Educators are integral to education (to state the glaringly obvious). So why aren’t they seen as integral to the strategic planning of educational institutions?
A recent study by Promethean World found that only 7.4% of educators believe they play any role in their schools’ strategic visions. This is the lowest percentage of any stakeholders in education – IT, administrative staff, and school leadership all feel more involved in forming and executing institutional strategy than teachers do.
If the purpose of a school is to educate, why do educators feel like the least influential players at these institutions? Could a lack of faculty engagement in strategy be impacting the quality of education? And, as Promethean asked in their report, could this stat mean that schools are: “losing touch with their most valuable asset?”
Let’s look at the argument for involving educators in schools’ strategic planning – and why it’s not such a simple goal to accomplish.
Why This Matters
Some might question if it’s really a big deal that educators feel excluded from schools’ strategic planning.
It could be argued that delivering education and developing strategy for educational institutions are two distinct jobs, requiring different skills and best left to separate stakeholders. A teacher’s place is in the classroom, this argument would go, focussed exclusively on the education of their students (and their research, in the case of tenured professors). High-level planning is better left to school administration and leadership, who are trained to run their institutions as businesses.
However, this position ignores a number of benefits schools, students, and educators could gain if teachers had more input into institutional strategy. Consider the following examples.
As the world becomes more high-tech, schools are under increasing pressure to do the same. Educators today have to impart more than knowledge – they have to incorporate a growing array of software and technology into their curricula to equip students with the skills they need.
The problem is that the adoption of new technology is often treated as part of a school’s high-level planning, from which educators feel excluded. Faculty are often free to select the course-specific resources used in their classes, but this responsibility is commonly given to central IT, course designers, or even library and bookstore staff (who may have little direct knowledge of student needs). Educators often receive insufficient training to use available tools, or they don’t know what tools are available.
Involving educators in tech-related planning could help address all of these problems. Teachers would be more aware of what tools are at their disposal. They’d be in a better position to receive early training in the use of those tools. Ideally, they’d have final say over what tools are embedded in their curricula, to ensure they meet their students’ needs. All of this would make it more likely for educators to bring the benefits of technology to their classrooms and students.
This brings us to the next major reason why educators should have more of a voice in their schools’ strategic planning – the benefits it could bring to students.
All stakeholders in education – from teachers to IT staff– identify student success as a top priority. And while all of these stakeholders have a part to play in fostering that success, it’s hard to argue that any play a greater role than educators.
Faculty form the front line in education. They bear ultimate responsibility for ensuring students’ academic success and training tomorrow’s workforce. What’s more, of all stakeholders in education, they’re are the only ones in regular direct contact with students. This makes them the best advocates for student interests.
If schools really consider student success a top priority, they should give those most qualified to speak for students a voice at the planning table. More input from educators would allow institutions to embed a student focus into all levels of their planning and thinking, rather than just shoehorning it into course curricula.
The Challenge for Schools
Unfortunately, increasing educators’ involvement in strategic planning isn’t as simple as it might sound. The biggest barrier to doing so is that many teachers simply don’t have the time.
Another finding from Promethean’s report – one that won’t come as a shock to any educator – is that teachers are chronically overworked. Over 80% of educators identified heavy workloads as a key contributor to high stress levels. Many specifically stated that fewer administrative tasks would help ease this burden. Some might understandably ask how much more institutions can realistically ask of educators.
The challenge for academic institutions is to walk a line between excluding educators and overwhelming them. Teachers need to have a voice in their schools’ strategic planning without it feeling like just another obligation. Their involvement has to be meaningful enough to feel worth their time without taking up too much of that time. This won’t be an easy balance to reach. Institutions will have to adjust their thinking; educators will have to adopt a somewhat expanded role. But the benefits to educators, students, and institutions alike could be worth the effort.