Bringing Support Staff Into School Culture

Support staff play an important role in school operations. Quite literally, they keep the buses running on time, clean the facility, and provide classroom assistance. Effective management of support staff offers principals a tool for directing all school personnel toward the shared objective of creating positive learning environments.

Frequently, I hear school administrators wonder about any legal issues or requirements that apply to managing support staff’s contributions to a learning environment. Naturally, legal issues and situations will differ. As always, you should consult district legal staff with specific questions.

But from a strategic perspective, I suggest a two-part approach. The first prepares you for the times when you’re asking support employees to do something in the “here and now.” The second uses collaboration to shape a future where the terms and conditions of employment embed your support staff more fully into operational objectives.

The Here and Now

  1. Review the employee’s job description. Is your “ask” within the job description accepted when the employee agreed to the position?
  2. Consult your collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which might cover the working conditions of support staff. In conjunction with the job description, what are the terms that govern what employees can and cannot do? Is there sufficient language in the CBA to justify your request?
  3. What state or federal labor laws might apply to the situation? For instance, in addition to the CBA conditions, state laws that apply to overtime could kick in if you ask an employee to consider a task outside their regular work hours, even if it’s in their job description.

Strategizing About Personnel Management.

Now, it’s time to think ahead. Effectively leveraging your support staff requires some planning and strategizing.

  1. Perform a needs assessment. Audit your support staff and determine whether their tasks align with the school’s learning objective.
  2. If the audit reveals ways their time can be better spent to support the learning environment, talk with the stakeholders who can help change the rules. That could include the district HR director, a union president, or building representative. Share with them your vision of using human capital more efficiently.
  3. Start a conversation with the people involved—all of your paraprofessionals, for instance, or your janitors—about how to rewrite job descriptions or renegotiate CBAs to fully capture their potential. Share your vision and solicit their ideas for adding to the educational life of the school. Remember this: Narrow job descriptions can restrict the power of human capital. Generalized language gives you and the staff room to be creative.

Together, these two steps build a collaborative approach to recognizing the contributions of support staff to school culture, today and well into the future.