Unless We Remember, We Cannot Understand.
I'm still struggling with the idea of moving into administration. I LOVE learning and being with kids every day! I'm not sure that I want to leave the classroom environment. But, my heartstrings are also being tugged in a new direction. Could I make more of an impact by being an administrator? I can barely visualize myself taking on the role of a lead learner. But, if I decide to take that journey there are some things that I must remember. I'm writing them down now so that I can. I don't want to be known as an administrator "who doesn't get it". Here are my thoughts but obviously from the point of view of a teacher. It's not a "How to be a Good Principal" list; there are dozens of books about being a good principal/leader. No, this list (in no particular order) is some of the things that I think administrators seem to forget.
1. Value A Teacher's Time:
- Meetings, Meetings, Meetings- If there's a need for a meeting, then schedule a meeting. But don't just have a meeting because it's on the calendar, a committee needs to meet every week, or it's what an administrator is supposed to do. Can information be communicated through an email, screencast, LMS, or digital newsletter? If it can, do it! Flip the learning of the staff. Let teachers learn and respond in their own time. As an avid user of Edmodo, I know that I can link or embed information, polls, quizzes, or facilitate discussions online. Using Edmodo will save time. I also think it's important for administrators to start and end meetings on time. Starting and ending on time along with following an agenda is a respectful norm for all meetings in the school.
- Avoid Assigning Busy Work- Enough said.
- Protect Planning Time- It's easy for teacher planning time to be filled with interruptions like another "short" meeting, phone calls, paperwork, etc. But, teacher's need time for planning and preparing instruction.
- Find Time for Personal/Professional Development- This is not an option. Find a way! Be creative and think out of the box. Give credit to teachers using social media (Twitter) to enrich and enhance their practice.
- Give Time to Teachers to have Authentic PLCs- Don't make them jump through hoops to appear to be having the conversations that make a difference.
3. Help A Teacher To Be Successful/Think About the Little Things: It's hard to teach with technology if the projector doesn't work, the Wi-Fi is weak, or a cord needs to be replaced. Make sure teachers have the supplies that they need. Notice the workflow of teachers. Is their workflow being hampered by something that can easily be fixed? It's also hard to implement a new district initiative if there's no training and more importantly ongoing support. Too many times "things" get dumped without much thought for how the teacher can implement the "whatever" into the curriculum. This constant dumping is what causes the feeling of being overwhelmed. More and more is being put onto a full plate, and nothing is ever taken off. Can you take something off of the plate? Think out of the box!
4. Interact: Interact with students. Know their names or at least how to pronounce their name correctly and know something personal about them. Come into the classroom! Don't come in only for a formal observation. Interact! Jump in! Teach or co-teach a lesson! Read to the kids! As you interact with students, you'll also be interacting with the teacher. A classroom visit is a perfect chance to be an instructional leader. Model what you want to see in the classrooms. Enjoy the class and the interactions. Don't go in with an "I gotcha" mentality. Give immediate positive feedback to the teacher via email, Voxer, or other. Show understanding. Students are not the same as they were even five years ago. Model how to engage kids in their learning. Celebrate growth with the kids and teachers.
5. Value and Appreciate the Extra Effort: Teachers by their very nature go above and beyond without seeking recognition. Many volunteer for extra duties and add assignments to their already busy schedules without complaint. Their positive attitudes and volunteer spirit help the principal and add to the culture of the school. There are also other staff members that perhaps get even less recognition and appreciation. Make sure to include everyone (teachers and staff) to school activities. Little notes of sincere appreciation go a long way in building relationships. Make it a priority.
6. Establish a Clear Vision and Expectations-Communicate Effectively: The best principals communicate their vision and expectations upfront. They don't leave it to chance. They make sure that everyone has the same playbook and are on the same page if possible. Great principals have high expectations for their teachers, students, staff and for themselves. They are transparent and demonstrate their learning via a blog or other means. They communicate their expectations clearly and then follow through throughout the year with fairness.
7. Be Aware of Any Undercurrent in the School Culture: Every principal wants to think and believe that the school culture is positive. However, there are sometimes school "bullies" that a principal might never detect. These types of people cause a toxic undercurrent in the school. To an outsider or principal, they might seem positive and great PR masters. This is an act. A principal will not be able to identify this problem unless they build positive relationships with all of their staff and teachers. If it goes undetected, some of the best teachers in the school will suffer in silence from the bullying.
8. Protect Instructional Time- This is a big pet peeve of mine! There is nothing more frustrating than constant messages over the intercom, fire drills, and "waste of time" assemblies. I understand that schools need drills. But what I fail to understand is why there must be constant announcements and interruptions. Is it difficult to have announcements once a day at a scheduled time? For some schools, this is a non-issue because the principal values instructional time.
9. Be Accessible- I've been in schools where the principal was never there and was always at "a meeting". I've had principals that were always at the school but were glued to their seat in their office with the door closed. Both situations were terrible. The best principals are out and about the school. Their door is open, but many conversations happen informally in the hallways. My best principals were often the first one in the building and the last to leave. I think it's important for administrators to balance their personal and professional lives, but it's nice when a principal is accessible.
10. Teachers Are Doing Their Best- I think it's important for administrators to remember that, for the most part, teachers are doing their best. There may be a need to learn some skills, but teachers genuinely want to provide the best learning experiences for their kids. There's no need to micromanage and babysit. Teachers are PROFESSIONALS! Great administrators treat teachers as professionals, give them autonomy for their growth and inspire them to be better. There will be good days and bad days. Get to know every person on a personal level, build a trusting relationship, and be there to support every individual's growth.
11. Make Teaching and Working With Kids Easier- One of the nicest acts of kindness was from our new superintendent that had administrators not in an elementary school take outside duty on the first day of school. This gave teachers time to prepare those last minute items to welcome the kids to a new year instead of worrying about buses, cars, and crosswalks. It was no easy feat to coordinate this because our district is one of the largest in the state. But, it was accomplished and appreciated. The administrators enjoyed the time out of the office to meet and greet kids too. It was a win-win. What else could an administrator do?
12. Inspire- Be a connected educator and leader! Show your passion for education! Share your learning- your mistakes- your growth! Read and keep up-to-date with the most current practices. Show and demonstrate. Listen. Serve. Set goals. Be the leader you were meant to be!
It may not be possible for administrators to go back into a classroom as a full-time teacher. What is possible is to be in the classrooms often to keep a fresh perspective. There are other things that I could add to this list, and there's an equally long list of what I think teachers need to do to support their administrators. What would be on your list? I'd love to know your thoughts.
PS Respect PE teachers in your school if you're lucky enough to have one! @schleiderjustin :)