Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Some Heartfelt Advice for Administrators

Common sense: we hear the term all of the time, and usually it means the ability to see that which is obvious. However, in my experience, many administrators lack this capacity in their relationship with the teaching staff. I therefore offer the following advice gratis to those wayward principals who are seeking a new beginning in September.

Recognize that you are dealing with a well-qualified and well-educated group of people who both expect and deserve to be treated like mature adults.

Don’t be afraid to compliment people for their efforts. It will cost you nothing and you will be surprised at the dividends you receive in return.

Keep your ego in check. Although you hold the top post in the school, your elevated status means nothing to the staff unless they respect you.

Although there may be times you need to intervene in situations, trust the professional judgment of teachers, and don’t interfere in that judgment simply to curry favor with your superiors.

The term ‘principal’ used to mean ‘principal teacher.’ Try to remember what it was like to be a classroom teacher. It will keep you grounded.

Never use your authority to threaten, intimidate, or demean your staff. Once a trust is broken, it is very difficult to restore.

Recognize that one of your most important functions is to provide a positive climate for both staff and students. Lead the school with moral conviction, not craven career ambition.

Finally, be humble. Despite whatever prideful promptings you may have, recognize that you are not the most important element in your school's success. That distinction has to be reserved for the teachers.

Have a great summer.

8 comments:

Peter said...

I have worked under many administrators in my almost twenty years of teaching. The old adage "No news is good news" and " I will leave you alone if you leave me alone" certainly applied to the attitudes held by nearly everyone of "the bosses" I worked under. The difference between a good administrator and a bad one fundamentally comes down to whether or not they appreciate you the teacher and can empathize with your attempts to further the quality of education.As with the previous contributor, the one vice principal that stood out for me often sent notes of thanks for making even small contributions to the betterment of the school.Whether it was coaching,presenting at a conference, supervising a dance or cleaning the rooms, it was not unusual to find a note of thanks the next day in the staffroom mailbox. If I had a reasonable request that affected proper operation of the school and the education of the students, he listened, literally took note and followed up with ACTION. (Incidentally, there is no better feeling than an administrator acting on one of your suggestions if it is a good one). He did not pay lip service to a democratic style of decision making. Students and staff, be they teacher, secretary or custodian felt their opinions were taken seriously and that made the difference in morale. In contrast, I have worked under administrators who have presented a rather shabby illusion that they are democratic in their decision making. They will solicit suggestions as to how to improve the school setting, but their course of action was glaringly predetermined from the get go.Hence, the one administrator I knew who constantly created committees; the recommendations of which were very rarely if ever enacted. That, or the administrator who used a blatant dictatorial approach. "I know best and that is that". The administrator, who in my more recent experiences, has typicallys spent but a scant few years in the classrooms saying: " This is how things will be done", without any consultation with
"subordinates", hardly has education's best interests at heart.

Betty said...

Excellent! I applaud you. I will forward this to our principal and here new vice principal.

sellen said...

I might add "Don't be afraid of the parents." Some of them come in and dictate which teacher they want, insist on advanced placement classes when their chld doesn't qualify, and go straight to the principal without having spoken first with the teacher about concerns. The principal should be an advocate for the teaching staff and trust that they are doing their jobs the right way.

vivek said...

Fantastic post! Allow me to add to your wonderful list of suggestions:

1. Use every interaction to make a difference: When meeting a teacher, parent or student ask, what can I do to make sure this person leaves having become richer by the interaction? It sounds difficult but when you try it you see that almost every time you can find praise, motivation, recommendation or suggestion that improves performance.

2. Stand up for your teachers: Unfortunately, many principals join parents in criticizing the teacher. Yes, the teacher could be wrong. More yes, the customer is always right. But and this is most important, discuss it with the teacher before agreeing to everything a parent says. Once an influential parent threatened to have me sacked because I stood up for a teacher in the school. I stayed firm. That was never forgotten by the staff.

iii) Smile! That always helps. Noone like a grumpy Principal!

Keep smiling!

vivek said...

Fantastic post! Allow me to add to your wonderful list of suggestions:

1. Use every interaction to make a difference: When meeting a teacher, parent or student ask, what can I do to make sure this person leaves having become richer by the interaction? It sounds difficult but when you try it you see that almost every time you can find praise, motivation, recommendation or suggestion that improves performance.

2. Stand up for your teachers: Unfortunately, many principals join parents in criticizing the teacher. Yes, the teacher could be wrong. More yes, the customer is always right. But and this is most important, discuss it with the teacher before agreeing to everything a parent says. Once an influential parent threatened to have me sacked because I stood up for a teacher in the school. I stayed firm. That was never forgotten by the staff.

iii) Smile! That always helps. Noone like a grumpy Principal!

Keep smiling!

Vivek
theredpencil.wordpress.com

Lorne said...

Thanks to everyone who responded to my advice for administrators. I think Peter makes some excellent points about the importance of having an administrator who respects you as a professional and makes a point of showing that respect in cards of thanks, implementing suggestions, etc.

Sellen's point about standing up for the teacher and not being afraid of the parents, if practised, would do wonders for staff moral.

Betty, I appreciate your kind words.

Vivek, an administrator, seems to have the kind of wisdom that makes for a harmonious school; by being constructive and defending your teachers, you forge an amazing loyalty amongst staff that does so much more than any number of in-services to energize them and make them truly effective teachers. Thanks for writing.

Strausser said...

Even at 40 years old, to this day I still cringe when I hear my name over the loud speaker asking that I report to the office. I think partof our disdain for principals is a hold over from hen we were students - generally nothing good ever came from the office...

Great blog...

Lorne said...

Thanks for your comments, Strausser. With regard to being summoned to the principal's office, things got so bad at my last school that staff was advised to have a union rep present for all such meetings.