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Empowering Your Employees

Skyward Best Practices
Skyward Best Practices - Experience, Collaboration, and Leadership

School districts come in many available sizes and flavors, and – like many organizations – generally feature a pyramidical hierarchy. This leadership structure, although familiar and comfortable for most, is also subject to disconnect due to the number of layers involved. Those at the foundational tiers of that pyramid are not always privy to the decision-making process at the top, though there is a general interest in how those decisions will affect their daily work. 

Dissemination of information and collaborative decision-making are two of the key challenges facing superintendents and senior staff.
As technology has monumentally improved the flow of information in every other facet of our lives, it can also help district employees feel more empowered to drive educational improvement in the district, take greater control of their responsibilities, simplify internal processes, and communicate more effectively with each other and with other stakeholders in the district. 


Impacting Student Outcomes

Compared to a generation ago, the amount of data available to educators is immense. The availability of that data can be a positive change agent for educational outcomes, but only when made available to any and all who can make use of it.
According to a 2002 report from the American Association of School Administrators, superintendents benefit from a culture in which data is made the backbone of any decision making throughout the district. That report was written at a time when data was much more difficult to come by and certainly more difficult to disseminate. Its recommendation was sound, and with today’s technology, it is easier than ever to establish that culture.
How does it work? Data about a student’s educational performance is generated every day. There is, of course, state assessment data, but that might be months old. There is formative assessment data generated by systems purchased by the district as well as informally administered by teachers. Finally, there are teacher gradebook entries, observations, and behavior data. All form a vivid picture of the student that can be used by teachers, principals, and even parents in an effort to put the child on the right path toward success.
The trick is organizing all of that data in a useful way, making it searchable and reportable, and then giving the appropriate people access to it. Organizations much larger than school districts wrestle with the challenges of “big data” all the time. New solutions for managing that data can help everyone make use of even the most minute data so that decisions are better informed, more actionable, and more beneficial. But rest assured, educators are resourceful people. Give them access to the information and they will find a way to use it – and probably help everyone else do so as well.


Facilitating Decision-Making

As the old saying goes, if you expect me to cook the meal, I should at least be able to select the groceries. A 2006 report from McRel found that districts in which superintendents give principals “clear, non-negotiable goals for learning and instruction, yet provide school leadership teams with the responsibility and authority for determining how to meet those goals” had more positive results in all sorts of measures – including student achievement.
We discussed student data management in the last section, but that’s just one aspect of a principal’s mission. Think of it as the end result. The processes in which they get to those results can also be aided by available technologies.
Think about what information a principal has access to and what needs to be “blown down” from the central office in the form of ad hoc emails, memos, and meetings. For leaders of enterprises that usually have more than 100 employees, how much do principals know about their school’s financials? Human resources? Facilities? Purchasing? For a CEO of a company that size to not have access to that information – and then not be able to act on it – is unheard of. And yet, in many districts, that is exactly the situation in which principals find themselves.
Again, technology facilitates the flow of information. It’s not impossible for principals to be given access to the information that can dictate how their school operates and a certain level of autonomy to accomplish their mission. Existing technology can make that flow seamless.


Streamlining Internal Processes

The work of many district central offices is dominated by employee management. There is the type of management that moves the organization toward the ultimate goal of increased student achievement – things like curriculum design and coaching. Then there are the behind-the-scenes management aspects that fall under the umbrella of human resources. In larger districts, these functions can grow to envelop the operations of the central office and the district as a whole. Staffing, paying, and providing insurance for 10,000+ employees doesn’t happen overnight.
When approaching these sorts of processes, you need to ask yourself what the employee is capable of doing, then find online ways for them to accomplish those tasks. Take benefits management for an example. An elementary teacher recently got married and wants to change the beneficiary on her life insurance policy. In terms of effort on her part, what does that take?
If any of that process includes a call, email, or visit to the central office to take up the time of another valued employee, there is a better way.
Some of this streamlining can even be provided by your partners. In the example above, the life insurance agency probably has a website that can handle basic changes like that. Minor changes involving contact information should be put in your staff’s hand through an employee portal – no sense wasting time and procedure on the most basic information. As a leader, all you need to do is make your employees aware of the resources at their disposal. That brings us to communication as a whole.


Communicating More Effectively

We previously discussed how the flow of information can tend to disconnect as it moves up and down the organizational pyramid and how technology can help specific processes within the district, but what about the flow of information itself? How can it be improved?
Let’s take the example of the beneficiary change. If there was a website available where the teacher could have changed the beneficiary herself, how would she have known about it? When employees are onboarded, they usually receive a large amount of paper that explains the aspects of working in the district – including benefits. This paper tends to be filed away and rarely looked at again. Perhaps the link to the site was shared in an email from last year, which has also been filed away.
Some of the most successfully communicative districts maintain a wiki, or at least a dedicated page on their website for employees to find their benefits information and links to pertinent websites. Again, the goal is to eliminate a call or email to someone at the central office.
Those are both examples of information moving efficiently from top-to-bottom (there is a website available where you can change beneficiaries) and bottom-to-top (I need to change my beneficiary), but what about lateral communication? How can the district make communication between parents, teachers, and other staff more effective?
There is no one great solution. The districts that have the most success with parent outreach adopt an “all of the above” approach. Making it easy for staff to call, email, text, and communicate via social media is an imperative. What helps you get in touch with one parent might not work with the others. Although some standards should be set by the district in terms of appropriate use, staff should be granted the autonomy to choose their communication methods based on the individual situation.
Empowerment is emerging as a common theme among high-performing school districts and K-12 leaders. While the transfer of authority and decision-making capabilities can be difficult, it pays immediate dividends from an efficiency standpoint and makes your district a better place to work. Empowerment breeds leadership, and strong leaders at every level continue to have a potent impact on both student achievement and fiscal responsibility.  

Contact us to learn more about Skyward's commitment to the empowerment model of leadership and instruction. 



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