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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Why School Leaders Need to Stay Put

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night

Today's post is about the nomadic ebb and flow of school administrators. The media talks a lot about the importance of good teachers, and I have no qualms about agreeing with that necessity. But I don't think civilians know that with every change of school administration, we are like a number of our students -- in parental flux with no real, consistent guidance. And that can't be ignored.

With each new superintendent comes a new school district agenda. What was important might no longer be. With each new principal comes a new curriculum vision for the site, a different personnel preference, and varying levels of abilities to deal with teachers, parents, and students. With each new assistant principal comes varying degrees of ability to enforce discipline or enforce academic policies.

As simplistic as this description seems, the fact is that each member of a school administration has a lot to do with the learning environment and the academic habitat of a school.

It's tricky. As much as we hear about the need for overhaul, the need for consistency is also important. My experience with administrators reads like an Aaron Spelling drama: Actors come in and out with each season.

And it's not just the mediocre ones that we lose. We lose the great ones just as quickly. Perhaps the district discovers their greatness and moves them into the district office or onto another site just as they begin to make positive changes at a school.

Granted, sometimes an administrator wants to keep moving on and up, leaving the school and its children below as they climb their professional ladder. But many times these school leaders are shuffled around by their own districts, to the detriment of the site they leave behind. And without administrator's own tenure to stand behind, they can't stand up to the powers that be.

In my 11 years as a teacher, I've had eight principals and more assistant principals than I can count. It becomes hard to commit your heart to an agenda when the guest stars of the educational soap opera just keep changing.

Let's face it: The fact is that it's not just the students who need consistency in their life; it's the teachers, too. We need stability to get our craft together without feeling that we have to recampaign every two to three years for support from a new administration.

We need to know the rules, and we need the rules to stay put for long enough so we can actually all make a difference together.

What are some ways you have coped with the frequent changing of the guard at your school site? What suggestions might you offer to other teachers for surviving this situation? Please share with us your experiences and expertise on this issue!

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night
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Paige Prather's picture

After five years at my current school corporation, we have seen quite a "flow of administrators". Along with my colleagues, we have experienced confusion and frustration. I understand that is important to continue our growth in education through new techniques, research, and best practices; however, what we seem to be facing is an ever changing view of our role as teachers. As soon as we feel secure in the new methods of teaching that administration is expecting us to implement, it changes. I believe that in order for my students to learn to their fullest potential, I must be at the top of my game. This is difficult to do when I don't seem to have enough time to perfect some of the practices that are expected to be implemented. As I reflect on the past five years, one thing has stayed constant. I believe in what my students call the "fun" in education. Although the student population is diversified, each child knows that they will go home at the end of the day with at least one success, one chuckle, and one new acquired skill. They know when they enter the next day, they must be ready to laugh and learn. Although this "flow of administrators" can cause morale to decrease, we must remember that we are here for the students. We care. We teach. We laugh. We cry. We are in this occupation to allow each child to experience success, even though it may not be through a test score.

Jennifer Azzollini's picture

I have been teaching in my district for six years now and within that time I have had three principals and four superintendens and assistant superintendents. Our district has been through alot to say the least, we will have an administrator here for a year and instead of trying to fix our current issues, they just pick up and leave. When I first started in my district the climate was so different, I felt like I belonged to a family, but now since this constant switch in administration, it is like everyone has to watch whose behind them. Our home/school connection is where our strengths lie, we depend on our P.T.A. to stand behind us with any administrator, although I have only been teaching a few years I have realized that we are here for the kids! The politics, nepotism and crazy lawsuits seem to pull everyone in and that's all they care about, that's where the gossip comes in and when we forget why we are here ultimately. To have a constant flow of administration is yet another stress that we must face as educators, but to know what we stand for and why we decided to become teachers is what it's all about. Everyday when I walk in to my classroom, I am there to make my children happy and make my children walk away with something from that day. Administrators need to realize that as well.

Deb Selanders's picture
Deb Selanders
Second grade teacher from Globe, Arizona

I teach in a small town in Arizona. We are going through a tremendous upheaval in our district. Our acting superintendent was put on administrative leave because of money issues, bullying staff members, and a few other things. Some of the teachers have filed a lawsuit against him. He is filing suit against our district. His wife is the County District Attorney.

AS a fairly new teacher in the district, I refuse to take sides. It has come to that. I don't know enough about the issues at hand to make a judgment.

