our way up the hill. We was all on this porch, there were a lotta people on the porch. Lotta people. Then this white car came around the corner – it was a white car… Then they just start shooting. I was, like 10, so I didn’t know what to do. I just ran in the house, for real. So like, we all ran in the house, and they shut the door by mistake. My boy little Bernie B. got shot out there. He was 14. And he died out there.

Children are remarkably candid. If you want to hear their stories, you need only let them know you are listening.

My uncle died. He got shot in the head. Some of my family died from drugs. Some went to jail… I don’t know what else to say.

My 7th grade boys are stoic, but rapt. Death is casual, too familiar. They never learned how to cry, or maybe they forgot.

 
They shot him six times. 

Gun violence has touched them all. They live in an urban warzone.

I was sad…
He didn’t have insurance… 

They just let him die. 

We have one part-time social worker and one part-time psychologist for 400 students. We triage their tragedies.

 
They just started shooting…. he’s paralyzed now.
 
They stabbed him 8 times. There was blood on the floor… yea, I was crying and stuff.
 
I started runnin’….
 
…molested me when I was 6.

My students need more, deserve more. They need equitable resources (not to be confused with equal resources). How many Baltimore City students suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? How Montgomery County students suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

How do I teach the ancient past when they are preoccupied with grieving the present? How can I call myself a Social Studies teacher if I ignore my students’ psychology, anthropology, geography?

My Dad… he got sent to jail in North Carolina. I’m afraid I’ll never see him again.
 

Yesterday, these two girls were at each other’s throats. But today?

I know how you feel. My Dad’s in jail, too. Sometimes it helps me to think about him coming home.

They hug and cry and mourn together. And tomorrow? Tomorrow, they will remember they share the same pain.

 
He killed my baby brother.
 
She did a lot of drugs…
 
My Dad got shot 6 times.
 

I’m ill-prepared. I met the credentials, passed my Praxis, and hung my Master’s degree on the wall. I’m ill-prepared. I can write a lesson plan, design curriculum, and assess mastery, but I was not trained to counsel grief.

If I’m supposed to teach them, who’s supposed to heal them?
 
Her head hit the pavement… there was blood everywhere.
 
When my sister died…
 

Let’s stop pretending all our problems with education are in the classroom. 

 
I heard gunshots
 
I saw him outside my window.
 
I lost my baby sister…
 

All my 6th grade girls are crying – not just tears: wailing, keening, heaving. My classroom is a trauma unit. I panic. Have I done something bad? Have I done something brilliant? My principal is going to kill me. I am surrounded by 30 teenage girls in crisis.

They have never told their stories before. So, tell me your story, any story. 

He was drunk, he didn’t see her.
 
…held a knife to my throat
My Dad told me to hide in the closet.
 
They took me away from my Mom… they separated me from my brother and sister.
 

They call her dirty, call her ugly, make fun of the way she talks.

 
Sometimes I want to kill myself.* Some people are just born that way… It’s not right.

Across the room, another girl starts to weep.

I did that. That was me. I called her names. I never knew…

I hold her tightly (because guilt is grief, too) and whisper, Tell her you’re sorry – and mean it. She does. They hug. They listen. I see them laughing together after school. The panic recedes.

 
I got a lotta stories. Lotta stories…

These are our Baltimore Stories. Were you expecting crabs and Camden Yards?

 
* I referred this student to the mental health specialists at my school.

PD

The two most dreaded letters in the teaching profession: PD.

Professional Development.

On this matter, I give you a Passionate Diatribe.

Part I: PD 

The structure and execution of PD in Baltimore City Schools is Positively Disgusting. So bad, in fact, it would seem Purposely Deleterious. Yet, I think the true Problem Derives from either a lack of imagination or Profound Distrust of educators.

On a typical day of Professional Denigration, teachers will trek across the city to a Predetermined Destination, where they will sit for anywhere between 4-7 hours watching Perfunctory Demonstrations of mediocre teaching strategies. On one Particular Day of Public Disparagement, I sat through an hour long read-aloud of a 3rd grade level text (I teach 7th grade Social Studies). First of all, that’s just Poor Didactics – modeling a read aloud should never take more than 10 minutes or so… because the students should be Participating, Duh! Second of all, Please Don’t insult our intelligence by using low level texts in a Pedagogical Demonstration. In fact, teachers might better understand the frustration of struggling readers if they had to Patiently Dissect a Painfully Difficult text – perhaps something from the New England Journal of Medicine? When I left the session, I felt not Professionally Developed, but rather, Powerless/Demoralized.

Under the Teaching strand of the new BCPS Instructional Framework and Rubric, teachers are evaluated on their ability to facilitate Peer Discussion (student-to-student academic talk), yet teachers are forced to be Passive Diminutives in their own Professional Development. Why not encourage Public Discourse and allow teachers to share their own experiences and best practices?

We’re instructed to Practice Differentiation, personalizing instruction to meet the unique needs of every learner, yet the district insists upon using precisely the one-size-fits-all approach that it Publicly Disparages when it comes to educating its teachers. I’m mandated to attend sessions that are Presumptuously Decided upon to meet my needs or Possible Deficits, but it always turns out to be another Pointless Day.

