Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Capturing Tacit Knowledge of Teachers Is Critical

By Emily Douglas-McNab — July 07, 2012 2 min read
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I’ve heard this conversation in past jobs, and I hear it working in school districts now: "(Enter employee’s name) is just fantastic! What do we do if they leave? We will never be able to replace them!” Well, guess what--it’s inevitable. People leave organizations. They retire. They are offered better pay or a promotion with another organization. They pass. They move to a different city or state. These are challenges HR professionals deal with daily. So when it comes down to it, organizations have two options: 1) complain, worry, wallow, moan, and pout about the possibility of people leaving, or 2) capture, preserve, protect, and transfer knowledge from these high-performing, experienced employees.

In my experience, when most people hear the term “knowledge management,” they interpret it as professional development, but that is not what I’m talking about in this situation. I am referring to knowledge gained about organizational relationships, norms, culture, navigation, and processes. Typically this information isn’t written down or even talked about. Individuals learn it through experience and interacting with others in the organization. When you ask people how they know what they know, they say, “I just know.” Experts call this tacit knowledge.

Managing knowledge is not just a process adjustment or technology solution. It requires a culture change, which can be difficult. People have to be open and willing to not only share, but listen. So what does this have to do with HR?

In 2003, Kevin C. Desouza and Yukika Awazu wrote an article published in HR Magazine called, “HR Management Systems Can Help Track and Distribute Information Throughout the Organization.” They discussed HR’s role in managing knowledge and specifically tacit knowledge.

A human resource management system (HRMS), if properly realigned, can play a vital role in contributing to the management of organizational knowledge. These redesigns will help move such systems out of the realm of being just passive support to becoming active aids to organizational members...For an organization to remain dynamic, successful management of this knowledge is key. Knowledge management includes all activities involved with the generation, dissemination, and maintenance of knowledge to meet organizational goals. Just as humans must create knowledge, they also consume it. Moreover, their interaction with other humans is a mechanism for knowledge transfer, so when they leave an organization (voluntarily or involuntarily), they take their knowledge--both professional and social--with them."

Why is this important for schools? There thousands of talented educators across the U.S., but many are getting close to retirement. According to the National Center for Education Information 2011 Profile of Teachers in the U.S., more than 30 percent of teachers are over the age of 50. In 2005, more than 40 percent of teachers were 50 or older. So districts have already seen many educators retire, and will continue to lose experienced teachers, and the tacit knowledge they possess, over the next decade or two. How is your district preparing for this loss?

It is important for districts to develop processes for capturing, preserving, and sharing the tacit knowledge of their most talented and experienced educators. How are you working to manage knowledge in your district? Do you know any districts with human resource management systems that successfully manage tacit knowledge? If so, please share examples and best practices in the comments section!

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