When Scott asked me to contribute a post in answer to the question, "what do administrators need from teachers?" I was happy to comply. As superintendent of schools, I spend a significant amount of time thinking about and developing what we can do as an administrative team to support learning in our district and that includes influencing the thinking and practices of our teachers.
I've held a number of different administrative positions within four different districts and am fond of saying, "I'm a teacher but currently I'm working as a superintendent." We hold different roles within the organization, but we're all on the same team working towards the best learning experience for everyone.
So as an eleventh year administrator (after ten as a classroom teacher), what do I need from teachers?
1. Speak up. Why did everyone suddenly agree with everything I said when I became a superintendent? I need to know what you think, I'm comfortable with disagreement, I learn through discussion. I don't have all of the answers. Hell some days I don't feel like I've got any of the answers. I need your thinking, your ideas, your daily experience, your feedback to make good decisions. I promise to listen, maybe to debate with you and that doesn't mean I think you're wrong and I'm right. Somewhere in the middle we'll find the answers together.
And don't be afraid to give me the benefit of the doubt from time to time, even asking me if you hear something that doesn't sound quite right. I won't believe everything I hear about you if you'll do the same for me.
2. Shared Leadership. You say this is what you want but then you often look to us to make the decisions anyway, to make the call. It feels like you want us to make the decision so you don't have to share in the responsibility. Shared leadership means you are present in the discussion, you tell us your ideas, you listen to everyone else, you share in the decision and you have the courage to stand behind it. If an idea fails, so what? We'll be better for having learned from our mistakes together than from you standing across the room pointing at us saying, "I don't know where they get this stuff!"
3. Testing. Yes, it's important that our students do well on the state assessments. Yes, I expect you to prepare them, to teach to the state and local standards, to use your best strategies to help our students achieve proficiency +. But I expect you to do so much more than just teach to those tests. I promise if you provide our students with opportunities to learn with passion, innovation and leadership as you teach the state standards content, they'll do well on the assessments also. Our kids are not going to be successful beyond our doors because they did well on the assessments. They're going to thrive if we give them a voice, teach them to problem solve, if we provide them with practice to analyze, to collaborate and to communicate effectively. That practice will serve them well beyond test question practice.
4. Trust. I trust you to be professional, you know what that means. You self selected your PLCs and the topics, tied to our vision of "learning with passion, innovation and leadership". We've provided you with every imaginable resource you've requested. We gave you one of our two opening days to work in your PLCs and we're releasing the students early almost every month to provide you with time to work together. Don't let me down. Make wise use of the time, try something new and impact learning for our children in powerful ways. I expect you to learn, to bring your best game every day, to talk about best practices with your colleagues and to adapt your lessons where appropriate. Be open to each other and learn. We're better together than each of us is separately. Be creative, take a risk, try something new. Help kids to learn, "it's my job to teach and your job to learn" doesn't cut it!
5. Stop judging each other so harshly. This is the number one impediment to our growth as a team. As I said to our teachers on the first day of school, you've got to give up thinking about 'best teacher' if we're going to talk together about 'best teaching'. You're probably not as great as you think you are and that colleague down the hall from you probably isn't as bad as you think either. We all bring something to the conversation; these judgments impede our ability to learn from each other. And really, what are you basing those judgments on anyway?
When we celebrate what we do well or when someone speaks up about an opinion or an idea, quit knocking him down. Don't send emails calling the teacher a "kiss ass" the next day or demean her in the faculty room. Who do you think you are anyway? The 'let's keep everyone the same and celebrate mediocrity' sergeant at arms? Enough. You may teach in a high school but you aren't in high school. It's mean spirited and does nothing to help us grow as an organization. And elementary teachers, you're guilty of it too. You're just more subtle than the high school staff.
6. Love our kids, show them you care even when they don't and that you expect as much of yourself as you do them. When you do this job well, it's incredibly hard work. And it's worth it, every day. Provide our students with opportunities to learn with passion, innovation and leadership.
Kimberly Moritz is learning and leading as the Superintendent of the Randolph Central School District in rural Western New York. She has been blogging for just over four years, having first written G-Town Talks as a high school principal and now writing as a superintendent. She can be reached at email@example.com.