Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in a Podcast as a panel member on a discussion panel pertaining to what professional learning pertaining to cultural diversity should look like. It was an interesting experience as I had never done anything like that before! The link will take you to the Podcast. Enjoy!
In just a few days, I’ll be moving into my new office, and my new position. I’ll no longer be able to call myself an administrator. I may have to change my blog to “The Left-Handed Educator”.
Now I think of it, that’s what my blog should have been called all along. I am an educator. In fact, any school administrator who doesn’t consider themselves to be an educator first and foremost needs to find another job immediately.
I’ll be honest…there was a time when I foolishly considered myself to be a school administrator first and an educator second. While I may have been really good at completing paperwork or handling discipline, I certainly wasn’t good at making an impact in the lives of students or teachers.
In no particular order, here are my thoughts on what it takes to be an effective school administrator:
Never Forget Where You Came From – As stated above, I was more effective in my position when I remembered why I got into the field of education in the first place. I would be lying if I said, “I want to be a principal when I grow up!” No. I wanted to teach. I wanted to help students grow. The best part of being a school administrator is not necessarily helping students grow; but instead making sure the supports are in place to help students grow. The teachers in your building have a lot to say about that. Before making any decision in you building, be sure to hear the teachers out. They always have an extremely valuable point of view which must be taken into consideration. As you listen, think about what you would have thought when you were in the classroom. Do those thoughts compliment one another or contradict?
Engage Your Families Any Way You Can – There is a lot of recent research on the importance of engaging families in schools. If you have worked in a building with an extremely supportive PTA, you would think this to be a “no brainer”. However, in schools where parent support seems to be nonexistent, stakeholders often wish more family involvement existed. For those in buildings with low family involvement, my advice is to find out exactly what will engage parents. There is something which will interest them; though it may not be academic at first. Your job is to work to get them engaged, to get them comfortable with being in a school environment. Remember, for many of these family members, school may not have necessarily have been a positive experience on the first go-around.
“Making Your Mark” Should Be The Farthest Thing From Your Mind – Many school administrators make the mistake of thinking they need to implement a framework or program in the building they can be remembered by. When a signature program, framework, or legacy is implemented, it is often tailored to the administrator who created it. When that individual leaves, those who are left behind are unable or unwilling to sustain it, and the students end up suffering somehow. It’s perfectly OK to want to implement a change or a new program. However, your stakeholders should own this change as much as you do.
Being a school administrator is a big responsibility. Decisions made not only have the ability to impact the working environment of teachers; decisions also impact the present and future lives of the students who come to your building to learn on a daily basis. “Kids first” is more than a catch phrase. As planning for the new school year continues, be sure to use the lenses you have acquired through your experience as an educator: student, parent, teacher, community member…even the lens of a critic can be enlightening.
For most, being a school administrator doesn’t mean you are the only person making the decisions. Even in the smallest school systems, building administrators have the talents from another building, central office, or even their personal learning network to draw from. Though school administration can be a lonely field, it doesn’t have to be.
I just accepted a job which will shift my responsibility from serving a single school to serving a school system. When I think about the fact I am now serving a school system of over 50,000 students, I feel humbled.
In my interview, the panel knew I had also been applying for principal positions. In addition, panel members wanted to know why I wanted to come back to a school system I had left only a couple of years before. When asked about this, I was completely honest: I needed to work in a different environment. I also understand positions like the one I had the opportunity to interview for didn’t come around too often. I had to take it.
In a few days, I’ll have the privilege of serving new teachers, teacher leaders, and aspiring administrators; and supporting initiatives emphasizing project-based learning, blended learning, and service learning. I’ll have a couple of months to come to terms with the fact I will not be working with students directly, or that I won’t be working in a school environment on a daily basis. That being said, I’ll be able to use my skills in a different fashion. It’s exciting and just a little bit scary all at once; I’ll still get to work with learners, just on a different level. Maybe I need to change my blog title…
I don’t know about you, but it is my perception things get a little lax at work in the days leading up to winter break. Perhaps its the fact that testing is wrapping up, that winter concerts, programs and parties are taking place, or that many simply have a whole lot going in their personal lives.
As an educator, I’ve worked a second (or third) job for the vast majority of my career. One of those jobs was for Eddie Bauer. It was before internet orders became popular, and the holiday season was extremely busy. I remember spending countless hours behind a cash register, folding clothes, or assisting customers. The focus was on making sure the customers had everything they needed. Needless to say, the store was an absolute wreck by the time New Years came around.
Right after the new year, a message would come down from corporate reminding staff members it was time to “Snap Back to Standards”. It was time to make sure items were neatly folded, the stock room was organized, floors and fixtures were free of dust, and displays were arranged according to the schematic provided to us. Though it took some work to get there, it was always a good feeling to have the store back to normal. We could then shift focus to driving the brand we were expected to sell.
What Will Snapping Back to Standards Look Like for You?
With the return from winter break fast approaching, it’s time to think about what we need to do in order to snap back to standards to ensure we are best serving our students. Are lessons engaging, relevant, and standards-driven? Are materials on hand and ready to go? How does your classroom or office look? Did you leave in haste that last day before vacation and need to arrive a little early to put things back together? How about your classroom expectations? Remember, a couple of weeks of time off to students may as well be a couple of months. They will need reminders about what you expect from them, and what they are to expect from you. Having these few things in place will make the transition back from winter break a successful one for you and your students.
This past week, our building welcomed a group of teachers from other buildings to spend the day with us, to learn about our students and to find out about what we do to support them. This visit is part of a program we call “Teachers on Tour”. It all started during the summer of 2015 when a group of us had the opportunity to go to Washington DC for two days to participate in the “Teach to Lead” Summit sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. During that time, we roughed out the bones to the program itself. Basically, the idea was to help foster a community of learners among teachers in different buildings by providing teachers with the opportunity to visit one another, observe teaching and learning taking place, and reflect upon what they saw.
Last spring, teachers visited their first school; one in an affluent part of town. The building itself was only five years, old, LEED certified, open and airy and absolutely beautiful! In addition, staff members did an excellent job of fostering a total school program, and provided students with enrichment and remediation during the school day through an alternating first period. This chunk of time was actually one of the models we used to develop the advisory period in my own building.
Teachers visiting our building this week had a completely different experience; which was actually by design. Our building is built in the late ’70s and is showing its age. In addition, classroom windows are few and far between. Our students are a challenge, and staff have to draw from a deep toolbox of strategies to ensure they are helping them to grow. And they do! Once again, I feel the visiting teachers saw a good depiction of how a teacher’s day looks in a challenging environment. While I fully expected to hear how the visiting teachers appreciated their experience, I had forgotten how powerful an experience this could be for our teachers who were playing host this time.
The hosting teachers were the “Tour Guides” to the groups; taking them from class to class and explaining what was being observed throughout the school day. Not only did our teachers see the value in observing in other buildings; they also saw value in what was going on in their own building. I have to wonder why we don’t give teachers more opportunities to observe in their own school. It is something we normally extend to new teachers; but rarely to our more veteran teachers, who are the ones who are better equipped to help one another.
Reflecting on how this program is going so far, I feel we now need to harness the experiences of our teacher participants and channel them back into our own building. On the flip side, I don’t want to give them “one more thing” to have to do during the school day. Definitely something I have to think on a little more.