By Megan Allen, Special to CNN
Editor’s Note: Megan Allen is a National Board Certified Teacher, 2010 Department of Education/Macy’s Teacher of the Year and a finalist for 2010 National Teacher of the Year. She is also a member of the Hillsborough County New Millennium Initiative, an initiative of the Center for Teaching Quality.
As a professional educator and a teacher leader involved in dialogue about effective education reform, one thing is blaringly evident: At the school level, administration makes all the difference in the world.
When you walk through the doors, you can feel it. You observe how the teachers walk with a lilt in their step, you witness it in the priceless faces of the students. But it’s left me wondering, why all this talk about teacher evaluation? It seems that a much more efficient first move would be to focus on the administrators. Great administrators have the ability to inspire the faculty to push themselves to greatness, finding time and support to do so. A great administrator can build even stronger teachers, while a not-so-hot administrator can make a staff of amazing teachers wilt.
That being said, I’m placing a want ad for an administrator. I’m currently accepting applications. Please read the requirements below:
1. Be visible. In our classrooms, in the hallway, in the community. Shake hands–get out there. Be the lifeblood of our school and the first welcoming face children see as they stroll into our halls.
2. Put people first. We may need to think outside the box, err, office on this one. Let’s hire office administrators from outside education to take care of office-related duties that principals are swamped with. This will free time for you to focus on the people in your building.
3. Make our school comfortable and inviting. Don’t be afraid to make our workplace a home environment. Make people feel welcome. How about a staff member right at the door, greeting all who enter? Or students who open the door for students and families in the morning? These little touches will make us all want to be there even more.
4. Show appreciation. Make your faculty and students feel valued, and not just based on successes with student test scores. I’m talking about celebrating all students’ moments, like “Johnny learned how to button his jacket on his own today.” There are so many precious moments of small and mighty victories. Our students need to be celebrated for these, as does our staff.
5. Forge creative partnerships. We need schools that are true centers of the community, that offer social structures that will support our students’ needs for medical and dental care, food, after-school programs, training for parents on how to advocate for their children, and other services so we can get down to the business of teaching in our classrooms.
6. Be bold. Let’s try out innovative programs and ideas. Trust and support your faculty when they come to you with out-of-the-box thinking. Let’s take some calculated and student-centered chances, believing that we must try something different if we are going to help all children succeed.
7. Be trusting. Let your teachers do their jobs. We don’t need a scripted set of expensive books to teach students how to read - we are professionals who can use classroom data to make decisions. Let us be the professionals that we are. Give us autonomy to make our own decisions based on the standards and our deep knowledge of our students.
8. Love your job. Love kids. A school is not a business. There are so many more layers, and it is much more complex. Our focus is changing students’ lives with the power of education. You must love kids and be willing to fight for them.
9. Give us time. We want to fine-tune our craft as teachers so we can be better for our students. But we need time away from kids. I know this seems counterintuitive, but we need collaborative time to peer coach, lesson plan, lesson study and grow as learners. In Finland, teachers have time to do this, to focus on the craft of teaching. Educators in this top-performing country are in the classroom 600 hours a year, compared to our average in the United States of 1,000. I crave time to grow.
10. Join us in our classrooms. I’m looking for a principal who will jump into my classroom and co-teach with me, who offers to teach on occasion so I can focus on professional development with my peers. I want an instructional leader who yearns to be with students and doesn’t want to lose touch with the reason we all do what we do: children.
11. Inspire me. This is a biggie for me, the most important. I want someone who will push me to get better and who will provide support to help me get there. I want someone who is so passionate it spills over into every classroom in the school.
As I read over my want ad, a smile spreads across my freckled face. I know you’re out there. I can’t wait to work with you. I look forward to our time together with OUR children, where we work hand-in-hand and change lives, one student at a time.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Megan Allen.
I hope (but do not believe) that school districts will focus on number 2. If school administrators are truly to be instructional leaders, they must be given the time to be in classrooms. Let's hire deans to deal with the discipline issues that occur, especially if such discipline will not lead to suspension. Just as teachers need time to focus on the craft of teaching, administrators need time to focus on the craft of instructional leadership. I believe that the number one things that prevents school administrators from being in classrooms everyday for extended periods of time is that management issues arise that adminstrators feel they must address. I also believe we will begin to see burnout in many of the best and brightest administrators because we expect them to do all and be all without appropriate help.
Teach and inspire 'the love to learn'. The talents of many sleep dormant in them until they get woken up by themselves. Every student learns in different ways. Check out YouTube, search for ' RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us '. TED ' Sugata Mitra's new experiments in self-teaching ' is also very beneficial to human nature and how we learn.
What a great list for all educators to consider! I was especially drawn to number 11, Inspire Me! As a beginning teacher, I found myself questioning my career choice. In fact, after three short years, I considered going after my MBA and leaving the profession altogether. Fortunately, one amazing principal was there to guide me...counsel me...encourage me...teach me...nudge me...and YES, inspire me! Now, sixteen years later, I rely more on myself than I did in those early days but I still draw great strength and inspiration from other outstanding educators (administrators and teachers alike). Thank you for being bold, sharing your ideas and for challenging us all to be at our best!