In another case of Pure Dysfunction, I was made to sit through the exact same PowerPoint presentation in a Preemptive Discussion of the Common Core Standards (effective 2014) on THREE separate occasions. On the third occasion, I Publicly Disgraced myself by crying – softly, at first, tears dripping into my lap, then choking, heaving sobs. It was a Petulant Display of my frustration, and not my Proudest Day, but the Patent Disregard for our time is infuriating.

Part II: A Little Autonomy Goes a Long Way

Wasn’t that obnoxious? Having all that ill-fitting, gratuitous PD thrust upon you?

Enough of that.

The nature and structure of Professional Development in Baltimore City is a symptom of larger problems in the district that stem from trying to micromanage teachers. Wendy Kopp spoke to this point in her piece in The Atlantic last week, “How Micromanaging Educators Stifles Reform,” which confirms that this problem is not restricted to Baltimore City. Kopp advocates for increasing autonomy for educators in the classroom, based on the example of several successful schools in New Orleans, but increasing autonomy for educators could also be the key to improving professional development.

The majority opinion of news editorials will lead you to believe that the fate of the American public education system rests on our ability to attract and retain smart, innovative educators. If that sentiment is true, school districts will need to transform their operating models to make teaching more attractive to smart, innovative people. Schools and districts cannot hope to retain intelligent, creative people in a system that not only fails to recognize or appreciate these qualities, but stifles them. Smart, innovative people will never be satisfied in a top-down system that treats its employees like drones.

How do schools and districts create an environment that is conducive to innovation? This starts with transferring classroom level decisions to the classroom. With the adoption of Common Core Standards, which are broader in content and fewer in number, teachers can design curriculum tailored to the needs and interests of their students – if they’re permitted to do so. Let’s scratch the Draconian checklists and one-size fits all curriculum.

Let’s motivate teachers to develop creative curriculum by recognizing and rewarding the most transformative curricular units of study. Let’s offer Innovation Grants to support teachers with the time and money they need to experiment in their classrooms. Let’s encourage learning from failure. Let’s sponsor semi-annual Hack Daysto empower teachers to develop their own tools for instruction and learning. Let’s eliminate Internet filters and encourage teachers to leverage social media. Let’s allow teachers to direct their own professional development.

Part III: The PD Market

What if Professional Development was not only useful, but also offered the potential for monetary gain?

What if we create a PD Market in which teachers are both the producers and consumers of the professional development experience and supply and demand direct the market?

Let’s imagine that Baltimore City Schools slashed its entire PD structure and replaced it with a PD market. In this market, all funds previously allocated to the top-down provision and management of Professional Development would be reallocated directly to teachers in a lump sum of, say, $1000 at the beginning of the school year with the sole guideline of using the funds for 40 hours of PD during the school year. Any teacher in the system may become a Professional Development Supplier to gain monetary benefits for his or her personal expertise.

Let’s say Mrs. Smith has become an expert at leveraging Social Media to improve her instruction through increased access to resources. Mrs. Smith decides to enter the PD Market as a Supplier and offers a two hour course on Leveraging Social Media for $50. Any other teacher in the system may register for Mrs. Smith’s course and pay for it using the money in the PD Account. Mrs. Smith will keep 80 percent of the money and 20 percent will go to the district.  If 50 people register for Mrs. Smith’s course, she will earn $2000 that weekend and $500 will go to the district for operating costs.

After the course, every attendee will evaluate their experience.  If every educator found Mrs. Smith’s course profoundly useful to his or her professional development, Mrs. Smith will probably receive many glowing 5-star reviews. Other educators will be intrigued by the reviews and want to take Mrs. Smith’s course in the future. Conversely, if everybody finds Mrs. Smith’s course a waste of their Saturday, she will earn negative reviews. If she does decide to offer it again in the future, it’s unlikely that people will register for it, diminishing the returns on Mrs. Smith’s time investment. After a few rounds in the PD Market, excellent courses will gain popularity and terrible courses will cease to exist.

I suggested this PD Market idea to a friend and his response was highly negative. People will game the system, he said. Let me return to my point about distrusting educators. Why do we assume that teachers’ natural impulse will be to abuse the system? Furthermore, I seem to recall a few brazen bankers abusing the housing market recently, and nobody put the kibosh on that.

If we create a system that simultaneously provides personalized, relevant development and rewards teachers for their expertise, industry, and innovation, teachers might stop trying to avoid PD and may actually become excited about opportunities for growth. In my experience, teachers only dread and avoid development experiences because they are a complete waste of their time.  Conversely, teachers will readily shell out hundreds of dollars to attend education conferences like EduCon, ISTE, and EdCamps all around the country because they value the professional experience.  These conferences are useful primarily because they are led by expert educators and attendees can navigate their own development by choosing seminars that are interesting and relevant to them.

Let’s recruit smart, creative people to be teachers. And then let’s keep them.