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Beyond Plato's Craftsmen: The Increasingly Complex Roles of Educators

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This is a guest post by Naima Khandaker. Naima is a Human Capital Consultant at Battelle for Kids, and a Ph.D. student in Educational Psychology at The Ohio State University.

"It occurred to me that, in the first place, we aren't all born alike, but each of us differs somewhat in nature from the others, one being suited to one task, another to another." --Plato, The Republic

In The Republic, Plato constructs a fictional city to help illustrate the concept of justice. To sustain itself, this ideal city must have craftsmen--a farmer, a builder, a cobbler, and so on--and each one should practice only the craft for which he is "naturally suited," to ensure high-quality goods are produced in abundance.

While the idea makes sense in theory, is it really possible? Can a person be naturally suited to the multiple facets of today's complex professions? Take teaching, for example--a profession that Judith Taack Lanier argues has evolved from its origins "as much as modern medical techniques differ from practices such as applying leeches and bloodletting." Today's teachers, she writes, must build relationships that invest students in the educational process; guide and facilitate learning using sophisticated pedagogical techniques; and navigate new technologies, learning environments, and professional responsibilities.

As teachers' responsibilities grow in complexity, so does the role of principals. A recent Wallace Foundation report suggests that the principal must now serve as "an aspirational leader, a team builder, a coach, and an agent of visionary change" in addition to the traditional responsibilities of building management, discipline, and public relations. 

For K-12 talent managers, the changing roles of educators highlight the importance of establishing human capital systems that effectively identify and select talented individuals, then provide them the support needed to grow in their complex professions. These systems should be aligned such that hiring, evaluation, and professional development are informed by a common set of core competencies that accurately reflect the diverse responsibilities and expectations for each position.

The increasing responsibilities of educators make the development of strategically aligned human capital systems more important than ever. They also mean that talent managers must approach their work with the understanding that even the most talented employees need support to grow, improve, and keep up with their changing environment.

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