HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Dear Cooki: Setting Standards for All Staff
As a school, we have set guidelines for the hiring of teachers and other pedagogic staff, and the hiring process always includes a model lesson or some kind of interaction with students. Similarly, the evaluation process for teachers is clear, with expectations delineated in full. However, this is not the case for the non-educational staff, despite the importance of the role they play. What should we expect from those who represent the “business” of the school? How involved should they be as part of our mission?
The fact that this subject comes up so rarely is a prime indicator of how little attention many of us pay to the role of the front office and back office staffs. But they are often the first ones with whom prospective parents, community leaders and other visitors come into contact, and they represent the face of the school constantly. They often are singularly responsible for the sensitive financial areas of tuition and HR concerns. Recognizing that they are important members of the school community, what standards should be in place when hiring staff, how can we better integrate them into the school community, and what should our expectations be?
Too often, we fail to educate our non-pedagogic staff about the mission, the mores and the values of the school. Part of the pre-engagement interview should include a clear explanation of what a Jewish community day school is and who the primary stakeholders are. Employees should understand the school’s dress code, its kashrut policy (and if there are any restrictions on what they may eat or their use of common appliances such as the microwave) and the Jewish calendar. To develop a sense of belonging and commitment, they must have a clear understanding of the milieu in which they work. This is true for all incoming staff members, Jew or non-Jew, religious or secular.
No one would dispute that being skilled in the tasks required of the job, demonstrating efficiency, and being accurate are essential. But in the school setting (perhaps in most settings) this is not enough. The way in which office staff interacts with others sets the tone for your school. They are often the first responders to distraught parents, unhappy children and distressed teachers. Are they respectful? helpful? compassionate? Or do many people dread having to go into the school office for any reason? Have you, as school leader, set the strong expectation that those who work in the office are to be treated courteously and fairly at all times? Have you ensured that no one plays favorites with teachers, students or parents? Can you rely on the staff to keep confidential all of the information to which they are privy? The head of school is in a unique position to make certain that this tone of menschlichkeit pervades the office and must take appropriate action if this is not the case.
In few areas of school life is the need for teamwork and collaboration more evident than in the office. In a multiperson office, do the employees help each other, complete tasks together, understand the job that each does, value the differences among them? Again, it is the head of school who can ensure that this happens. We understand and act on the need for professional development for teachers. School secretaries, bookkeepers and other similar staff can also benefit from opportunities to learn and grow. Have you made sure that they are up to date with the tools they need to perform well? When new technology is introduced to teachers, is it introduced to them as well? Would you consider researching programs in your community to enrich the careers of your office staff?
Often, the teaching and non-teaching staffs are viewed as two separate entities. But creating one unified group of employees, a group that shares a common understanding of the school mission and works together to achieve its goals, will significantly strengthen your institution. So while many staff meetings are not meaningful for non-pedagogic staff, many could be enriched by their presence. When you announce “full-staff” meetings, do you mean to include your office staff? Actively including them as part of the school community will build their commitment to the school, make them feel valued, and help them feel part of the larger community. And everyone will benefit as they will bring to the discussion a different and valuable perspective, and may suggest problem-solving strategies that result from their unique view of the school and its population.
Finally, don’t forget your school custodians! They, too, will do a better job if they understand not only the school rules but their underlying rationale. How have you brought them into the circle of your staff? They are a deep source of knowledge about what is happening in the school, and they have broad responsibilities for students and staff. Be sure that they get the respect due them; make certain that students and parents treat them with courtesy and dignity. Make sure they understand your school and what it stands for, and make them your partner in creating an orderly and attractive environment.
Jewish community schools must instill a true sense of community in all of its employees, regardless of their specific job descriptions. All contribute to the success of the school; all roles are interdependent. The head of school, as their leader, must create the climate in which this sense of mutual dependence and respect is fostered.
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