What Do Faculty Need? Multiple Voices Respond | Jim Wickenden | 10 Min Read

November 10, 2022

Although I have worked in three different institutions of higher education, been on the Board of Trustees of nine different independent schools, and provided consulting services to over 300 independent schools, I readily admit that I have not been a faculty member of an independent school.  As a result, when asked to write an article entitled “What Do Faculty Need?” I took a six-step approach to the process. Specifically, I first addressed this issue with Arnold Holtberg, the former Head of St. Mark’s School in Dallas, TX.  After hearing what Arnold had to say, I then arranged to have an appointment with Dr. Stanley Katz, a former professor of History at Princeton University, the President Emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies, and the recipient of an award from President Obama for the work he did in the humanities.  Next, I contacted Dr. James Crisfield, the Superintendent of the Wissahickon Schools District in Pennsylvania. Fourth, I reached out to Linda O’Malley who has worked as a librarian in independent schools for over 20 years.  Fifth I benefited from reading a monthly newsletter published by the Greenwich Leadership Partners in Greenwich, CT. The sixth and final research step was done by yours truly.  When serving as a consultant to 300-plus independent schools over a span of 35 years, I always asked those on the interview schedule, “What are the challenges facing the school?”  Fortunately, those I interviewed were forthcoming with their opinions and I am indebted to them.

Arnold Holtberg’s contribution:  When I called Arnie, who parenthetically was an advisee of mine when I worked in the Admissions Office at Princeton University in the 1960s, and told him that I was asked to write an article about what faculty need, he without any hesitation whatsoever said, “They need to feel KNOWN, VALUED and LOVED.”   I resonated with that response and decided to organize this article accordingly.

Professor Stanley Katz’s contributions:  While Professor Katz’s career was not in independent schools, his opinions about what faculty need deserve inclusion in this article.  His observations about what faculty want their leader to commit to are as follows:

  • Ensuring that the faculty become familiar with the cultural norms of the institution;
  • Creating a school culture that values freedom of speech and behavior; 
  • Instituting a commitment to mentoring new faculty members;
  • Providing skills training, especially with respect to technology.

Dr. James Crisfield’s contributions:

  • KNOWN: Most faculty appreciate the leaders of the school venturing into their classrooms, acknowledging good work, and being empathetic to their needs.
  • VALUED:  Most faculty members want their work to be recognized, especially with respect to their commitment to the students.  Teachers also value honesty, especially when times are tough and when their job is stressful.  They deserve praise, especially in front of parents and community members.  The faculty deserves both recognition and thanks.
  • LOVED: The leaders of the school need to prove that they know their staff and what they are going through on a personal and professional level.  A leader must also provide a shield for teachers. Leaders must explain with honesty and transparency why they have made a decision that might be viewed as controversial.  Finally, feedback is really valued.

Linda O’Malley’s contributions:  What a faculty needs most is more time, such as time dedicated to curricular development and time for a mental health break.  So often school leaders add to what is on the teachers’ cluttered plates.  Faculty meetings are often viewed as a waste of time.  Faculty members need prep time during the day as well as time to meet with students who are struggling.

Greenwich Leadership Partners contributions:  The October 2022 publication of The Blueprint deserves to be reviewed by the leadership of public and private schools.  Rather than summarize all of the recommendations that were made in this newsletter, I’ll highlight the following points:

  • An administrator, who in essence would be a Chief People Officer, would be responsible for strategy, data, and an understanding of human and organizational development  This would include professional growth, evaluation, and effective DEI work.
  • Successful Leaders COACH by doing the following:
    • Caring for the employees;
    • Organizing them into their strengths and intrinsic motivations;
    • Aligning them around the organization’s purpose and values;
    • Challenging them to reach their full potential;
    • Helping them reach their goals.

Using the three characteristics that, according to Arnold, reflect the desires of the faculty, the next section of this article will be devoted to specific suggestions or programs.  Each quality will be followed by a brief explanation about why faculty members consider it important.

Observations I’ve made when consulting with independent schools


  • Create a culture of continuous growth:
    • It’s easy to state that an organization should have a culture of continuous growth (contrasted with “career path”).  It’s difficult, however, to monitor that growth. The leaders of an organization should be charged with defining how that growth would be assessed.
  • Provide faculty members with feedback:
    • Undeniably, this may be a difficult task, especially if the feedback is not positive.  Nonetheless, constructive feedback is likely to be appreciated by faculty members who are eager to learn how they might improve.
  • Be visible and skilled as a communicator:
    • Being the son of a Headmaster who held that post for 35 years, I know how difficult it is for a Head to be visible at various events.  An assistant who can create and monitor a visibility calendar for the Head may be a step in the right direction.  Also, technology has complicated the lives of most Heads as anyone affiliated with the school can send an email and may expect to receive an immediate answer.  Again, an efficient administrative assistant may be able to respond to many of these emails, thereby enabling the Head to be visible at various functions.
  • Publically recognizing the faculty for their work:
    • Recognizing achievements and complimenting faculty, staff, or coaches who have done something special is an essential task for any leader.  The issue, however, requires someone to keep a record of who has been given special recognition and by default, who has yet to be publically recognized.
  • Confronting faculty members who have made a mistake:
    • Everyone makes mistakes.  Some are minor; others are not.  If someone has made a mistake, it should not be ignored.  Mistakes that are ignored are likely to be repeated.  How the mistake is handled is essential if one does not want that mistake to be repeated.


