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Connecting Your Substitutes to Mission and Vision
Why do you go to work in the morning?
No, not “Why do you have to go to work in the morning?” Everyone needs food on the table and a warm place to sleep. I mean, what about your job puts wind in your sails? What broader purpose do you serve? What made you seek your position in education rather than the chance to earn more money working at a for-profit company?
I’m betting that words like students, future, engagement and empowerment are running through your mind. You chose to work in education. You’re about supporting teachers. You’re about creating an environment where students learn and grow every day. You’re about serving the broader community.
Every employee at your school or district is part of this work, from teachers to custodians to superintendents to bus drivers. Everything that happens in your district should contribute to the same overarching goals. Part of your job is to help connect every staff member — including substitutes — to that broader mission.
Communicate your goals
Imagine for a moment that one your school district’s goals is to have a 100% graduation rate. Have you communicated that goal to your substitutes? When teachers are absent and substitutes enter the classroom, are they prepared and motivated to work toward the same goal? Or does your district simply see them as a way to keep students out of trouble until the teacher returns?
At a time when school districts are using every available tool to support and encourage student achievement, don’t overlook this one. On average, teachers are absent more than 10 days each year, leaving substitutes to take over for more than two weeks of class time. When you help them to see the goals that have been set, substitutes will be able to meaningfully contribute, because they’ll know the direction your school is headed.
Communicate your milestones
Some goals might be smaller and more immediate. If student assessment is one measure in teacher evaluation, for instance, how might substitutes be able to help the teachers meet those standards? Do the substitutes know to what accountability measures teachers are held? When you communicate this information to your substitutes, only then can they come alongside the teachers to help reach those goals.
The same holds true for goals that a particular school is trying to reach, and for your district as a whole. Perhaps it’s that 100% graduation rate, or some other district initiative. Communicate to your substitutes both the goal itself and the steps your teachers, your school and your district will take to reach it, and state clearly how you’ll measure progress.
The effect of high expectations
You might think that expecting substitutes to take ownership of your school’s mission could be asking too much — that it would keep them from wanting to work in your district. But in practice, this isn’t the case.
People respond to a challenge. A job with low expectations may be “easy,” but it’s not fulfilling. Substitutes are educators. They want to come alongside the mission of your school. They want purpose in what they do every day. If you bring them onto the team and help them catch the vision for your school, they’ll rise to the task.