The phrase “silver bullet of education” has often been reserved for movements like technology in the classroom, school choice policies, accountability, competency-based assessments, and the resurgence of career and technical education programs. Each is important – and has made a significant contribution to improving the quality of education. But none deserve the title and distinction as THE silver bullet – that is, the one thing that will singlehandedly transform our education system.
It’s dangerous to wade into the turbulent (and sometimes partisan) waters of education reform. In a room of fifty experts, you will get fifty different opinions. But there is always a goal that we can collectively build upon. In my opinion, the most impactful reform in education would be to create a professional pay plan for our nation’s educators.
Before you tune me out by saying we have already tried that – let’s start from a premise that we all want the best teachers in the classroom, performing at a very high level. This issue has been echoed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who has pledged $1 billion towards increasing teacher pay throughout the state. Let’s not kid ourselves – compensation is important. But we mustn’t jump too far ahead with a formulaic approach merely based on test scores, years of experience, or degrees. Keep in mind those ideas have all been tried – and with mixed results.
Great teaching is more akin to a football team; and what makes a great team? Obviously, well-trained and talented players. But there are a lot more factors than just exceptional athletes. Great teams have great coaching, planning, leadership, teamwork, and execution. Great coaching is obvious, and every successful school has a visionary leader, and that leader needs to have a well-conceived plan. While the coach is the visionary leader and the play-caller, a successful team will have leaders (players) that teammates look up to and want to emulate. If teams have negative leaders or no leaders at all – the team will fail. Teamwork is a natural by-product. Teammates must trust each other to do their part, build comradery, and work together for a common goal. For a football team, the goal is to win. For teachers, the goal is to win, too! “Winning” in education means preparing students to maximize their potential. An overused cliché, but appropriate here – there is no “I” in team.
So, what do these points have to do with a professional pay plan for teaching? The answer is – EVERYTHING. Teaching is not an individual sport. It’s a team sport in which every teacher is an integral player. On a football team, every player has a very different but vitally important role. An effective professional pay plan must incorporate this team-focused concept and encourage collaboration while also recognizing individual contributions. On a football team, some star players are compensated more than others. Tilt too far towards group pay and you lose incentives to perform individually, but tilt too much toward individual pay you lose incentives for collaboration. Striking a balance is key. Yet today, for the most part, we play on the edges either doing too little or nothing at all or based on an arbitrary formula.
There is also the issue of progression. On a great football team – the best left-tackle will continue to be the best left-tackle and a leader who mentors younger players. But a great teacher is promoted out of the classroom. There should be a component of a professional pay plan that incorporates mentoring and master-teaching. This would be similar to team captains and position leaders who have a mentor-like role and presence. Maybe a term like an executive teacher or senior teacher would adequately reflect their level of responsibility to the team.
The naysayers might say there are too many impediments like union contracts and politics, but the NFL has a union too (with politics and elections). It all comes down to how bad you want change. We may not all agree that professional pay plans are the silver bullet, but can we all agree on the goal?