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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A Teacher Perspective: Advice for Principals

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Being back in the classroom has given me a refreshed perspective. Below, I would like to share with administrators some helpful observations and suggestions that may improve your relationship with the teachers you serve.

Observation #1: Students are different than when we were students

Lesson learned: Teachers must either engage students at their level with interesting learning activities or fight the battle of wills to force them into compliance with worksheets and controllable activities. In the former, students will want to learn, in the latter, passive aggression will force the teacher to always watch his back and not trust students. In this situation, even good students will actively try to undermine the teacher.

Rather than tell the teacher he needs to work on his classroom management, help the teacher gain control of the classroom by being there and identifying and dealing with the ring leaders (you know who they are because they do the same in every class, but the teacher may not know that). All it takes is an extra pair of eyes to see that just a few instigators in the classroom can destroy an effective learning atmosphere.

Observation #2: Teachers need support with materials, textbooks, and technology

Lesson learned: Teachers can make do for a while without some things, but don't you want teachers to be as effective as possible from the start? Make sure that your teachers not only have the necessary tools, but that they are trained on how to use them best to instruct students and to manage their classroom, before you require them to produce with them. It may seem to you that teachers are whining and complaining about little things, but sometimes a little thing makes the difference and gives the teachers an edge on being able to reach the students more effectively.

Observation #3: Teachers are among the busiest people on the planet

Lesson learned: Teachers resent being pulled away from their daily work of improving their effectiveness as a teacher for trivial or unproductive reasons. For example, personal learning communities (PLCs) are not meetings called by administrators for administrator agendas. To be productive and to be valuable uses of time, PLCs must be teacher-driven and focused on resolving student-learning concerns through teacher capacity (for example, what do I as a teacher need to learn to help students learn better?) This also means that the teachers need a defender at the district office level who will protect their time from those who have forgotten how busy teachers are. You can do that for the teachers.

Observation #4: Teachers talk and are always trying to guess the direction of the principal

Lesson learned: Help the teachers out and just tell them what your direction is. Make it crystal clear in every newsletter, blog, faculty meeting, and message. If this is done well, teachers can actively help the school reach those goals. If you believe that teachers need to use cooperative learning, mind maps, or lesson framing, then help teachers by first stating that is what you want, and then focus training in faculty meetings on those things so teachers have a clear picture of your vision.

Observation #5: Teachers are asked to do a lot of extra things besides teach

Lesson Learned: Teachers know busy work when they see it. Make sure your requirements make sense and honor the teacher's time and efforts. Don't have a meeting just because it is on the calendar. Have the meeting to either train, discuss, or plan (all of which are essential things you need teachers help with) and not one to inform; that can be done with an email or newsletter.

Observation #6: Elective teachers have to fend for themselves next to content teachers

Lesson Learned: Elective teachers can help content teachers in significant ways by reinforcing what content teachers do especially in reading and writing. Don't ignore them.

Observation #7: Parents Are as Frustrated with Their Students as the Teachers Are

Lesson Learned: While we communicate with parents and enlist their help, we cannot count on all of them to be successful. Behaviorist principles work and must be applied in these situations -- stimulus and response. We do no favors by being lenient about established consequences.

Observation #8: Teachers Have Good Days and Rough Days

Lessons Learned: It makes a world of difference when the principal shares a kind thought, a smile, and a handshake.

I would be interested to know what advice you would give to your administrators. Please share in the comment section below.

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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Comments (10)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy
Blogger 2014

Ben, thank you for this post. It's an important topic and needs more attention. I talk to teachers all the time and find that their number one complaint is lack of time, so I would put #3 and #5 at the top of my list.

Recently, I interviewed Carrie, a teacher who left the profession after 6 years, to learn about the factors that influenced her decision. Two issues seemed to be most prevalent in her growing dissatisfaction with teaching.

The first was culture -- Carrie worked in several schools and found that the relationships she formed with other teachers were the key to her day-to-day job satisfaction. In some schools, staff members barely interacted, but in others, the school culture felt like family. This made a huge difference in how it felt to come to work every day. It also influenced teachers' willingness to collaborate, solve problems together, and share strategies and ideas, which in turn make work more satisfying. In all cases, she felt that the culture was created and nurtured, for better or worse, by the administration. I don't know if school leadership programs put enough emphasis on this, but from a teacher's perspective, it's crucial.

The other factor was time. Carrie felt that every day, more and more tasks were piled onto her workload, making her feel as if no one was just letting her teach. I think this is the biggest issue teachers face right now. It doesn't matter how many great ideas or strategies or programs we introduce in schools; if teacher work time is not fiercely and systematically protected by administrators, nothing will change, and good teachers will either burn out or leave.

