How I Solved My Staffing Crisis with Breakthrough Coach Thinking

Jill Pancoast: Good day everyone! Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Miranda Thorman, a Breakthrough Coach Graduate and Principal of The Academy of Alameda Middle School, in Alameda, CA. I first met Miranda after she completed our Foundations Course for the second time this past July.

Over the course of our conversation, she told me a remarkable story of how she had solved her staffing crisis last winter during the Omicron outbreak using some key Breakthrough Coach principles. Miranda’s story was so compelling and relevant that I invited her to share it with all of us today. Welcome Miranda!

Miranda Thorman: Thank you for having me!

JP: Miranda, talk about last year – give us the context, the setting, and your original thinking about the situation:

MT: Last school year we opened in-person. We had a lot of absent teachers and finding subs was next to impossible – nobody was available, especially during the Omnicron wave in Jan 2022. At some point, in the midst of all of it, I thought to myself, “Should I be subbing in classrooms? Should I be subbing to show I’m willing to help out?,” knowing full well that school leaders across the Bay Area were doing this everyday. Typical Head Technician thinking, I know.

JP: But then you had a moment of insight. Share how your thinking quickly evolved:

MT: My moment of realization came when I had the thought, “But if I’m in classrooms subbing who’s going to figure this staffing problem out? If I’m on the field playing, who’s managing the team? Who’s running the ship? And that’s when I decided I would be the last person on our team to sub. Instead, I would spend my time solving our sub crisis by observing the situation and generating an appropriate solution.

JP: So having had that moment of clarity and time to study the issue, what did you ultimately decide to do?

MT: I ended up working with our leadership team to temporarily close our afterschool program so that we could employ our after school staff as subs. We decided it was more important to keep our core program going during the school day than to maintain the afterschool program.

JP: AND you encountered some major challenges to this plan, right? What were your challenges and how did you solve them?

MT: I had to make a BIG REQUEST to get this all to work! I had to get my after school subs a pay raise to do it, and that took being pushy with my exec director and board. I had to really stay on our leadership team to ensure my after school staff got the pay they deserved. Then I had to figure out who was available to sub and when, and coordinate placing everyone in the right classrooms. Finally, I made sure I was in constant communication with all these temps to ensure they had what they needed to get through.

JP: Great work applying TBC principles! So how did the year turn out?

MT: We were able to get through! We never needed to close. The subs felt appreciated by the money and me. It took a high level of coordination and communication to get it done, which I could never have done if I was subbing in classrooms.

Instead, I did all the background work to make sure people had what they needed, that they were supported and communicated with, and that they were appreciated. My staff was so pleased with how it all turned out that by the end of the year they were referring their friends to work here. This school year we opened fully staffed!

JP: WOW! Remarkable! One less thing to worry about.

MT: Yes! Then when I reviewed the Foundations Course this summer with six other MS principals, we were discussing the Breakthrough Coach concept of “getting off the field.” The principals in my breakout group doubted whether or not this was really possible because they were spending so much time subbing in classrooms.

That’s when I shared my experience and as it turned out, I was the only member of my breakout group who was fully staffed this year. This was an “aha” moment for me! I realized I really do create a much better work environment for everyone when I “get off the field,” “stop playing,” and stick with my proper role as an Executive.

JP: Great story Miranda about what’s possible when you see the world in a different way and then take actions that correlate. Good on ‘ya and good luck with the rest of this year. Thank you very much.