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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.

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Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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