“When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
While in college, I participated on a lot of student-run organizations from those dealing with leadership an public service to others focused on race and politics. I think it’s fair to state that I learned more from my experiences in these organizations than I gleaned from many of my official classes. I value the opportunities for personal growth through increasing levels of responsibility that I had. On the same token, I gathered one major insight from the occasions in which my peers dropped the ball:
“Your lack of foresight and failure to plan accordingly* does not constitute an emergency of my part”
In other words, I hated when a person didn’t fulfill their own commitments to the organization and subsequently tried to pass responsibility (and often blame) down the line to someone else. I’m all for shared responsibility and collaboration; occasionally picking up the slack for other members is a good indicator of a strong team foundation. At the same time, few things irk me as much as a leader who dodges accountability, instead choosing to pass the buck down the line to an innocent bystander or subordinate. A true leader who leads with integrity knows how to hold themselves accountable just as much, if not more so, than their expectations of the group and/or partners.
Relatedly, all the back-biting and buck-passing going on in the education reform debate is becoming increasingly counterproductive. In response to a comment on my previous post, I contested that TFA shouldn’t be blamed for a lack of foresight and appropriate prior planning by district leaders. Anyone who has worked with a non-profit should understand that sustainability and funding (a.k.a. “development”) are essential components of the organization achieving its mission. Personally, I don’t like the dynamic of dependence created by non-profits having to rely on foundations and corporate sponsorship, but I’ve also seen a lot of good of good generated by these donor-sponsor partnerships.
Unlike some administrations in public education, TFA develops a comprehensive vision and seeks to reach benchmarks in order to ultimately attain their goals. Doing this often requires multi-year partnerships in which school administrators and TFA directors agree to setting a certain level of corps members within their schools. This number isn’t arbitrary and is significant because it affects everything from targeted funding levels and recruitment to training hires and university partnerships. TFA doesn’t have all the bargaining power at the table. In fact, in the Mississippi Delta, some school district leaders have recognized the need to develop more sustainable means of recruiting and retaining excellent educators. It’s not fair to lament TFA’s position while there weren’t many educators flocking to poor schools when the economy was blooming. Regardless, you can be pro-TFA while acknowledging its limited role as a stop-gap measure.
There is a caveat to all of this. For example, being able to rely on TFA for new hires may encourage administrators to cut costs and corners but keeping poor conditions and low pay stable. I would be interested to see hard evidence and proof of such dis-incentivization. Moreover, I don’t know how widespread it is, but the practice of TFA alumni taking district leadership roles and then seeking to expand the amount of TFA CM’s in their regions isn’t completely upstanding. This strategy is less of an issue if it occurs in a region such as the Delta, where there are actual shortages; however, applying this same strategy to NYC or perhaps Philly would seem more damaging than helpful. At the same time, districts likely could have inserted a clause that caps the number of corps members hired during layoffs or indexes hiring to the budget. Those are just some ideas rather than criticisms.
This may be egotistical, but I’d like to see a day or week-long period where everyone involved with TFA “boycotts” any involvement with the system- teachers stop teaching, for example. On one hand, we’d see the incredible reach and impact of its corps and alumni. On the other hand, perhaps we’d see that TFA props up a broken system by artificially plugging staffing gaps that should exist naturally because of the lack of pay, prestige, relevant training, and respect for the teaching profession.
What do people think? Should TFA voluntarily scale back because struggling districts did not plan for the economic crisis and subsequent layoffs?
*”Plan Purposefully”: TAL rubric gold