I have no complaints about the superintendent in question. He has always been very kind to me, and me feel like a valued employee. Our interim superintendent is a knowledgeable man, and also makes me feel like I'm a great asset to our district.

I feel that we need to pull together as a district wide team and get past this unfortunate incident. What can we do to make that happen?

Matt's picture

My district is a small rural one. When a change is made it is felt by all teachers of the district. In my 4 years of teaching I haven't experienced a lot of change in administration. That is all about to change very soon though.
I enjoyed your post. It got me thinking about how things might be in the upcoming year. Our current superintendent is ready to step down from his position and enter his retirement. Sadly, a number of employees of the district were excited about this news, but I have begun to think about the big changes that may be in store. Knowing that the superintendent position will be vacant, it is obvious that it will have to be filled. My tuition tells me that it will be filled internally. Most likely, one of our highly regarded principals will be the predecessor, which in turn will leave a vacancy of another kind.
I see how this turn over can create difficult situations for teachers as well as moments of uneasiness. As a teacher I want to have confidence in those who are above me, and I want them to have confidence in me as an educator. I want for both parties to understand the expectations we have for one another. Much of this is obtained over a period of time. I can see the important role an administration plays on the success of a district from the standpoint of the students as well as the teachers.

Kirsten Tompson's picture

I have worked in my school for three years. I have had a new administrator every September. With the administrator comes not only new rules, regulations, and curriculum, but a complete upset to the harmony of the school. Our school is not preforming well an tests and I feel this is the main reason. The teachers and the students have not had a chance to become familiar and comfortable with their environment on any level.
I enjoyed your post and agree with you completely. Your statement "My experience with administrators reads like an Aaron Spelling drama: Actors come in and out with each season." Is exactly how we feel most of the time. The drama and tension that goes on in the building is not what we should be modeling on a daily basis.

Shreese Phillips's picture

First, let me just say, I agree with all of you.
Now let me say, when I started school and trained to become a teacher, the word I heard over and over again was "flexibility". Yes we have valid concerns, yes we need stability, yes we need everyone to be loyal to their calling; but isn't life full of changes. And aren't our children constantly going through changes whether it be something as simple as growth,family matters, moving, changing grades nor even teachers. The ever popular quote states, "change is inevitable". It is coming, are we ready for it? Let us not grumble about it; it is destiny, let's plan for it and deal with it accordingly. Be the best that you can be and let the one above deal with the rest. We can't change everyone, but we can impact those before us.

cjweller's picture

Finding your blog was like finding an entry in my personal journal. I completely agree that as educators we need a firm foundation, especially in terms of administration, in order to lead our students and feel supported on our scholastic endeavors. I have been a volunteer in elementary classrooms for over fifteen years, and have been working as a paid employee for two. In the last two years, my school site lost a principal, had an interim one for six months, was assigned a new principal, and lost an assistant principal. We also had a new superintendent assigned to our district who brought with them many new philosophies and structural changes that were questionable at best. While the changes were difficult, they were beyond my control. As cliche as it sounds, I tried to make the best of the situation and find the positive impact the structural changes could provide my students and enhance their learning experience. Our principal came in wanting to change the world, but did not have solid methods to do so. She lost much support of my colleagues, and a school spirit that flowed through the hallways. Within the second week of their assignment, they changed the school rules and our mascot. The most difficult thing to watch was the shift in student behavior. They were greatly impacted by the change, and behavior problems increased by 40% during the new principals first week on campus. Things have tapered off, and we have grown use to our new system. It is a factor that we have little control over, and considering my primary concern is the well being of my students, I realize I have to look at the adjustments as open minded as possible, and continue supporting student success.

Stephanie's picture

I completely agree with all of the previous posts...the constant movement create a very unsettling feeling in our school buildings. I have been fortunate enough to have only had two administrators and two superintendents in the last five years. However, even these changes created a huge shift in the vision and overall feeling in my school. It is understandable that these people have desires to move on and/or up in their career, but the changes leave their mark no matter the reason.

Beth Manning's picture

I feel that you have hit on the very key to repairing our broken education system. Student will do much better if they and their teachers know what to expect and this starts at the top. online casino

Jennifer's picture

I am glad to see this issue getting the attention it deserves. I am a student in a teacher certification program. When I ask veteran teachers about things to look for when applying for teaching positions, consistency in school and district administration comes up frequently. There are of course many elements that make for a successful school, but I think this one is too often ignored.

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