Educational Consulting vs. Practice Management

Teachers are doing lots of work. Administration is also doing lots of work. So why are we not experiencing the rewards of all this great work? Why are our numbers dismally low, particularly in urban city school districts? To answer this we need to look outside of education to find a remedy.

Many years ago, when I began my practice as a chiropractor, I thought I knew everything. I graduated school thinking, “I am a doctor so once I put my shingle on my door everyone will come running for my skills, expertise and knowledge. Likewise, teachers enter the profession with the same level of enthusiasm and excitement.

I realized right from the start that I was dreadfully wrong. Where were the people? Isn’t my office supposed to be filled with the sick and injured who were waiting for me to graduate? And the ones who do show up – Why aren’t they keeping their appointments? Why aren’t they doing their exercises I recommend? Why aren’t they referring friends and family who I know could be helped? I am ready to help people so what is going wrong?

Teachers feel this same crash. Why aren’t the students doing homework? Why are they coming late? Why aren’t they telling their friends to stop talking in class? Why aren’t they studying for tests? I know I am qualified to teach so why is this happening? These are the same “whys” other new professionals have as well. Same questions, just inserting different nouns and verbs: no exercises – no homework, missed appointments – latenesses, no referrals – no respect, and the list goes on…..

Friends suggested I seek the professional services of a “practice management consultant.” I had neither the money, nor the inclination, to seek the services of someone who, just like me, had graduated as a doctor and was doing the same thing I was doing. But after a year I was ready to pack it in and do something else, so I decided to give practice management consulting a shot. I called the top company and they sent me out a questionnaire to fill out and send back ASAP.

I received the package, but I thought it was a mistake. These questions had nothing to do with what I was “doing as a doctor.” They were asking me questions like:

  • How many new patients do you see each month?
  • How many patients cancelled their appointment last month?
  • How many cancelled appointments were re-scheduled?
  • How much money do you have in the “petty cash box” at the end of the week?
  • How many cash, no-fault, Medicare, Medicaid, personal injury patients do you see?
  • What is the % of each of these groups of patients?
  • How many patients do you treat in the morning? In the afternoon?

It went on like this page after page. I thought they made a mistake and that this was the packet meant to be filled out by my office manager (even though I didn’t have enough money to afford one). It was asking nothing about my practice such as: what types of techniques do I use, how much force I use when adjusting a patient, what type of tables I have in my office, types of therapies, frequency of treatment, etc…. The consultant was asking about how I manage my practice, not about the practice itself.

On the other hand, coaches are asking questions such as:

  • What is your Do Now?
  • What is your motivating hook?
  • Do you include both language and content components in your objective?
  • Is your class “student” or “teacher” centered?
  • Does your “exit ticket” answer your objective?
  • How are you modelling your tasks?

But these questions are not asking how you manage your classroom. They are asking about your practice itself.

There is a big lesson here to be learned by every administrator and every teacher, as we are the only profession who is standing by the belief that if things are going wrong there must be something wrong with how we “practice”, rather than how we manage our practices. Until this thinking changes we will continue to fling spaghetti up against the wall hoping some of it will stick.

When I met with the consultant he had looked at my “stats” and determined that all was not lost. He was able to see many positives I could be fixing and quite a few negatives that I should be reducing or eliminating. We spoke for about an hour and I left feeling as if an elephant had been lifted off of my chest. And not once did we talk about my “practice”, only my practice management.

For teachers, your practice consists of your lesson plan, Do Now, Aim/Goal, Objectives, classroom movements, material presentation, etc… He never even mentioned these practice items to me. Currently schools are focusing exclusively on your practice, when practice management is what is needed to fix our woes. So if you are meeting with a coach or mentor who speak only of your Do Now, Aim/Goal, Objectives, etc… then you are not focusing on the problem (unless of course it takes dozens of meetings to get a Do Now straight.) I know I will hear from many naysayers telling me how schools are different because we are not making a product, or in it to make a profit, or we are nurturers not salespeople, or any number of other reasons I have heard over the years. Keep believing that, and keep your head in the sand and you will soon be looking eye to eye with an ostrich.

I went back to my office and began immediately building a practice that would be built on statistics – using numbers to run my office. I created a Mission Statement, set my goals – long and short, created action steps, began prioritizing, and reorganized my office so that at a glance (at one or two sheets of paper) I would be able to tell how I am trending and where I need to make changes – immediately!

At the end of the first month, I began to see a difference. My appointments were up, my new patients were up. Everything was up! By the end of my first year working with this consultant, my life was great. I saw the hope that so many other new doctors were seeing. Within a few years I sold my Escort wagon and bought my first Jaguar. Why do I mention this? Because most professionals love what they do and money is but a perk of having done a good job. Money (contrary to what many would have you believe) is not why most people go into a profession or a business or teaching. Most do it because of a calling they have. Something pulls them. And yes, my income had increased dramatically, but so did the number of patients I was seeing and the services I was providing my community. It was never about money. That was a perk.

Teaching is not about money. Teachers want to experience the same results I did in practice, but it will not happen until we re-set our sights on what is important and what is not. We know our practice. We know how to write a lesson plan, or demonstrate an experiment, or how to look for the student who needs our help the most. What we need is a vehicle to drive our practice management and that is, as the Kung Fu Panda would say, is the “missing ingredient.”

Administrators, are you willing to listen to an idea that will show you how consulting is designed to work?

The Business of School

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5 Responses to Educational Consulting vs. Practice Management

  1. Ben costa says:

    I am interested to listen. 🙂

  2. Andrew Skendi says:

    It appears that you reflected on what was important for you to be successful. Upon receiving that information, you were able to reflect and make the necessary changes. The challenge in education today is that many teacher evaluation models are being used to assess practice. In other words, the reflective piece is piece of the process rarely occurs.

  3. drcubbin says:

    You are correct, Andrew, but it was out of desperation that I became so focused on the way to make those changes. I did so because my livelihood depended upon it. I was ready to throw away my doctorate, my office (but retain $100,000 in debt.) I was really pulling at the last straw. Given our attrition rates, our teachers are there as well, and the current evaluative processes are not only counterproductive, but harmful. As you point out, they leave no room (not even a little) for teachers to reflect upon. Until we let teachers spread their wings and fly away from the nest, we will continue to over/micromanage and stifle growth and achievement in education. Teachers are as desperate as I was, but they are not being given the opportunity to “reflect” and find personal solutions. They are also not being given the framework to build a career from. This what “The Business of School” is all about.

  4. Keith says:

    I like your approach to this problem and thinking through strategies that may be able to help all teachers improve.

  5. drcubbin says:

    Thank you, Pumla. Today’s teaching (especially here in the US) revolves around the “Practice” component, leaving the “Practice Management” component adrift on the ocean. We are losing sight of the potential teachers have for growth and development if allowed to move beyond the mechanics of how they stand, how they walk, and how they move their arms. Let teachers take ownership of their individual practices, while at the same time retaining “best practices” for all under one roof.

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