As an administrator I feel that my job is to create, foster, and sustain a culture of learning that focuses on the success of each and every student. Paramount to this objective is the daily instruction that takes place in the classroom. The teacher, and his/her ability to promote student learning and achievement, is the single most important factor that will influence a child's success in the classroom and beyond.
First and foremost, I want teachers who genuinely care about kids. If you don't like being around adolescents for more than six hours, on average, each day then how will you be able to effectively teach and meet all of their diverse needs? Connected to this is enthusiasm. In the classroom, if a teacher is unenthusiastic about the lesson and the content then how can they expect their students to be excited about learning? Passion and enthusiasm are qualities that I look for when interviewing prospective teaching candidates as well as during observations and classroom walk-throughs. These attributes are contagious and together are two of the most important tools that a teacher can utilize to reach even the most challenging students.
From an instructional standpoint I want teachers to develop lessons that actively engage all students. This can be accomplished in many different ways, but I firmly believe that the teachers who make the content meaningful and relevant to students never have a problem with engagement. The learning environment should include examples of student work, consistent enforcement of rules, and excessive positive reinforcement. Innovation is something that has become a more prevalent focus in my school. To accomplish this, I want and need teachers that are not afraid of taking risks and failing once in a while. What I don't want is the same lessons and instructional techniques being used year in and year out. It is imperative that teachers need to be accepting of new ideas and that they implement strategies that are either research-based or have been successful elsewhere.
Instilling a desire in our students to become life-long learners is not only a main objective of every educator's job, but also something that has to be consistently modeled. Teachers should actively pursue opportunities for growth without administrators getting on their case. Consistent improvement is the only way teachers can stay abreast of all of the many changes in instructional techniques, educational technology, and ways in which students learn. The concept of growing on the weekends and during the summer should also be embraced. Routinely using the excuse "I don't have time to do that" is unacceptable in my eyes. As educators, we must make the time to get better because our students and their future depend on it.
Finally, I want teachers who will demonstrate and embrace a capacity to lead. I am all about collaboration and making shared decisions that will benefit all students. The success of initiatives such as Professional Learning Communities (PLC's) are dependent on teacher leaders acting as facilitators who ensure that all the work being done focuses on student achievement. Teacher leaders are also essential in terms of developing meaningful in-house professional development, modeling professionalism, and assisting administrators to create and sustain vibrant learning cultures. They act as agents of change and empower other teachers to embrace this movement. Administrators need teacher leaders in order to support and sustain innovative practices.
In summary, as an administrator I want teachers who love their job and come to school every day willing and eager to make a difference in the life of a child. I want teachers who are passionate, enthusiastic, routinely refine their teaching strategies based on research, and are willing to put the time in to better their craft. I want teachers that will work with me to become better leaders, mentors, and colleagues.
Eric Sheninger is in his fourth year as Principal of New Milford High School. His school is located in New Milford, NJ, which is a suburb of New York City. New Milford has approximately 700 students in grades 9-12.
Image credit: Australian teachers at ISTE Leadership Symposium