I’ve been accused of being “anti-administration” once or twice before and have shared my thoughts on the topic previously. That’s really not true as I love working with and for effective administrators. There is nothing more uplifting and motivating than working in a building where you know the administration is supportive of your work and is truly about the work of helping kids grow and learn.
This past week I shared and presented at three different education conferences/workshops. As I often do, I share about some of the great work happening within my district as well as some of my own personal views on education. By all measures, the content was well received and the feedback was incredibly positive. However, in all three instances, I was confronted by teachers who loved my ideas but could not dream of trying to implement them because of their administrators. In more than one instance, a teacher pulled me to the side to speak and was looking over their shoulder to ensure their administrator wasn’t watching them. They were truly fearful of being seen speaking with me. Another teacher privately messaged me on Twitter to share their thoughts because they didn’t want their administrator to know they were speaking with me. Honestly, I didn’t know how to respond.
Throughout all of the conversations, both public and private, there were a few commonalities that arose. I share them in the form of questions I would ask their admin if given the opportunity. In fact, I think all admin should be asking themselves these questions.
Am I leading, guiding, or micromanaging?
Many teachers were frustrated with what they considered micromanagement. One teacher even shared with me she was given a specific protocol she had to follow for every single lesson. It was literally a script for teaching. In my experience, the best administrators know who needs to be managed and who doesn’t. Good administrators know who needs to be lead, who needs a guide and who just needs them to get out of the way. Just as good teachers know every student’s needs are different, so too does a good administrator.
Am I a visible presence in my school?
This was a big one as lots of teachers shared with me they never even see their administrator. Now, I know meetings and many other tasks come into play for administrators. However, there needs to be a diligent effort to be visible not only for students but for teachers. Every kid and every teacher should see their administrator every single day.
Do I follow through and support my teachers?
Knowing your administrator has your back and will follow through is crucial. Far too many teachers told me they get frustrated when they are working their tails off only to watch others skate by with mediocrity. A good administrator should know where the weaknesses in their staff are and actively work to improve them or remove them all together.
Am I open to feedback, even if it is critical?
I know many teachers, myself included, who give surveys and other forms of feedback generators to students. The teachers who were hiding in the shadows speaking with me this week wanted a way to share their feedback without fear of repercussions. Yes, there are administrators who claim to have an open door policy and teachers can come in anytime to discuss concerns. But in reality that can create an awkward situation, especially if the teacher has a criticism or concern that may not be well received. I advocate for regular anonymous surveys for admin to keep a finger on the pulse in their building as well as building strong relationships with key teacher leaders.
At the end of the day, I have no interest in the job of an administrator. It’s tough and good administrators are worth their weight in gold. However, when there is an ineffective administrator in charge, it can far too often lead to a toxic working environment for all.