Over the years I’ve taken a strong interest in business management as it applies to education. The professionalism of teachers is frequently called into question, and we are patronizingly told that our workplace needs to operate according to the principles applied in “real world” businesses.
Now on one hand, the business-to-school comparisons fail because the nature of the work is so different. Public education is an essential institution with a mandate to serve every child for as long as that child is eligible for school. Business choose their mission and modify their strategies depending on where they see competitive advantages. They can raise and lower prices, modify their offerings, even acquire their competitors. And if a business fails, there are others ready to take on new customers if the customers still requires the goods or services. In other cases, it simply doesn’t matter to the customer if a business fails: who really suffers if they can’t buy a certain non-essential product, or go to a certain restaurant? In these types of comparisons, schools are must be understood not as businesses, but as essential services vital to public life.
On the other hand, business management principles are often transferable to the extent that they identify and capitalize on basic truths about how people work together in complex organizations. Like businesses, schools have teams of professionals with complex challenges to address. Leaders must communicate and organize effectively, and the school or business thrives when there is an alignment of vision, strategy, and allocation of resources, to support individuals and teams in the pursuit of worthy goals, with a sense of shared purpose and mutual responsibility.
There are some businesses that apparently operate with a relentless focus on the bottom line, profits above people, creating value for shareholders while disregarding workers. In this view, workers are almost a liability, and management is about finding the proper balance of carrot-and-stick to squeeze productivity out of people who are assumed to work only out of self-interest; provide enough pay to keep them but enough pressure to make them work as hard as possible.
However, in my own reading about business management, I find many business leaders and researchers speaking about building organizational culture around shared vision and values, around learning and personal growth. If we could get more of this type of business management thinking into school improvement conversations, we’d make some progress.
Now, as a quick reference to some of my past blog posts about this topic, I offer these links from my prior blog at InterACT, and encourage you to share any related resources you’ve found useful in the comments below.