Transformative administration

Our school just finished DEAR reading time – 15 minutes of each day dedicated to reading. My book of the day is Transformative Assessment by W.James Popham. I’m just comfortably started the book and enjoy the dedicated time I can have to just read. Today I read a great line:

Instruction should not be an Ouija-boardlike game in which teachers guess what to do next.

I’m thinking that this could apply to so many areas of what we do in schools. In fact, as I’ve read, listened and reflected this year, it seems we need to really take the guessing portion out of what we do. We have enough knowledge about learning that we really don’t need to any guessing.

Over at Leadertalk.org, there have been a couple posts regarding dealing with teachers who are, for whatever reason, not doing as well as they should be in the classroom. The first was by Scott McLeod and dealt with dealing with teachers that were not meeting expectations. This was also the basic idea of Greg Farr’s post.  I read through these posts, thinking about what my role as an administrator, what I am currently doing and what I need to do. I look at how our school is functioning, what is going on in the building, how  people are feeling and a whole host of other factors and assess what areas need addressing.

Needs to be addressed

Now there’s lots of information on Transformational Leadership but this isn’t going to be one of those. In fact, this is going to be how administrators need to be willing to transform themselves, assessing what is happening around them and honestly evaluate areas that need to be changed, develop ways of doing that change and seeking advice in going about that change.

Just as classroom formative assessment helps teachers to address what is happening regarding the learning in their classroom, administrators need to be doing school formative assessment, adjusting what they are doing to help the learning that is taking place in their school. Just as teachers need to adjust to the students in the room, helping some more than others, partnering them, praising them and giving them constructive criticism to help them improve, administrators need to do the same.

Both Scott and Greg, and all the people who responded in the comments on those posts, addressed an issue that is sometimes hard for administrators to get a handle on – the teacher not meeting expectations. Now Chris Lehmann, in his commented noted that:

what of the struggling teacher? What of the teacher who is open to help, who is learning the craft, but has not mastered it yet?

I’ve known many, many teachers whose first year… even second year… were nothing short of train wrecks, but who were at nurturing schools with administrators and colleagues who helped them improve and became excellent, excellent teachers.

We have so many teachers in our systems whose potential remains untapped… let us not write them off before we have done all within reason to help them to become the teachers we need.

I agree with Chris, so does Gregg by the way. What about those struggling new teachers who need that help? It is important to help them and move them along, giving them access to tools, resources and other assistance to improve what they are doing. It is crucial to support them as an administrator and help them to become reflective professionals. But what about those teachers who are going through some sort of mid-career crisis? Those who seem uninspired or unmotivated? Or the teacher with only X number of years left? Or, or or or? What is an administrator to do?

This is where I see administrators being crucial in helping these teachers to move along, one way or another. They need to have the necessary tools to be able to be truthful with these teachers and offer them their support, not to get them out of teaching but to help them transform themselves. This is where reflective administrators can be examples for teachers, being willing to examine what they are doing and, if it isn’t benefitting the students, be willing to make the necessary changes very similar to teachers who change their instruction after they do formative assessment and identify areas their students need support.

Another way that administrators can be transformative is in their approach to changes and new ideas. My experience is that there are three ways administrators approach incoming changes: 1. Resist 2. Wait, evaluate, adopt 3. Jump in. The first and third are ones that, although popular with particular teachers, are not good for the school as a whole. The second allows for the staff to become somewhat comfortable with the change before things begin. In fact, as an administrator, I’ve learned that unless it is an emergency, the second approach is very practical for most decisions. Taking time to evaluate, find some data and do some thinking, is essential in making changes that are less disruptive and receive better reception from staff. This doesn’t mean all staff will like the changes but it does allow for a period of transition.

The technology thing

This is one area that I feel many administrators do not do as well as they could. In fact, my experience, although limited to what I hear and read through my PLN, is that many administrators are poorly informed about technology and resist or poorly informed and jump in. Too few are willing to take the time necessary to learn about different technologies, inquire about educational benefits or have enough information to at least discuss these with people who are dead against them.

Administrators must be the educational leader at the school and being unwilling to explore and question, discuss and inquire does not set the stage for being a leader that is willing to support and help those teachers who are struggling. I too often hear about teachers being moved or transferred because an administrator feels threatened by the “power” the teacher has with other staff or the way the teacher questions his/her ideas or whatever. It’s a sad day, indeed, when administrators in schools cannot see that they are to be the supporters of teachers who doing great things, helping teachers do great things not being power-brokers.

Administrators must begin to leverage the power that technology can give them – see that it can help them with organization, time-management, paperless work and staff communication and all types of things if managed correctly. It can also give them options that they didn’t have before like attending a web-based conference or class, using a video conference for meetings instead of driving or sharing documents without plugging up the email. It can also free up time which will allow administrators to get into the classrooms and build relationships with students and teachers.

Misleading title

The title was misleading on purpose. It set up the idea that there was going to be a discussion on the skills and traits of transformative administration. Instead, I wanted to focus on what this type of leadership does for the students, teachers and school and some of the key ways that it can also help the administrator. I know that it has sure helped me in building my PLN, gathering information, finding answers to different questions and other things. It has allowed me get connected with parents, students and staff. Best of all, it has allowed me to get in tough with the important things for me and allowed my passion for learning to grow and trickle out and affect others. I’ve come to see learning as a never-ending process that we have somehow turned into a grind for students and teachers. Exploring different ways to bring that passion back is something that motivates me and I’ve realized that the new technologies give me an advantage – something that I’m trying to pass on to other administrators. My work has just begun.

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3 responses

  1. Patricia Cone | Reply

    After reading your post as best I can (no, I have not been to “principal school”) my thought of what I want – nay crave – from an administrator: genuine interest in what I am doing and how I am doing it, and the willingness to sit down and talk “shop” just for the heck of it (not because some crisis is happening, or my assignment has to be determined for next year.) I’m not a perfect teacher and I need constructive criticism (even it is to tell me I’m doing OK). What keeps me excited about my job is the opportunity to be creative (my god, could I be an addict?) and an administrator who quietly notices and contributes in some fashion to the co-creation of teaching and learning.

  2. Continuing from a comment on an earlier post, I have a question for the teachers who read this blog — which would you prefer? The choices are the administrator’s praise, criticism, and solutions OR objective data on what’s actually happening in your classroom? By that I mean, would you like to know the percent of attention you pay to boy/girls or language group1/language group2; or the percent of the time you are talking during a ‘student’ discussion; or how effective your new seating chart is on increasing student time on task? etc. etc. All this without the data being used to hammer you, but to be the basis of professional discussions and decisions. You can tell my bias here, but I’m really interested in hearing from others. You can get more of my thoughts on my blog: Data-Based Classroom Observation

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