Ask any school administrator what their most important asset is and the odds are that they will reply “our faculty.” This opinion generally holds true when you ask parents and students what they value most in their local school. Let’s assume that such opinions are correct and that faculty represent a school’s greatest asset.
Couple this assumption with some data: teachers will be retiring in unprecedented numbers over the next decade, fewer college students are entering teaching, and a low retention rate among new teachers, and you can see a crisis in the making.
This crisis may be even more pronounced for independent schools, many of whom use their outstanding faculty as market differentiators and a rationale for justifying high tuition payments.
There’s not a lot schools can do to stem the tide of retirements. People age, elect to retire, or are medically forced to retire. But schools can mitigate the loss by capturing the knowledge–and more importantly the wisdom–of these veterans through the use of an array of practices broadly referred to as “Knowledge Management.”
Knowledge Management (KM) has been around in one form or another for centuries. Apprenticeships, storytelling, books, illustrations, and other forms of knowledge retention and transfer are not new. But starting in the 1990s businesses in the “information industry” came to recognize that their “intellectual capital” was at risk when employees quit (sometimes taking their expertise to rivals), retired, died, or even killed. (Recall the market uneasiness with the illness that afflicted Apple’s Steve Jobs, and you begin to understand how important knowledge, wisdom, and other intangibles are to the fortunes of companies and, by extension, to non-profits and schools.) Companies recognized that intellectual assets were too important to leave to informal systems of knowledge transfer, and a new industry and function (Chief Knowledge Officer) was born.
Not surprisingly, technology can play an important role in KM. In one form or another, schools already have repositories of knowledge: individual hard drives, shared file servers, curriculum maps, lesson plans, physical archives, libraries, and so on. The role of KM software is to organize and make these artifacts easily accessible. KM also is designed to capture additional, richer artifacts such as video and audio of master teachers as they demonstrate their craft in the classroom, in meetings, and at professional conferences.
Studies of the use of KM in schools are scarce, indicating that the practice is likely not widespread. Dilnutt 1 writes “Paradoxically, it is observed that the education sector, arguably with knowledge as its core business asset, generally performs poorly when it comes to knowledge sharing and diffusion and has been slow to recognise the opportunity of a knowledge management discipline.” In describing the school that he studies, Dilnutt cites to the “ad-hoc nature of [knowledge] repositories.…” and the lack of an “identifiable corporate taxonomy governing framework for storing of content.” This “absence of policy and procedures on how to perform routine activities results in teacher time being spent ‘re-inventing the wheel.’”
Sound familiar? Of course. This is a problem in all schools.
So, what is your school doing about it? (Hand-wringing doesn’t count!)
- Dilnutt, Robert. Knowledge Management in Secondary Education: A Case Study of an Australian Priivate School. The International Journal of Knowledge Culture and Change Management. Vol. 9, N. 4, 2009 ↩