Creating Positive Change through Teacher/Admin Collaboration
Principal A prides himself on his impeccable routine. He spends the majority of his work day locked in meetings, occasionally pausing to deal with student discipline problems or parental concerns. He dislikes surprises and discourages the faculty from deviating their lessons too far from the textbook. He spends most of his time in his office and assumes that if the teachers need something they will come to him. Since very few teachers approach him, he surmises that everything is fine.
On the other side of town, Principal B hasn’t made it to her office yet. She spent the first part of the day modeling a guided reading lesson for a kindergarten teacher and then informally met with her to reflect on what she saw. After the lesson, she sat in on a teacher led PLC meeting and discussed the adoption of a new math program. She trusts the expertise of the teachers, but she enjoys being an active participant in the various discussions going on in the school. As she finally settles into her office later that morning, she leaves her door open to encourage staff members to drop in with concerns, suggestions, or requests.
Principals A and B offer two different approaches to leading their schools and interacting with staff members. In a traditional school setting, we typically see a separation of roles and expectations for teachers and administrators. Teachers are expected to take care of classroom duties and cultivate student learning. Principals and other school leaders are more concerned with discipline, budgets, and the daily responsibilities of operating a school. I believe, however, that a blending of roles for teachers and administrators could radically change the ways schools approach student instruction.
School culture is shaped by both administrators and teachers. A negative school culture is influenced by fixed mindset, top-down administrative practices, and lack of supportive relationships between teachers and school leaders. Positive school culture occurs when new ideas are valued, relationships are cultivated, and growth mindset is apparent. In environments where teachers and admin work together for the common goal of increasing student learning, schools see an increase in collaboration, educational risk-taking, and innovation.
In my ideal school, I envision teachers and administrators as a cohesive team. Imagine walking into a school and seeing the following:
- Mutual trust that all decisions are made to increase student achievement.
- Teachers are treated as professionals and experts in their classrooms.
- Administrators have opportunities to spend quality time with students outside of the office.
- Teachers see school leaders as a support system.
- Teachers and school leaders are partners in problem-solving and feel comfortable approaching each other with questions, concerns, and ideas.
How do we get there? What is the road map that will lead to positive teacher/admin relationships? To create a sense of collaboration, there must be give and take on both sides.
First, teachers must be willing to invite their principal and other school leaders into their classroom. I know this is terrifying for many of us since we are uneasy with the idea of administrators spending extended amounts of time in our classrooms. Teachers may fear they are being evaluated or judged even if the administrators are not there for a formal observation. Teachers may feel the need to change instruction on days that admin are in the classroom. The teachers may be more focused on the adult(s) in the room than the students. Unfortunately, many schools and districts have developed an “Us vs Them” attitude which restricts relationships and collaborations and fosters a climate of mistrust.
It is time to put away these fears and focus on improving relationships. To begin to make changes, administrators need to acknowledge that teacher feelings are valid and need to be considered by administrators wanting to form collaborative partnerships. Imagine walking into a school and seeing the principal taking time to read with students, teaching lessons, and helping students with assignments. During such collaborative opportunities, admin need to set evaluations aside. There is certainly a time and place for teacher evaluations, however, that is not the goal of these types of classrooms visits. Administrators need to set the mood in their school by being available, modeling collaborative behaviors, focusing on the positive, and demonstrating growth mindset.
A second concern would be that administrators lack time in their day to spend significant amount of time in the classroom. Admin have duties beyond the instruction of students including daily operation of the school. There is no question that school leaders have important jobs. They are pulled in different directions throughout the day. Like everything in life, though, if we make something a priority we will find time for it.
Administrators could schedule a specific time in their daily schedule to visit classrooms in their schools. If working in classrooms is going to be a priority for principals and other school leaders it needs to be taken as seriously as every other meeting and responsibility that might occur during the school day. It is very easy to keep pushing back classroom visits if they are not viewed as equally important to other responsibilities. Having a daily schedule helps keep the commitment current and is less likely to be forgotten or set aside for other opportunities. For example, if a principal makes a decision to spend second period and fourth periods working with teachers and in classrooms, he or she knows not to schedule other commitments during those periods of the day.
A student centered school built on a foundation of innovation, collaboration, and a desire for growth is within reach! Teachers and administrators, the time to act is now! Put aside previous fears and hesitations. Teachers, open your classroom doors and invite your principal to join your students in their quest for knowledge and growth. Model to your colleagues that as a professional, you welcome the new ideas and support that administrators can bring to your daily lessons. Principals, leave the office and make informal stops into classrooms. Your teachers are working hard to bring their lessons to life and your students are learning and growing right before your eyes. Be a leader that leads by example. Let your presence demonstrate your willingness to make positive changes in your school. Shouldn’t we all be willing to do our part to meet the goals of increasing collaboration and developing a positive school culture?