Simply the Best: Director of Guidance
by Stuart Singer, The Teacher Leader
Over the course of my forty-year teaching career, which included twenty-six years as a department chair and ten as Curriculum Coordinator, I worked with a significant number of school administrators and district leaders. This post is the first in a series highlighting those individuals, who in my opinion were the most effective in their particular roles. The goal of these analysis is to illuminate those qualities that make professions in these critical positions successful and maximize their positive influence in a school.
I have always viewed the position of Guidance Director as the second most important person in a building ranking only below the Principal. A school with an ineffective leader of guidance will quickly become mired in a myriad of problems which will handicap everyone—students, teachers, administrators and parents—in impede the potential of the school.
As a teacher I interacted with nearly a dozen different directors and in my role as a department chair I had direct contact with seven. While many were very successful, Barbara Douds was clearly the best. I had a strong personal relationship with Barbara, but it was the skill set and the expectations that she brought to her position that made her excel.
Why was she the best Director of Guidance?
She was a quick and willing learner. In many ways her approach to her job made her virtually an assistant department chair for every subject. She would talk with each chair, listen to their concerns and goals, and acquired the information necessary to be fluent in the most pressing issues of that subject area. She would then work with the chairs to formulate the best approaches for the guidance staff to assist in implementing their programs. Because of this deep involvement in the fundamentals of each curriculum when questions or conflicts arose she was capable of giving meaningful advice. Too many guidance directors view their jobs as “data entry”. They see their role as to simply follow the dictates of the staff and administration especially when creating the master schedule. They ask no questions, seek no answers and most of all give no advice. To have someone in the role of guidance director who is a valued consultant is a profound strength for a school.
She had everyone’s trust and respect. Both in her actions and in her words, it was clear that there was no favoritism in the decisions made in the guidance office. The guiding principle in every choice was what was best for the students. When given an answer of “no” to a request every staff member knew that determination was based upon careful reflection, a full knowledge of all relevant facts and an unbiased appraisal of priorities. The greatest measure of this respect was during the formation of the master schedule. Based on the projections made by the director of guidance, department chairs were allocated a certain number of sections. Within those numbers the chair could distribute the classes as they chose. While on many occasions I might be disappointed in the number of sections I would never question the fairness or equity of them. Such transparency is critical to the morale and cohesiveness of a building.
She accepted every responsibility that was inherent in such a critical job. There were no August surprises. I never returned to school to discover that the number of students enrolled in a subject had risen or fallen by a significant number. Long before that would occur I would have received a phone call to inform me of the change and a discussion would ensue to determine the appropriate course of action. Having a guidance director who monitored such fluctuations ensured that all such adjustments were done in an orderly fashion and would be based on sound educational reasoning. On many occasions, I unfortunately had experienced just the opposite situation. Two weeks prior to the beginning of school massive shifts had occurred in enrollment and changes had to be made across every subject area. These last minute changes had a negative effect on both student and teaching schedules, creating negative impacts that could have been avoided but that could last a long time.
She had an amazing work ethic. For weeks at a time it appeared that she never left the building. The length of every task she undertook was measured by completion never by time. If evening hours, weekends and lunch periods were needed to refine the master schedule, consult with students, meet with parents or staff, she would be found on the job. Her work ethic was contagious. The counselors’ office lights were on long before the start of the school day and were not turned off until well after the final bell. They viewed their role as people who helped both students and teachers resolve issues. Unlike many buildings where tensions develop between teachers and counselors, due to the efforts of the director both groups had a mutual respect and trust. Such a relationship results in the ability to consolidate efforts that will profoundly benefit the students.
She had the perfect temperament. Though her job was never easy, her demeanor was always calm and her mood was always even. When I entered her office I never worried about whether she was having a good day or very bad one. Regardless of any prior events, I always knew her response would be professional.
The Bottom Line
The best directors of guidance are directly engaged in all areas of the curriculum, are viewed by all as fair and honest, and are an invaluable resource for information and advice.
Next: The Best District Instructional Leader