This post was written by Evelyn Powery and Sarah Martin. Evelyn and Sarah are both Duke MBA students and serve as CASE Fellows.
We recently had the opportunity to participate in the CASE Change Academy, a program that combines customized training, consulting and a laser-focused team retreat. CASE Senior Fellow Dan Heath uses the tools and frameworks from his books to help organizations “move a metric that matters” vaulting their social mission forward.
For this unique program, CASE hosted YES Prep, a public charter school system serving Houston’s most disadvantaged communities. The team brought eleven of their faculty and staff to focus on the metric of teacher retention. While YES Prep’s teacher retention is higher than that of most educational institutions, the administration was determined to improve it even further which could lead to cost savings and improved student outcomes.
It was fascinating to see the YES Prep team come to their own conclusions and recommendations for how they could better retain their teachers. Dan acted as both consultant and facilitator, and as the team brainstormed different solutions together, the energy in the room was electric. There were several breakout sessions where smaller groups of the team worked together to flesh out different aspects of a solution. Once the team had several options, the group voted on their favorites and did a deep dive into these solutions. Dan introduced a pre-mortem exercise, where groups enjoyed playing devil’s advocate for each other’s solutions and listing all of the reasons why a particular solution wouldn’t work. Ultimately, it made the analysis and the solutions stronger.
In the end, the YES Prep team focused on three priorities for increasing retention of their teachers: rethinking the PTO and substitute coverage process; re-evaluating the perks (and communication of perks) for teachers as they are promoted along the teacher continuum; and, increasing teacher flexibility and autonomy during free periods. For each priority, the group compiled a concrete plan of action including owners and timelines to continue the work when they returned to Houston.
As the CASE and YES Prep team reflected on key takeaways from the Change Academy, they noted the following:
- When a team is laser-focused, people can come up with great solutions in a short amount of time. In the end, the length of time spent considering a problem does not necessarily correlate with the quality of the solution.
- Identifying and pursuing multiple solutions for one issue (multi-tracking) increases the chance of success.
- There is so much potential in looking at bright spots in an organization, rather than spending all the time focused on underperformers. As one participant noted, “Bright spots are untapped gold for us!”
- Faculty and staff benefit when they can see all different perspectives in the system – teachers, school directors, students, parents, etc. – so that they can understand the nuances, complexity and motivations within the organization.
This was an incredible opportunity to participate in the Change Academy as students. It provided a great way to get outside of the classroom and apply facilitation and strategy techniques that we have been exposed to at Fuqua. We also enjoyed interacting with actual practitioners in the space and tackling a real problem facing a successful charter school system. Working with YES Prep specifically piqued our interest in education, and we will use stories of the organization, along with the expertise of CASE and Dan Heath, to further impact the social sector as we graduate.