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Teachers Contracts & Creating a Supportive Environment

Barriers & Challenges:

I believe that the core challenges that face the Superintendent and the Board of Education in solving our Teachers Crisis fall into 3 fundamental areas:

  • Relationship issues which have clouded the business issues of benefits and compensation
  • Failed “Change Management” exacerbating relationship issues
  • Fundamental business issues

Responsibility and Process:

  • The President of the BOE sets the Board’s Agendas and leads negotiations as part of the 2-member negotiations committee
  • I have input into/a vote on the terms of negotiations, and sometimes, a vote on communications
    • The Board votes on most communications and the majority rules. I have advocated for a more empathic approach that demonstrates active listening and understanding, and sensitive in tonality for communications. Tough negotiations do not always equal good negotiations with a helping/nurturing profession
    • I did not review or approve a recent letter that the President read at the end of a recent BOE meeting after which my colleagues voted to adjourn
  • Superintendent Management and Evaluation
    • In an NJSBA online survey, each BOE Member provides input on over 50 questions in multiple areas of evaluation and can provide comments
    • Board President, uses the summary totals for each area of evaluation to determine the majority decision
    • I cannot comment on the evaluation content, but anyone who has viewed or attended Open Public Meeting has witnessed my critical views

Relationship Issues

Teaching is a helping, nurturing profession where the values and abilities associated with empathy, sensitivity, understanding and communication are fundamental, not only to being a good teacher, but to being successful in leading, managing, teambuilding and relationship building with Teachers. Second, in this industry or any other, seeking feedback, listening to and incorporating staff feedback into planning and execution empowers staff, and sends a message that management respects and values staff. Feedback also informs management and improves operations.

In listening to the feedback of the Teachers have expressed feeling:
  • Disrespected in tonality and approach by the Superintendent
  • Not valued and cited their feedback, individually and as a committees, is not being included in development of curricula
  • Their purpose is being undermined:
    • Too much testing turning them into statisticians and test monitors. A little 3rd grader has to take section or chapter tests for subjects, benchmark tests, InView, Fountas & Pinnell tests for 3 times per year, AND multiple PARCC exams.
    • Teachers say, “ We are over-testing and turning our teachers into data generators undermining lesson planning time…we need to provide innovative and high quality instruction
  • Morale is at a devastating low
  • Upset that the Board was aware

Change Management Issues Exacerbating the Relationship Rift:

Teachers expect change and cope with more change than in most professions. At the same time, repeated waves of changes add stress to the relationship and undermine morale and performance

  • In the past 9 years, the District has had 4 superintendents, and with each a wave of change came:
    • New Administrators
    • New Processes and protocols
    • New Curricula forcing new lesson plans
    • New software to learn and text books to execute
    • New hardware to master
    • Different management styles and personalities.
    • Third, many changes were forced by the NJ State DOE (SGOs, SGPs, Teacher Evaluations, etc.)
    • Federal Government Changes
Note that Teachers were frequently not consulted for new initiatives, or not heard when consulted, adding to feelings of disrespect and adding to stress when the have to scramble to execute.

For example, Departmentalization/Specialization in Elementary Schools - Where Math Teachers with Math Degrees teach Math...English and Social Studies teach their subjects and kids start changing classes in 4th grade.
  • They did not review the plan with the teachers in each building
  • Did not give the Teachers enough advanced notice to review and set up their process.
  • Every building has different numbers of people with different degrees, so the plan is not a one size fits all; it has to be customized for each building.
  • So, Teachers and Principals had to scramble to develop schedules and team approaches.

All change, even positive change, is stressful. Constant change yields constant stress. The combination of internal and externally driven change for Teachers (who already work overtime, sacrifice out of pocket money and personal lives to serve the students whom they love) has been enormously difficult. Granted that we are not alone; this phenomenon has been the subject of many books about public schools nationwide, and change management, including “Massaging the Mindset,” and “The Triple Focus.”

Change management demands more teamwork and respect between management and staff, and more opportunities for input and influence on the process by staff to improve execution and morale among the Teachers on the frontlines of the daily battles.

As a Board Member what have I done?

  • I have been advocating in OPM and Closed since 2014. I have shared much of this feedback with the Board and Superintendent, and encouraged communications with genuine empathy and appreciation. I told our Board that the negative relationship casts a pall over the negotiations and teamwork. It’s analogous to shining a light through a cracked lens – No matter how focused or true the light beam, it will refract and reflect back and the light/message will be distorted and miss the target. My efforts have had some success. Recent BOE communications softened the tone and attempted to show, empathy and appreciation for Teachers.
  • I recommended some of these action steps, like the surveys, in the strategic plan revisions
  • I have empathized openly with Teachers and demonstrated active listening in the April 25 meeting. I attempted to do so in the last meeting, but the other BOE Members choreographed and executed rapid motions to adjourn to silence me.

A broken relationship is like looking through a cracked lens, it distorts everything. We have to heal the relationship and the Administration has to include teachers in planning and execution, while we are negotiating terms.


  1. Improved empathy and active listening; sensitivity in tonality; depth of understanding of the feelings, issues and needs; and in accepting and incorporating feedback and not taking feedback as an affront
  2. Give teachers a greater voice and more recognition through:
    1. Initiate climate surveys 1 to 2 times per year that allow for confidential feedback for quality assurance and continuous improvement
    2. Conduct teamwork sessions with Administrators and Teachers where we identify specific action steps to improve the relationship
    3. Do management training for the Superintendent using an outside source
    4. Formalize Teacher Recognition: I would like to see some sort of formalized, monthly recognition of our teachers
    5. Add a Teachers Segment in the Board Meetings – Where they get to outline their issues for 15-20 minutes in addition to the 3-minute comments
  3. Mandate in Policy that Teachers who have the certification and qualifications are interviewed for new job opportunities
  4. Creation of a BOE Personnel Committee to monitor more closely and address Teachers needs and report back to the Board
  5. Teachers Town Hall Meeting

Supporting Parents:

  • Support:
    • Expand existing ESL and Curriculum Nights
    • Add Social Worker visits funded by grants to address the needs of economically challenged households and Spanish-only households
    • Create how-to-help videos for parents in English, Spanish and French
  • Give Parents a Greater Voice
    • Add Parent Advocacy Segments of 5-minutes Each to BOE Meetings for COPTA and WOCAS
    • Conduct parent Climate Surveys twice per year and a Student Survey once per year
    • Hold a Parent/Child Town Hall Meeting

(The statements herein are solely those of Mark A. Robertson and do not necessarily represent that of the West Orange Board of Education)
Contact:  201-903-2534  / Robertson4BoardofEd@gmail.com