First Who…Then What

First Who . . . Then What.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, shares one of my favourite quotes of all time. “The best leaders”, he says, “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats—and then they figure out where to drive it.” He goes on to say that the old adage “People are your most important asset”, turns out to be wrong. “People are not your most important asset. The g2g-first-whoright people are.”

Last week, as is the case around this time every year, we sent “Intent Forms” to every teacher in my district. The purpose of the intent form is to collect as much information as possible so we can make important decisions about staffing for next year (Yes, we’re already planning for next year). The form asks teachers to let us know where they see themselves in the future —> Would you like to remain in your current position? Would you like to transfer? If so, where would you like to go? Are you planning to retire? Are you planning to leave our district for another reason? This information, along with other data such as projected growth or decline in student enrolment, potential new programs, administrative vacancies, and sources of funding is all part of the puzzle in trying to figure out a staffing profile for the upcoming year.

What I like about the intent form is that it provides a great opportunity for teachers to communicate to the district where they see themselves sitting on the bus. What I don’t like about it is that it provides absolutely no opportunity for district leaders to share their ideas with teachers. As a matter of fact, it can be very difficult for district leadership to get the right people in the right seats. In these rapidly changing times, there needs to be some flexibility in assigning teachers so that specific skills can be more equitably allocated across schools, building individual teacher capacity and improving district performance. However, the power to involuntarily transfer teachers to different schools remains hotly contested in many districts because it’s usually seen as arbitrary or unfair treatment.

How do we change that? After all, I’ve witnessed first hand throughout my career a number of teachers who were very upset about being transferred involuntarily only to be thrilled with their situation a few months later. As Collins suggests in Good to Great, as leaders we have a responsibility to get our teachers into the right seats. Without that we’ve lost before we even get started. So I went looking for some research on the positive outcomes of involuntary teacher transfer and guess what – there’s little or none to be found. What I did find was policy after policy in school districts throughout our province that makes successful involuntary teacher transfer fairly challenging and a crap-shoot at best.

I’d like to suggest the following as a framework for involuntary teacher transfer in your district. I would love to hear from you on this as well:

  • Write it into policy.
  • Make it normal practice to transfer a few teachers every year.
  • Build a culture of collaboration across your district and between schools.
  • Make it clear to new teachers when they join your district.
  • Make teaching at a number of schools a prerequisite for leadership positions.
  • Support teachers when they transfer to a new school.
  • Don’t just transfer ineffective teachers, transfer your superstars as well.
  • ?
  • ?

If we’re going to get our schools from good to great, we have to get the right people in the right seats. First who… then what.


Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “First Who…Then What

  1. I agree completely Greg. It’s so difficult to move people on and off the bus and I often feel the greatest impediment faced in creating that positive collaborative culture is an inability to come to an agreement over how to facilitate moves. We’re in the same process of collecting teaching preference forms for next year. I find many people are very much set on staying in the same grade or division. Interesting that you suggest we should transfer our superstars as well. I guess that would make it easier to transfer the “less effective teachers” as well. Not sure how it is in your board but for us, any discussion around transfer would surely involve lengthy conversations with our unions. I’d welcome the conversation as a way to improve overall school dynamic. Will look forward to hearing about your progress.


  2. Howard.Weinrib

    Reblogged this on Howard Weinrib.


  3. I would love to see mandatory transfer after no more than 5 years. We have many situations where teachers end up staying in one position for 10and more years. In one case 32 years in the same school and sometimes in the same room. I think you cease to be effective and fresh after five years and become rather complacent in your work. It is easy to so the same year over and over because you are comfortable and then it becomes harder to change and try new things. It is impossible to transfer a teacher in our district unless there is a problem and the you do an administrative transfer, leaving everyone unhappy and relationships tarnished.


  4. Carrie Sutton

    It’s great to get the right people in the right seats, but then why not leave them in the seat? Many of the teachers I know strive to be better and better, no matter how many years they are in their seat, or whether or not it is the ‘best’ seat for them.


    • Greg Miller

      Thanks for the comment Carrie. Yes, there will be many different views and opinions on this post. There are many things to consider – both the wants and needs of the teacher and the wants and needs of the district. The key will be in relationship and communication.


  5. Pingback: First Who…Then What | Educational Leader...

  6. Pingback: Good to Great Leadership | Merit Talk

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