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Happy Teachers, Smarter Kids

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Written by Dan Hoffman

I was talking to Margot, a kindergarten teacher in a local charter school, about where we should send our 2-year old.  This is a big question for parents in NYC, described graphically in the 2008 documentary and parental horror movie Nursery University .

Charter schools are booming, and have opened the door to many creative educational approaches.  But  Margot’s explanation of why she’d recommend her employer, the 5-year old Hellenic Classical Charter School inspired me.  The hundred-or-so faculty love it. They all have a passion for teaching.  They are friends.  Teachers that don’t share this “vibe” are shown the door.  The founders, a Greek couple, regularly hold staff appreciation events at nice restaurants and there is a constant mood of celebrating and building.  Within the broadly outlined charter, each teacher is given flexibility with curriculum - as long as they are hitting the high test scores they committed to.

Margot is planning to go back to work there after finishing a Master’s, despite having higher paying offers at private schools.  Doesn’t this school sound great?  All things equal, wouldn’t you want your kid cared for by passionate, committed and happy teachers?  In the business world, this path has served many leaders well:  David Neeleman of Jet Blue used to say that the most important factor in a Jet Blue interview was determining if someone was happy (you can train the rest.)  I love Zappos’ Tony Hsieh’s favorite interview question -- “are you a lucky person?” -- which gets at the same thing.  Danny Meyers attributes his legendary restaurant service to “taking care of staff so they take care of customers.”   How wonderful that people are trying this approach in education.  It makes me doubly committed to work so M5 continues to be a place where people love to work.  Check out our coverage lately in Crain’s.