What a great list for all educators at all levels to consider! I was especially drawn to number 11, Inspire Me! As a young teacher, I found myself questioning my career choice. I actually considered pursuing an MBA and leaving the profession altogether. Had my principal not stepped in and helped me to see my successes and to overcome my feelings of doubt...had she not stepped in and inspired me to perservere and challenge myself at new levels...I just might have left teaching as so many early career teachers do. Now, sixteen years later, I continually seek out new opportunities for growth and rely more on myself to improve my practice on behalf of my kiddos. But one amazing administrator was instrumental in helping me get to this point. Thanks to you for being bold, sharing your thoughts and giving all educators something to ponder!
The effect of a bad principal can be staggering. My child has multiple learning disabilities which leads to minor behavioral issues stemming from frustration with the curriculum. When a new principal came in and wanted to prove what a "disciplinarian" she was, she banned my child from school activities for behavior that was outlined in her Individualized Ed. Plan (IEP) without ever looking at the IEP or talking to her special ed. teachers. My socially challenged child was barred from activities that would allow her to socialize with others in a non-academic setting (where she doesn't have a problem), but has to live with the fact that this principal thinks she's "not good enough" to hang with others. We finally felt compelled to file a discrimination complaint against the principal but the emotional repercussions for my child have lasted for years.
Great conversation you've started here. We do need administrators to inspire and to lead–to focus on what's important and stay that course during times of change. Your piece reminds me of the read aloud and writing Janet Allen often shares from Lisa Delpit's want ad introduction to Fires in the Bathroom. I love writing these want ads with my students.
Well written and dead-on!
Yes, this is what I did on a daily basis until my school was closed, I can from business to education and made sure we were a team to support each other. I have found this same person in my daughter's school he makes it fun to go to school and to just engage with him as a parent. Teaching is about connecting in many ways. I hope I can find position were I can enjoy and contribute again.
A very well rounded list, each point contains much of what I have strived to do since becoming an administrator a few years ago. To beginning principals, I would strongly advice on initial focus of being visible and developing trust, work on the others as they come. Rome wasn't built in a day, it took me 3 years to instigate any real, lasting change, and now 5 years on, I am finally comfortable in my role, though I still really do miss the classroom!
One important note is your second point, suggesting head office hiring outside personnel to take on the extra responsibilities that are always placed on our shoulders. I am not a trained accountant nor am I am the most efficient at writing reports, and so much of my time is spent on such duties, that I am sure others are much better than I am at doing, and it would probably be more cost effective, given the wage comparisons.
The only thing I believe that is missing would be the "share vision / team building" aspect that is so vital to get everyone heading in the same direction!
Those qualities would make a fantastic administrator indeed, But in Tennessee, administrators are required to evaluate each of their teachers three to four times each year, not including the pre-evaluation conferences and the post-evaluation summaries. There is simply not enough time in the day (or week for that matter) for administrators in my state to do many of those wonderful things you support. Also, administrators have a myriad of other required taskings each day. They cannot accomplish everything. They wish they could. So do I.
Excellent wish list Megan. James Landrum, I think you misread the message. No one expects administrators to snap their fingers and suddenly become the ideal principals; however, here in Hillsborough County, Florida, where the ultimate goal for teachers is unattainable, but something we are all encouraged to shoot for, why not give the administrators something to shoot for too? My principal is phenomenal. He is visible, known by students and parents, and an all-around great guy. However, just like perfection is impossible in a teacher, it is also impossible in a principal. It would be amazing to see them shooting for it though!
Megan – very timely. Our principal search committee convened yesterday for the first time. I will share this.
Way to go Megan! A great principal inspires such a movement that infuses itself throughout every fiber of a great learning community and the surrounding area. As a full release Mentor, I get to see bullets of your wanted ad spread throughout the environments that I visit. Each one is critical in its own way. Each one helps to empower teachers to withstand the "ebb and flow" of our profession. The ideal principal canvas that you painted, I am sure, is what motivates teacher leaders to take on such a role. The added support as you outlined.. would most certainly help to keep them there :)
You have just described in your article the principal at JW Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax Virginia. He is a very unique man and principal and loved by his students.
It just feels a little naive to think that if an administrator comes in and make everybody comfortable, and be trusting and "give us time" and be appreciative, that everything will suddenly be hunky dory. I think one of the critical requirements for an administrator is, in addition to supporting and rewarding excellence of course, to be able to identify and eliminate the mediocrity and poor performance that are a disservice to our children, and do it quickly. And as Socrates would have said had he had a bigger class size, "Inspire thyself" don't expect somebody else to do that for you.
I agree James, but can't there be a combination of the two? The pendulum is swinging the other direction (teacher evaluation, merit pay) and we are just asking for some balance. I think it is achievable... don't you?
Unfortunately, district admistrators seldom allow principals to fulfill all of the above. They are more concerned with numbers and business of the district to care much about the principals at their schools. Principals end up overwhelmed with paperwork and duties that should be handled by the district, no help in the school and demands on their time that are impossible to meet.
Maybe we need an add defining the winning roles and expectations of a school district administrator. I hope it will include some of the checklist items emumerated by Megan in particular the one that calls for visibility on the school grounds and the respect for the professioalism of teachers; and significantly the importance of recognizing the main role of the principal as being student centered and classroom facilitator sensitive.
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