Staff development in Luua Forestry School

The Luua Forestry School is the only vocational school in Estonia specialising in forestry-related subjects for upper-secondary and post-secondary students. It has about 40 teachers, and each year 400 full-time students and 600 adults complete supplementary courses.

In 2012 the school decided to review how it worked. This review arose because the school’s satisfaction survey continued to show a downward trend. This was particualrly noticeable from the perspective of the teaching and other specialist staff who began to express a desire to leave the school.

Background

The decision to develop new systems for employing, rewarding and motivating teachers was taken by the school’s quality development team. The need for change arose because of the fall in staff satisfaction as shown by the school’s satisfaction surveys. The development of new systems was based on a three stage process:

  1. analysis of the current situation;
  2. the creation of a competence system;
  3. assessment of each staff position and the creation of an improved salary system.

Stage 1 - the analysis began by reviewing how work was organised and managed in the organisation. Questionnaires were completed in the following areas:

  • input information - how do employees find the necessary information to complete their work;
  • mental processes - the extent of thinking and how much planning is needed for the work which is completed by staff;
  • physical activities - the physical intensity of the work and how the school’s funds are allocated;
  • labour relations - relationships with co-workers;
  • the working environment - the physical and social environment of work;
  • other features of the work – e.g working conditions.

The analysis of the questionnaires led to the production of a set of job descriptions which took account of the needs of the school and the requirements set by national agencies(e.g. occupational standards).

Stage 2 - establishing a competence system with critical competences for each position, behavioural expectations and minimum levels of competence. The competence model was created by analysing critical situations (CSA Spencer in 1993, bas. D. McClelland) and discussed in staff seminars. The competence system was then linked to job descriptions. As part of the development of the system, a 360-degree feedback method was used alongside a web-based competence evaluation process.

Stage 3 - each existing position was assessed using the analytical reference method (Alberta method 1998, modified, Hay, 2002).This led to the creation of an organisational structure which was connected to the school’s salary policy. Basic salary scales and wage groups were created and additional remuneration and performance fees were linked to the competence system.

Organising the review and development

During the preparation stage, a consultant was appointed to support a school working group. The school’s staff were regularly informed about the activities of this working group. At the start of the academic year 2013/2014, all the staff was introduced to the new system; all employees were given new job descriptions; and individual salary negotiations were held using the new salary system. These negotiations were conducted by the Heads of Departments and the Director.

The most important resources for implementing the system were time and people e.g. each teacher has a performance and development interview that is conducted by the Head of their Academic Department and the school’s development manager. These interviews are based on the STARR method (situation, task, action, result, reflection).

Using the results

The new system allows for a more personalised approach to employing staff. Previously every teacher had a standard job description but now, as a result of the development, there are job descriptions for three roles - a teacher, a senior teacher and a master teacher. These new roles were created to meet the needs of the school. Alongside the establishment of new roles, the school has moved to a new model of working time - salaries which used to be based on an hourly workload are now based on standard expectation of the amount of time that is spent at work. This means that teaching expectations are the same for every teacher but there are differences in development work e.g. a teacher focuses primarily on teaching but the hourly teaching load of the master teacher is reduced as there is an obligation to participate in curriculum development, to be a mentor to new and younger colleagues, and to contribute to school development processes.

All the work that is completed in the Luua Forestry School takes place on the basis of the new job descriptions. This has meant that teachers are more systematically involved in a wider range ofschool activities. In the new system, the teachers’ performance and development interviews are more insightful and purposeful; the salary system is more transparent and the system for motivating staff is clearer. The implementation of the new system (developed in partnership with teachers) has led to an increase in employee satisfaction; staff are more motivated and the teaching and development process of the school functions more efficiently. Implementing a new system has taken the staff, especially the teachers, out of their comfort zone and those who did not want to adapt to the change have left the school.

What makes the new system work

The new personnel system is efficient because it takes account of the school's needs and the capabilities of staff. Individual job descriptions give each employee personal responsibility. The transition to a model based on working time (and not just hours spent teaching students) and differentiation of positions enables the school to review the performance of each employee and base their salary on their contribution. In the previous system salaries were based on hourly workloads and staff were not paid for development activities. Now, all the responsibilities have been fixed in the job descriptions and staff have been remunerated accordingly.

The new approach to the performance and development interviews has received positive feedback. The new approach requires teachers to assess their own competence and that of their colleagues. This has been a new approach for staff - however it has been understood that feedback from many sources enables an individual member of staff to analyse attitudes and behaviour from various points of view and to set future goals. The assessment of the competence of each employee is also important because, since 2012, the school has been developing students' competences using the EQF levels. In order for this development to be systematic and valued, the involvement of teachers in the same process, strengthens the acceptance of this approach as part of the learning process.

Lessons learned

The Forestry School aims to be learner centred and the school’s satisfaction surveys have shown that the critical factor for success is the teacher. To strengthen the learner centred approach, the school management team has focused on human resources. The school is following the principles that are required to create a learning organisation and aims to develop the systemic thinking of employees.

The new personnel system which has been in place for two years. The school has evaluated and reviewed the system using the quality assurance cycle. Over the last two years, the main changes have been in relation to teachers’ salaries and a reduction in the number of pay grades. The greatest obstacle facing the school is the state’s funding strategy which does not favour this new approach and does not provide assurance that the system can be sustained.

The partnership work with staff continues. After each annual round of performance and development interviews the results are analysed and compared with the previous year; new targets are set; and training needs are identified. It is important that the substantial improvements identified by staff are included in regular feedback to employees. Asking for, and receiving, feedback should not just happen in the performance and development interviews once a year - it has to be a continuous process.

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