It's an excellent, honest, and thought-provoking interview. You can listen to it here: http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/episode02-carrie-formerteacher/

Thanks again for getting this conversation started!

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Community Manager at Edutopia
Facilitator 2014
Staff

Excellent points, Jennifer. A good friend of mine recently left her school for another for exactly those reasons.

Ben, this is a great list. Thank you for sharing it.

Heidi Butkus's picture
Heidi Butkus
Kindergarten Teacher and Owner & Founder of HeidiSongs.com

This was a very insightful article! Thank you for writing it. I particularly appreciated your comments on how valuable time is to teachers. I hope many administrators read your article.
Heidi Butkus

Mandy Derfler's picture

Ben,
You provided me with an interesting perspective and some advice I'd love to share with my administrators. I have taught for 13 years, but in those 13 years, I have seen 5 different principals, each with their own unique style and personality. Perhaps the biggest challenge I face when working with my current administration is lack of teaching experience. Sometimes it's difficult for my administrators to gain the "teaching perspective" because they have not had many years in the classroom and they've been away from it for a while. I believe all administrators should take the opportunity to "get back in the classroom". Last year, our assistant principal asked some of our staff members if he could teach a few lessons in their classes. I believe this was a valuable experience for him as it helped him remember what it's like to be in the classroom, and it helped him understand our perspective, our struggles, and our concerns.

Thanks for your thoughts!
Mandy

Dr. Allen Mendler's picture
Dr. Allen Mendler
Author, speaker, educator
Blogger 2014

You offer good information and some sound advice. At the risk of sounding self-serving, there are lots of compatible fleshed out practical tips & suggestions for how administrators can support teachers in my most recent ASCD book, WHEN TEACHING GETS TOUGH: SMART WAYS TO RECLAIM YOUR GAME.

adriese's picture

# 4 is vital. Teachers need to know the direction the leader is going. I feel this as a new Principal. I'm listening and learning to and from teachers. They say, "tell us what to do". Sometimes I'm a little unsure, other times, im told I'm ramming it down their throats.
My feeling now is balance. You can read more about my 1st yr. here.
www.newschoolleader.com

Cynthia Pilar's picture
Cynthia Pilar
doctoral student

Ben, your perspective is important and I wish more administrators would give thought to the incredibly difficult work teachers do, with little time to plan or collaborate outside of class time, and how much they would benefit from caring, supportive administrators. It has been my experience that teachers also benefit from principals who provide teachers with research, ideas, bright spots, models of success, templates, or other materials that move the necessary work forward rather than having staff spend hours reinventing the wheel. With the very limited time teachers have, they can look at other models and tweak as necessary to meet local needs.

Cynthia Pilar's picture
Cynthia Pilar
doctoral student

Ben, your perspective is important and I wish more administrators would give thought to the incredibly difficult work teachers do, with little time to plan or collaborate outside of class time, and how much they would benefit from caring, supportive administrators. It has been my experience that teachers also benefit from principals who provide teachers with research, ideas, bright spots, models of success, templates, or other materials that move the necessary work forward rather than having staff spend hours reinventing the wheel. With the very limited time teachers have, they can look at other models and tweak as necessary to meet local needs.

Chad Niedert's picture
Chad Niedert
Mathematics Teacher at North Oldham High School

Observation #2 is crucial. My school has been fortunate enough to require students to have a handheld device (iPad, Kindle Fire, etc.) before entering the school as a freshmen. This is a great idea and it is extremely valuable for every student to have internet access at their fingertips without having to go to a lab. However, when the program was rolled out, many teachers were unfamiliar with many of the devices. Teachers struggled with the numerous number of devices and also struggled to find resources that ran across all of the platforms. Unfortunately, this valuable technology has been used for little more than note taking and organization

Doc student's picture
Doc student
Administrator from Yolo County

I understand your perspective. I have often wondered how a person can become an effective, empathetic administrator with only 3 years of classroom experience. I believe that a prosepective administrator should have at least 7-10 years of classroom experience. Therefore many of your tips are not an "a ha" for adminstrators, but rather an "of course". Having been in the classroom for 16 years before entering administration, has given me the confidence and justification to skip meetings and give "individual planning time" instead of having a meeting simply because it is calendered. Unfortunately, like in all arenas, there will be teachers who need to have the meeting to receive that which could have been delivered by email...so, I guess you have that "nuts and bolts" meeting so that you know you delivered the information.
Overall, good tips, but good administrators should intuitively know this, especially if they are seasoned, veteran classroom teachers.

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