The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Dear Teachers, Can We Tear Down the Great Divide?

Dear Pernille,

I saw your post and it made me pause and do some real thinking. I know you are a strong, respected professional who can represent the teacher viewpoint on the issue. Here’s hoping I can speak for administrators here in our corner of the Internet. 

I can still recall the moment and feeling I had when one of the very best in your field, upon telling me she did not agree with a decision I made, looked at me and in anger said “you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a teacher.” To some degree, she was right. While I have taught before, I didn’t know what it was like to work with her students and the mandates she faced that year. 

To some degree, I’d say “you don’t know what it’s like to sit in my chair.” It was a major change when I moved from being a teacher to being an administrator; truly, it was getting a new job. It was my first year of teaching all over again, in front of professionals with expectations of me, some who knew me as a peer a year before. 

A gap exists. It’s there because we have very different jobs. We work in the same place, our goal is the same, but our roles are different. What’s needed (in my view) is an environment where we presume positive intent, which requires a lot of trust. 

“Support” is a two way street. You need me as your administrator to support you and your work. I need the same from you. Each time something is reported to me about a teacher, I cannot rush to judgement and I must remember that there is more than one perspective. I need to trust the teacher, as a professional, and hear what they have to say on the matter. The challenge for you in supporting me lies in the fact that sometimes, I can’t always talk about my side of the issue and the “other perspective” belongs to one of your colleagues. 

Part of the solution requires blind faith. Part of the solution requires more transparency from both of us on our challenges. We both can do a better job of saying “I trust you,” “I respect you,” and “we disagree, but we’re both professionals who want the best for students.” Part calls for some tangible action, like me dealing with some mandates or you sitting in on that tough parent meeting about one of your colleagues. 

I hope we can keep talking. Together we’re better. 

Let’s close the gap,

John

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5 thoughts on “Dear Teachers, Can We Tear Down the Great Divide?

  1. Pingback: Dear Administrators, Can We Tear Down the Great Divide? | Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension

  2. Karen on said:

    Trust is needed. It sounds simple; it requires so much. Early in my career an administrator gave some of the best advice I ever heard, “I will only believe half of what they tell me about you as long as you only believe half of what they say about me”. It is something I think about whenever I hear information about administrators, colleagues, students, families…Every piece of information is a bit like the ‘telephone game’, the message changes every time it is repeated so depending where you are in the chain you might be getting very altered information.

    The role of an administrator implies authority and power. It is a fact and nothing that anyone can change, so it involves learning to function in that role. There are some people who naturally feel threatened by that relationship. It may be their personality or it may be a prior experience that makes them fearful. If it is the latter, the future occupants of that “seat” have a much harder job. I assume something similar happens when administrators have a bad experience with a teacher. Whether a teacher or administrator, it makes a person think twice before getting into a similar situation. It also leaves the person wondering if/how much he can trust again. Trust is needed; trust broken takes a long time to heal.

    As a teacher I would prefer an administrator tell me or ask me about something I presumably said or did. I can answer that and we can discuss it. It does not mean that I will never disagree with you; it means we will have each shared our thinking. That helps to keep open communication.

    My observations from my many roles/years in education include:
    -if I do/say something you observe directly and with which you do not agree, have a discussion with me. We might never agree and we will have enough respect for one another to continue to work together for our common interest – students.
    -if I do/say something that another school person or community member brings to you attention, ask me about it. Tell me you heard (whatever) and allow me to explain my “side”. Even if I tell you whatever you heard is incorrect (and it might/might not be) I will know your expectations for me. If I repeat the issue then the next discussion needs to include the fact that this is not the first time…
    -if I do/say something with which you agree tell me. Knowing you recognize good in me will open opportunities for discussion and will help us respect one another even when we disagree
    -if I do a favor (cover a class, help a colleague…) take the time to say “Thank you”. It gains you a lot of respect and trust
    -don’t give me false thanks or kudos. You and I will both know and neither one of us will feel good about it.

    I want to challenge administrators to something teachers are often asked to do with the children in their classroom. Think about your entire school/department. Think about the teacher who challenges you the most; the one you find hardest to like. Make that teacher your special project for this year. Your goal is to establish a positive relationship with that person and mentor him/her to be an integral part of your school team. Whether you know it or not, the teacher feels like an outcast right now and you can make a difference in that educator’s life.

    • Hi Karen,

      To open, thanks for reading and for your very insightful comments. I appreciate your candor, particularly because it comes from a place of positive experience.

      I always am cautious about this acknowledgement, but so often, the way teachers describe feeling about their students is the same sentiments I have for our staff. I worry it comes off as me perceiving myself as “more” than our teachers, but when I see good work from a staff member, I’m proud. When I see them learning and growing their skills, I’m excited. I’m always happy when I get to play a small role in their lives. In my capacity to support, coach and supervise, I often feel like a teacher.

      I’ll gladly accept your challenge and hope others will do the same.

  3. I agree with your point that the gap exists because of different jobs and therefore perspectives. It is certainly possible for there to be more trust and mutual respect, and together teachers and administrators both can and should work on bridging the gap. To A large degree however, I think the gap will continue to persist as long as relationships are systemically defined in the traditional, hierarchical way they are in most schools.

    • Hi Wesley,

      Thanks for the response. I’m in agreement that there are many cases where our schools can be flatter, but, there will also be times when decisions need to be made and traditional roles must be followed. Perhaps by minimizing the tradition, we can close the gap?

      Thanks for reading,
      John

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