In a perfect educational world the administrative and teaching staffs would work in harmony developing a school where every student is academically successful. Unfortunately, this scenario is not always the case. The working relationship between these critical components in a building requires a clear understanding of the distinct needs of the two groups. With that objective in mind, here are a few of the top priorities teachers seek from their administrative team.
Create a positive educational atmosphere
The academic environment of a building is critical to the success or failure of the students. If everyone in the school communicates the same message—the primary mission is academic success for all—the desired good outcomes are far more likely to occur. Conversely, inconsistent discipline will cause breakdowns at every level and can result in dissension and low staff morale. Students respond positively to consistent, fair and constructive administrative actions. Teachers perform best when they are confident that they know how tardies, truancy, misbehavior and other referrals will be handled. In addition, when the staff feels comfortable and supported, they are more likely to take on additional personal responsibility for the actions of students.
Give teachers and students the time needed for success
In a high school time is a precious commodity. It takes large amounts of it to deliver good education. Teachers need class time to effectively present their curriculum; every minute lost translates into less subject matter learned, reviewed or practiced. Teachers need time during the school day to plan, meet with colleagues and counsel students. They also require time to offer after-school assistance, attend parent conferences and secure materials. Every disruption to those needs has a cost. While the majority of teachers understand that some events are necessary, their standard of measure is whether the disruption is more important than the class time lost. Meetings should be held based on need, not on a calendar that states there is one every third Tuesday of the month.
Full-length classroom observations
Administrators have extraordinarily busy schedules which can be altered at a moment’s notice by any number of unexpected occurrences. As a result one of the first responsibilities often reduced is the time spent watching teachers at work. Unfortunately, many teachers are complicit in this adjustment by gratefully accepting this change rather than being upset that the majority of these visits become “drive-by”. Such an approach has negative ramifications for everyone involved. In order to best assist teachers in their jobs, administrators need to understand exactly what is occurring in the classrooms. If the goal of the entire staff is to collaborate in creating a successful school, principals and assistant principals should be observing and critiquing the results of their input in the process. A well-crafted, carefully planned class can be a breathtaking experience. After having been exposed to such an event, any conversation about the need of more time, certain supplies or fewer disruptions could be far more productive. Just as important, a clear message from such lengthy and frequent visits to the teaching staff is “we care what you are doing in your room”.
Minimize surprise schedule changes
Given adequate notice, teachers can work around almost any disruption. Field trips, assemblies or special bell schedules need to be announced as far in advance as possible. Frequent follow-up reminders are beneficial. A lesson plan is a carefully choreographed educational ballet; given two weeks to adjust it can be altered to cause little if any loss of momentum. But picture a ballet company being told between the first and second act that the music has been totally revised. That once beautiful academic experience can quickly devolve into chaos and hard feelings.
Keep an eye on the schedule
Disruptions to the school day are inevitable and many are beneficial. For example pep rallies, class assemblies, PSAT testing are necessary ingredients in creating a well-rounded educational experience. But a key request by teachers to administrators is to make sure that when scheduling such events no one or two class periods are unfairly impacted. A teacher told me about a recent two-week span in which one of his classes lost significant amounts of time on three different occasions. If a fire drill must be held each of the first four weeks of school have two in the morning, two in the afternoon and during different class periods during those blocks of time. Make sure that pep rallies and class meetings do not occur in the same time frame. It is a small adjustment with a big upside for the teacher.
Solicit opinions from a variety of places
A school where every directive is the result of top-down management is a school where staff morale will be low. Teachers want to help in making decisions that will directly affect their students and classrooms. Having a staff vote on every issue is absurd but requesting genuine input from the teaching staff will be rewarded with a more varied set of viewpoints, increased staff buy-in for the final outcomes and improved communication and attitudes.
Allocate resources fairly
There is a constant sense among teachers that some individuals or departments are getting more supplies, staffing or time than others. Whether this situation actually exists or not, it is critical that the administrative staff do everything possible to make the use of school funding as transparent as possible. The best way to disprove an untrue rumor is with facts.
Arbitrate the validity of activities
Every teacher believes their field trip, out-of-school activity or meeting is worth the complications they may cause to the class day. Otherwise they would never be proposed. Unfortunately these appraisals are not always accurate. Consequently, the administrative staff perhaps with the input of a group of teachers should vet out such requests to ensure that only the ones of true educational value occur. These can be extremely difficult decisions but if done properly will not only protect class time they will also allow legitimate options to be held.
And what would be an administrative team wish list? Your comments are welcome.