  • Provide the faculty with tools that will enable them to grow:
    • Expectations for growth.  Annual goal setting is not an unusual phenomenon in schools.  However, are the goals both realistic and challenging?  Also, does the supervisor of faculty members do a good job of assessing the extent to which those faculty members achieve their goals? 
    • Working on an advanced degree.  This could be a costly issue.  However, schools are a place where people learn and grow.  This should apply to the faculty as well as the students.  The financing of a graduate program could go a long way to ensure that the faculty continues to develop and remain at the school.
    • Sabbaticals.  Some thought needs to be given to this. A school might consider developing a program whereby a faculty member who has worked at the school for a specific length of time, such as ten years, would be eligible for a semester sabbatical that would enhance his or her effectiveness as a teacher and might function as an incentive for the recipients to remain at the school.
  • Supporting the faculty who may have been unjustly criticized by parents:
    • COVID-19 complicated the lives of the trustees, Heads of School, and faculty members.  Horror stories developed about parents demanding specific steps that were the opposite of what faculty members wanted.  Although there is no easy solution to this problem, it might be worthwhile for a school to consider creating a sub-committee of one of the standing committees of the Board. The mission of the new sub-committee would be to respond to crises and explain to the constituencies of the school how the crisis is being handled.  This sub-committee would be staffed by trustees, faculty members, parents, and ideally by someone familiar with public relations.
  • Create a curriculum that enables students to engage in creative thinking.
    • With computers, students are able to access enormous amounts of information. Less emphasis in the future will be placed on memorizing facts to be regurgitated on a test. As a result, more opportunities may be given to encourage students to pursue their creative interests.  To quote an article by Walter Isaacson, “Smart folks are a dime a dozen. What truly matters is creativity.”  As Albert Einstein put it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
  • Allow the faculty members to create courses that reflect the passion of the teachers.
    • For years, public and private schools offered courses that prepared bright and ambitious college-bound students to register for and take the Achievement Tests developed by the Educational Testing Service. With the changes in the policies associated with the standard test requirements, the door may now be open to capitalizing on faculty creativity and ingenuity.  This, of course, will require oversight by the leaders of each school, but in response to ”what do teachers want”, one could argue that teachers would prefer to follow their passion versus adhering to the policies of the academic administration.
  • Create incentives to help teachers make a long-term commitment to the school.
    • This is a difficult goal to achieve.  Why?  Different faculty members have different needs and aspirations.  Nonetheless, the Board of Trustees working collaboratively with the Head of School might give serious consideration to creating a subcommittee to discuss incentives that would be appropriate for the school.


  • Create an annual program to thank the faculty for their contributions.
    • At schools I’ve visited, faculty members who have been at the school for a specified period of time could have their portraits done and hung on the walls of the academic center.  Another option that might be considered is for the Board of Trustees to work collaboratively with the Head of School and the Development Office to raise money to endow a Chair for a faculty member who has done significant work over a long period of time.  A third option would be for the leadership of the school to have an annual banquet not only for the faculty members but also for their spouses or partners. The Head of School could summarize what has been accomplished in the past year and in so doing honor those members of the faculty and staff who have made significant contributions. The Chair of the Board of Trustees could distribute tangible gifts to those faculty members who have devoted 15, 20, or 25 years to the school.
  • Honor those who are retiring or have passed away.
    • If a teacher or coach has devoted much of his or her life to the school, serious consideration could be given to memorializing that person by naming a classroom, lab, athletic field, special program, or even a building to honor someone whose contributions warrant special recognition.  As Dr. Crisfield noted in his response to my request for feedback, “The idea of honoring those who have passed or extending a note of sympathy to a faculty member who may have lost a loved one, is priceless.”


The aforementioned recommendations should be applicable to any schools public or private, faith-based or non-sectarian, boarding or day, elementary or K-12.  The challenge, of course, is how much emphasis should be placed on each and specifying who is responsible for ensuring that these challenges are baked into the culture of the institution.  While many schools might include in their marketing literature that they value each of the items mentioned in this article, it is up to the leadership of the school to determine whether or not these qualities are assessed and honored.

The Board of Trustees, working in collaboration with the Head of School and the direct reports to the Head, should review the prioritization on an annual basis.  Granted, change is difficult for a variety of reasons.  However, if the leaders of the school are committed to a culture of continuous improvement, this opportunity to initiate change should be welcomed, not resisted.

You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Jim Wickenden for Intrepid Ed News.

Jim Wickenden

Jim is a Principal at DRG and Founder of Wickenden Associates, an affiliate of DRG. Having been the CEO of one of the premier education executive search firms in the United States, Jim brings unparalleled experience and networks to best serve clients. With over 30 years of experience identifying and guiding Heads of Schools and other senior administrators of schools across the country, Jim approaches each search with flexibility and openness that responds to the individual needs and concerns of schools and their leaders. Before founding Wickenden Associates, Jim served as the Dean of Admissions at Princeton University and Director of Student and Alumni Affairs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A graduate of Tabor Academy and Princeton University, Jim holds a master’s degree in Counselor Education from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in the General Purposes of Education from Harvard University, and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Boston University. As a former member of eight boards of independent schools with a wide range of missions and resource levels, Jim also knows firsthand the responsibilities shouldered by today’s trustees; and knows how to guide boards through tough transition processes and on good governance practices. Jim lives in Princeton, NJ, and when he is not at the office he enjoys reading enlightening books.

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