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.