The Case For Poaching Talent in Education

The Case For Poaching Talent in Education
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If a Fortune 500 company increased revenue by 20-70 percent annually, its CEO would be the darling of Wall Street. That CEO would also likely be the target of aggressive recruiting by competing firms in an effort to poach the great leader.

Yet, as cities try to create the conditions for every child to attend a great public school, city leaders are not actively identifying and poaching the school leaders who add two to seven months of learning for a typical student every school year.

In truth, cities barely compete at all when it comes to education talent because they rely on antiquated recruitment and talent management approaches that don’t reflect changing labor markets.

Education Cities believes we’re entering a third era of talent management in education. Call it Talent 3.0.

In Talent 1.0, public education was a closed system – teachers’ colleges prepared new teachers for the classroom, with a subset of them eventually becoming principals and then administrators. In this closed system, the labor market was controlled by two basic factors: where educators and leaders went to school and where they wanted to live.

Over the past several decades, a Talent 2.0 approach has infused the system with non-traditional talent that enters the market through new pathways like alternative teacher certification, principal residencies and leadership incubators.

However, talent programs, incubators and principal residencies all rest on an “if we build it, they will come” philosophy. In other words, if we create opportunities for people to receive training or support, the right ones will actively find it and apply.

These programs are well designed for emerging or junior leaders, and those changing careers. But proven school leaders need a different approach. When considering switching companies, great private sector leaders don’t first apply to training programs.

Cities need a new, more aggressive approach to attracting and retaining top school leader talent. In this Talent 3.0 approach, cities should maintain or even expand their 2.0 investments, but should also seek to identify the best possible school founders and leaders and do more to bring them to town, even if that means borrowing a page from the private sector’s playbook.

Take the story of how Todd Dickson, a great principal at Summit Public Schools in California, was recruited to found and run Valor Collegiate Academies in Nashville.

It took five months, but a group of local leaders, including the mayor, pulled out all the stops to persuade Dickson and his wife that Nashville should be their next home. The Dicksons were given real estate tours, introduced to all the key stakeholders and funders, and treated like rock stars throughout the process. A strong compensation package helped, too.

Dickson now runs one of Nashville’s best middle schools, and is set to open an additional middle, elementary, and high school in the coming years. The need is great, as Valor has the longest waiting list in the city.

It took more time, effort, and resources to create an incentive package to successfully poach Dickson than slapping a job description on a website and interviewing those who apply. But because of his proven success and willingness to open multiple schools to meet community needs, the effort for Nashville was well worth it.

Education Cities, a national non-profit that supports a network of city-based organizations dedicated to growing great schools, details how cities can implement a Talent 3.0 approach in our paper “How Cities Can Compete For Great School Leaders.” But there are a few, simple tactics city leaders should start incorporating now:

  • Get over your fear of poaching. You need great leaders if you want great schools. Go and get them, don’t wait for them to come to you.
  • Raise flexible capital to design customized recruitment packages for top leaders. Don’t assume formal programs will source all your leadership talent.
  • Build a recruitment task force - enlist funders and other stakeholders and get them on message to magnify the effect of your recruitment strategies.

Some say that because the talent pool for great school leaders is shallow, competition and poaching is a zero sum game. We disagree.

In a sector with healthy competition, where the incentives for great school leaders more accurately reflect their value in the national labor market and their impact on children and cities, the talent pool would get bigger over time. Further, the lack of true competition and active poaching strategies represses the market value of school leaders and artificially limits the potential talent pool.

Over time, if cities make the shift to embrace competition and a Talent 3.0 orientation, school leadership could become a more attractive profession, and cities will be able to more rapidly accelerate the growth of great public schools.

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