I have talked and worked with teachers in Utah, Ohio, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, and the complaints about administration are very similar: Educational leadership frequently assume they know more than the teachers in the classroom (or blatantly keep teachers out of the conversation because it saves energy and time). Here are the major ways that I see admin repeatedly assuming they know more, or at a minimum, appear as though undermining teachers.
Please use the links to read the research to support my claims.
Educational leadership love to pick out a curriculum, roll out directions how the curriculum should be perfectly used, and then assess teachers on how well they are “teaching” it. I use parentheses because using student assessments to determine how well a teacher taught, also makes a lot of assumptions. Picking curriculum without teacher input assumes that just student test data is enough to pick a general curriculum. However, teachers are the ones who need to implement the curriculum and need to feel comfortable rolling it out. They know their students more intimately than administration. This falls inline with research that shows that teachers are retained when schools have a culture of support and encouragement.
Student assessments are annoying enough, but assessments of teachers can really burnout wonderful professionals. Sometimes assessments come directly from the state, and other times the assessments come from a district. How these assessments are rolled out is very important.
I had an experience in Special Education where I was assessed by the district to teach very specific curriculum and was never allowed to use other materials (which made me crazy when I would identify a student to have special needs who didn’t need that program). Later, while using that specific curriculum, I was dinged by the state assessment because I didn’t incorporate a “real world example,” in my 30 minute reading lesson on the “ea” sound. These experiences are undermining to teachers and make them feel like they cannot use their own expertise to teach.
For this specific example I would encourage principals to think outside the box. Could you observe the teacher at a different time or a different class? Would a mock lesson work? Or have me guest teach a different class to show that I have those skills? My point is that if we can’t end the ridiculous assessment hoops, let’s problem solve to keep teachers from getting stuck in a corner.
Nothing is more infuriating to a teacher than when they are pulled into a meeting full of “he said” and “she said’s.” If you want to know the kiss of death for teacher retention, here it is: Neglecting to give your teachers the benefit of the doubt. When teachers are not asked directly about problems with parents/students, and are assumed to have done something wrong, it creates a mistrust between administration and teachers. An “us vs. them” dynamic is created that virtually kills morale.
When school leadership micromanage a teacher’s work day (examples: clocking in and out, black and white rules, prescheduling things during their planning time, removing breaks, strict bathroom breaks, forcing very specific procedures while teaching, etc.), they are communicating to teachers, “I don’t trust you.” I want to be clear, that these things listed above may not be inherently bad, but when they are used in conjunction, it creates a negative atmosphere. Teachers perform their best when they are confident they are supported and given their own autonomy. I also want to note, that in all of my research, I have never read anything that showed a correlation between increased teacher management and increased student test scores. In fact, I have mostly read the opposite. Confidence produces creativity. Creativity solves problems and increases motivation.
How To Stop Assuming And Start Leading
- Take time to talk to the people you supervise. What are their concerns about schedules, teaching, or curriculum? Is there room for individuality in the curriculum? Are the kids responding to the current practices?
- When a problem arises, instead of creating a new over arching rule, try talking directly with the parties involved. Explain to them why you are concerned and why it needs to change. Don’t be afraid to use your discipline procedures when necessary. This will take more time, but will keep morale high with the rest of the group.
- When allegations arise, whatever the severity, ask the teacher what their side of the story is.
- Take time to visit classrooms and treat it like a scared time that is non-negotiable. Use everyone in admin roles to help with this. Consider using other teachers to help too! Get to know how things actually are in the classroom.
- Create an open door policy for teachers to communicate with leadership.
- Work to protect things that are important to teachers. For example: lunch breaks, bathroom breaks, planning time, and time with their families. If you are unsure, ask teachers what is most important to them.
- Finally, include teachers in leadership roles. Principals do not have to do everything alone. Create groups that are over specific jobs. Let them totally lead those areas (such as curriculum reviewers, school improvement plans and solutions, lunch scheduling, teacher training, after school programs, etc.). And then step back.
What This Will Do For Your School
- Increase morale.
- Increase productivity.
- Increase teacher retention and decrease the amount of time spent training new teachers. (Also the longer a teacher has taught, the better student test scores are.)
- Thus, increased student test scores.
- Save time.
- Reduce stress.
- Increase employee motivation and investment.
- Make your school the “it” school to work at.