A Customer Service Mindset in School Operations

By Katie Dankleff

School leaders spend a great deal of time addressing the issue of teacher retention. They are quick to point to salaries and hours as drivers behind attrition, often ignoring or underestimating the important role that an extraordinary school operations model plays in retaining our best teachers.

Great teachers don’t leave our schools because the work is challenging. They leave when they are faced daily with challenges that could have been proactively avoided through the development and execution of strong systems. And strong systems, while largely formulaic, are most impactful when they are developed with customer service in mind.

School operations leaders are typically quick to buy-in when presented with the idea that high-quality operations are rooted in customer service. Where they most often hesitate is in naming the operations team’s customer. The question, “Who is your operations team’s customer?” most frequently yields responses of “students” and “families.” Both are reasonable responses, but consider this:


“An extraordinary operations model then is made up of operational systems explicitly designed with teacher support in mind.”


Let’s play this out using an example. Nearly every school in this country provides at least some basic supplies to teachers. An extraordinary operations team is one that thinks strategically about which supplies are made readily available to teachers and where those supplies are stored to make them as accessible to teachers as possible. They proactively develop and then regularly execute systems to keep supply closets organized and to monitor quantities and re-order and re-stock supplies when they run low. They make teachers’ special supply requests as easy as possible for the teacher, resisting the temptation to develop bureaucratic processes that require two weeks’ notice, three forms, and multiple signatures to approve the request. Extraordinary operations teams are explicit about the supply budget and invest team members in caring for and using supplies appropriately and efficiently, and they give direct feedback when they see evidence that investment is lacking. But they don’t allow assumptions of misuse to prevent supply systems from being intentionally designed with teacher support and easy access in mind.

To support your operations team in making the shift to a model where teachers are viewed as their customers, begin by soliciting teacher input. Ask teachers questions such as, “Which systems take the most time to execute?” and “Which systems are most frustrating and why?” to identify the highest leverage areas for improvement. Then begin to redesign systems one at a time, being explicit with teachers about why the team is engaging in the work. Your operations team will soon see firsthand how their work can directly impact teacher retention, and in time, student achievement.