I just had a great customer service experience taking my 2007 MacBookPro to the Apple Store. The store was clean and beautifully designed. A "MacGenius" guy, with long hair pulled back, huge circular earrings that stretched his earlobes around their shape, and the obligatory blue "MacGenius" shirt, quickly and professionally diagnosed the problem. Practically without blinking, through a series of tests and some easy paperwork, he hooked me up with the service I needed. He exuded a "this-is-a-good-job" vibe without saying a thing about it. His co-workers all looked equally busy, calm, and both professional and diverse in their self-expressive appearances at the same time. As a customer, you feel a mix of excitement at the products being displayed and the interactive set-up, and ease at how aesthetically pleasing and organized the place is and how well you are treated at every turn.
I was reminded of something teacher-blogger David Ginsburg of Coach G's Teaching Tips (great Edweek blog on teaching practice) talked about at a dinner before the EWA conference, The Promises and Pitfalls of Improving the Teaching Profession. He shared that he came to teaching after a career in business, and much of what he learned in business helped him to be successful in teaching. Though many people are attempting to apply business concepts to education, they apparently aren't applying many of the most relevant findings from the field of business research.
In particular, he shared that in the business community it is known that when companies focus on keeping their employees happy, with the resources and conditions they need to do their job well, sales go up. Consider the lack of professional working the conditions the field of teaching and the reliance on test scores as the single bottom line, and you have an immediate flaw, from a business perspective.
I think about the success of Apple, where a computer sales guy, or a guy who processes for technical service, seems to genuinely like and respect his job. Compare this with the repairs department at CompUSA...(anyone ever tried that?) I think about the success of Google, where employees get 15% of their schedules for unstructured time to pursue their own pet projects. And that's where little developments like Google Earth and Gmail come from--no coincedence.
So, creativity and respect for employees can make a business money? Working conditions that encourage creativity are worth something? Hm...
Why can't education policy makers realize that teachers will reach these levels of success and productivity once we, too, are treated like professionals? Give teachers the training we need, professional working conditions, professional compensation, time for reflection and creativity, and a little professional trust, and watch what happens. The positive consequences in terms of recruiting, developing, and retaining great teachers will be never-ending, and student learning will increase in ways unimaginable in the current system.
[image credit: apple.com-- yes, I'm giving them free promotion, but it's promotion they seem to have earned through quality products and service from what I can tell. I don't include Itunes in this assessment, however.]