The Key Connection
One New England boarding school with limited resources has an excellent tradition of recruiting young male teachers from the Ivy League colleges to the north woods. The draw is the beauty of the setting and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young men. However, after three years of coaching three sports, serving in the dorms, and teaching three to four classes a day, most of these teachers lose their affection for the north woods and leave. The setting does not do much for their social life, either!
The Administration, when asked for a philosophy of compensation, replied that the School did not have one. And yet, every year two or three of the most talented and valued young teachers about to leave are offered three significant incentives to stay longer:
- A reduced coaching and dormitory load.
- A base salary increase of $5000 to $7500.
- A title and quasi administrative duties to polish the resume for future career goals.
These incentives tend to work for this school, and every year a few of these key leader prospects stay on longer despite the total absence of a social life in the serene natural setting. A few years later they may become administrators or teachers at other wealthier boarding schools in the region.
A well articulated and serious school mission directly affects the behavior of teachers and the outcome for students. Yet in the very important area of motivating teachers to act in certain ways inside and out of the classroom, we have neglected a key connection: the link between a clear and powerful mission and a clearly articulated philosophy of compensation.The philosophy of compensation shapes the salary and benefit system either to reinforce or undercut the mission. This should not be left to chance.
The school mentioned above DOES have a philosophy of compensation, even though the School did not recognize or articulate it as such. Spending scare resources in a way that retains the best talent is a part of an overall compensation philosophy. The School would have served its mission even better by acknowledging this process and outlining the options to young teachers being recruited: the opportunities for promotion, more money and a lesser workload. The administration was gifted at recruiting talent and retaining it with limited means.
Mission must be reflected in compensation philosophy. Compensation philosophy has three components: recruitment strategies; retention strategies; and reward strategies.
Every effective compensation “package” must embody elements that the teachers UNDERSTAND in advance and learn to manipulate positively to affect their own family and career goals. Teachers must be able to articulate to others the parts of the system and their relationship to mission.
Another school located in a very expensive area of northern California has an easy time recruiting teachers due to the quality of life and setting. However, it has a difficult time retaining teachers who are not living on campus and participating in the boarding life because affordable housing is difficult to rent, much less buy. Commuting great distances can cause serious stress.
The head of this school is keen to establish a new and stated philosophy: “A teacher should be able to live a decent middle class life style, including housing, if married or with a partner.” Essentially, the goal is to help a two income family or “partnership” (or shared housing arrangement) lead a “dignified life”, as NAIS President Pat Bassett has called the lifestyle that teachers deserve to lead.
To achieve this goal, the head asked local bankers what gross annual salary would allow for the typical apartment rental and utilities within a reasonable commuting distance. The reply was “$50,000.” That dictates a starting salary of $50,000. The head is committed to achieving this goal as soon as possible, and this is not a highly endowed school. This is a philosophy of compensation.
A third client school is located in Texas where the cost of living and housing is modest. Teachers here have a “base” salary or “floor” that is guaranteed, and there are opportunities to supplement that base through a combination of talents and responsibilities such as quality of teaching; innovations in curriculum; “pastoral” care of students; mentoring fellow teachers; and taking on significant leadership (non administrative) roles. The “base” salary offered to all provides a living wage in that community. The “add ons” provide the “icing” and better quality of life options. However, they are directly related to the school’s mission and goals as opposed to stipends which exist in many independent schools today as simply extracurricular snowball into an expectation that almost every assignment must have “pay” attached to it, or it will not be done, even though pay of this kind is introduced with the good intention of rewarding those who take on extra responsibility.
- Mission and Money Linked: An Example
A recent article in the NAIS magazine described the process recommended by Littleford and Associates whereby the Haverford School in Pennsylvania created a salary system that delivers highly competitive salaries in an atmosphere where there is a linkage between mission and money. Teachers have the opportunity to know the “path” on which they can increase their earning power by advancing from “Teacher” to “Experienced Teacher” to “Master Teacher” to “Faculty Leader.” The criteria for each category reflect elements of the school’s mission. The highest category of money is associated with the highest category of leadership. Leadership extends beyond good teaching, coaching and counseling; it reflects a desire to further the mission which is in this particular case, “Preparing Boys for Life.” Not all teachers will reach the highest levels, but all know the rules of the game. Evaluation is not feared, but expected and becoming increasingly honest and helpful.
How did the school achieve this connection between mission and money and broad acceptance of the rules of the game? The administration, supported by the board of trustees and faculty, engaged in the following intellectual exercise with the assistance of Littleford and Associates:
- Littleford & Associates engaged a cross section of teachers, administrators and trustees in a meaningful dialogue with the objective of articulating and coming to a consensus about how the School’s mission could be tied to a meaningful compensation philosophy. The philosophy would ultimately become the foundation for creating a teacher compensation package and evaluation system that together attract, retain, reward and support teachers professionally and personally.
- No precise outcome was dictated, but salary and benefits models were presented from schools throughout the world.
- Study groups were formed. In this case, there were three: one for salaries, benefits and evaluation. The groups followed very clear guidelines which have proven to be effective in many other client schools.
- The result was a salary and benefits package as well as an evaluation system, UNIQUE to the school’s culture and mission. The compensation philosophy is easily understood, articulated and widely accepted.
Not all schools may feel ready to introduce or modify teacher evaluation systems, or to redesign a salary system. However, it is important for all schools to create an opportunity for an open intellectual dialogue about teacher compensation, including both its theory and practice. The process recommended by Littleford & Associates allows this dialogue to occur without preconceived outcomes and without teachers feeling threatened. The end result MAY be little or no change in current practice. Even in this case, faculty, administration and board members will be better informed and more clearly committed to current practice and its relationship to school mission. That will reap benefits in terms of school climate, morale and unity. Heads are left with solutions and affirmation, not problems.
The starting point is always mission. Is it clear to the management team, the board, and the faculty? To the students, parents and alumni? Could people recite key elements of the mission statement and know what they mean in the daily life of the school? Could they then interpret OR KNOW as a result of a published statement on compensation philosophy how the compensation philosophy and “system” fulfill the mission?
Stating that a school wishes to be in the “top 10% of NAIS schools regionally” is not a compensation philosophy, though many well meaning boards and heads have used it to push the issue of higher faculty salaries. This is a “dog chasing its tail.” We cannot all be in the top 10% of NAIS schools. However, we all CAN strive for a meaningful philosophy that translates into salaries reflecting the local cost of living and housing, and a quality of life that teachers deserve.