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John Florez: Involve teachers in lawmaking

Published: Saturday, Feb. 18 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

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He started out with the intent of firing poor teachers. However, after he spent some time listening to them, to other employees and administrators, he learned they wanted to see changes in management practices of Utah's education workforce.

How refreshing — a politician who listens and seems willing to learn. Sen. Aaron Osmond is sponsoring SB64, which would provide consistency throughout the state in managing personnel within public education. He learned what leaders in the private sector know about managing employees: the key is in holding mid-managers accountable for the success of their employees.

Andy Grove, former chairman and CEO of Intel, said it well, " … managers got to where they are by having been good at what they do … so it's not surprising that they will keep implementing the same strategic and tactical moves that worked for them during the course of their careers. … I call this phenomenon the inertia of success. It is extremely dangerous."

For too long, legislators have focused on improving teacher performance because they only listened to the administrators and special interest groups, instead of listening to the front-line teachers and staff. Lawmakers in their zeal have created a confusing and unpredictable regulatory environment that is intimidating and discourages risk taking by administrators from trying new ideas.

Legislators keep looking for the "silver bullet" that will solve the problems of our outdated educational system when what is needed is structural change with a clear vision of what the system should look like and what it should produce in today's digital world.

Osmond's focus on personnel management of the system is a good beginning. Hopefully, his bill will be seen as providing policy direction while allowing local school districts the flexibility to achieve the intended results of the legislation. Employees are eager to do the right thing, but they need an environment where they are not punished for risk taking or told "Don't think. Follow the policy."

Successful leaders encourage their people to risk and believe in their abilities. They create a culture where employees feel valued and respected. This would help change the climate from one where legislators continually demean and blame the failure of education on those at the bottom of the food chain, teachers.

Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, in his book, "Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy called 'Don't Mark My Paper, Help Me Get An 'A,'" does just what Osmond is attempting to do: hold administrators accountable for the success of their teachers. If Ridge finds managers are giving too many low performance job evaluations, he holds the managers responsible for their failures. Good managers help employees succeed rather than waiting for them to fail. This approach would go far in creating a workplace where teachers know they are valued and supported in motivating students to learn.

Evaluating mid-managers' performance on how effective their teachers/employees are may well result in improvement of students' performance because teachers are eager to come to class ready to challenge and motivate students to learn — the bottom line in education.

If Utah is to succeed in preparing students for the new economy, it needs to retool public education for the 21st century. It will take leaders like Osmond with a bit of humility, a willingness to constantly learn and trust in their employees. They must be leaders who are willing to take the time to listen and understand problems as they exist today and most important, willing to change their thinking as they discover new information in working for the public good.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.

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