What do Administrators Need from Teachers? [guest post]

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 kmoritz@rand.wnyric.org.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.