We Need Leaders #cpchat

Whether fair or not, I have been cast as the anti-administrator teacher. It is a role I accept; yet my perspective on things is always changing. I stand by my original posts on the matter and truly don’t think we need administrators as they currently function in most schools. It has been my experience with administrators I have worked for and with that there are two kinds of administrators. There are those that are administrators and those that are leaders. There is a clear distinction between the two and they both have a profoundly different impact on their schools.

Leaders inspire rather than require
A true leader inspires the teachers in their building to do great things. They know how to motivate and that motivation often comes from building trust and a sense of community within a school. The truly effective leaders know the role culture plays in inspiring growth and improvement in a school. They do not speak in terms of requirements and forced initiatives. While there is an element of required pieces within a public school system, a true leader inspires their staff beyond just putting their feet to the fire of mandates.

Leaders are visible
Another aspect of a leader is their physical presence in the building. How often do teachers see them in the halls and in their classrooms? How often do the students see them in school and after school events? Regardless of if it is just a drop in to say good morning, leaders understand that they need to be seen by their staff and students daily and in some cases more than once a day. A leader does not hole up in their office for days on end. If students or parents would have trouble picking the building administrators out in lineup they are not an effective building leader.

Leaders focus on kids not adults
This should come as a no brainer, but clearly is not for many. A leader makes building decisions based on what is best for the kids not for the adults. Yes, the needs of the adults in the building are crucial for creating a positive school culture. However, those needs should come secondary to those of the children we are entrusted to teach. Leaders need to have their decisions guided by the best learning outcomes for students rather than being guided by a pack staff members angling for self-interests.

Leaders are transparent
There are no secrets and no hidden agendas in the office of a leader. They involve every member of their staff in the decision making process not just a select privileged few. While small group or teams may be selected to represent the staff by way of department heads or team leaders, the entire staff is aware and informed about all building decisions. Leaders honor confidentiality but don’t allow secrecy to breed division and distrust among their staff.

Leaders are teachers
Leaders should be teachers within the building at every chance they can get. This can be teaching a class when a sub doesn’t get called in or supervising a club for students. School leaders that teach are the best models for the teachers in their buildings. They are the most credible and are able to stay grounded in the classroom and with the most important part of the school, which are the students.

Leaders love their school
Some of the most effective school leaders I have ever encountered speak with such passion and love for their schools. By school I mean they love everything from the building itself to the people inside and the surrounding community. They care that their building looks great and take pride in having people visit. Rather than rushing home after the last bell, they stay to watch the students perform, play and compete and stand there proudly watching and celebrating. True leaders feel like the parent of a tremendous family and their unconditional love is obvious and contagious.

In full disclosure, I am not administrator nor do I play one on television. However, I have worked with and discussed this idea of the building administrator’s role with literally thousands of people around the country. There are great school leaders out there in schools but I fear they might be in the minority. I still believe we do not need traditional administrators but desperately need school leaders. If you find yourself working for a great administrator be sure to tell them you appreciate them. If you don’t…send them this post…but leave my name off. J


George Couros said...

Hey Josh...do you think that the ratio of poor to great administrators is less than the ratio of poor to great teachers? I am curious of your own "sample space". If you had one great admin and one poor one, you might be a little jaded. I know a TON of great administrators and from my experience (albeit in Canada), the are a lot of really good ones.

There are some poor teachers that actually think their amazing principal is terrible because they hold them accountable and may make them feel uncomfortable.

The system is causing many to become poor; we need "courageous" leadership in many cases to change that system but that comes from teachers and administrators.

Josh said...

I knew you would jump on this... :)

I don't think the ratio would be any different between a teacher and admin in terms of poor or great. Honestly, I am not basing this on my own experiences in my building as much as the work I have done with other teachers and administrators alike and hearing their stories and experiences.

Your point about poor teachers thinking they have a crummy admin because they are being held accountable is spot on. As you and I have discussed, "poor and great" are often a matter of perspective and context.

My intent was actually to highlight the good things these leaders are doing and not at all "bashing" admin. The system is causing teachers and admin alike to slide into mediocrity and we do need courage both in and out of the front office. I think some of the things I mentioned could be the same if you replaced leader for teacher. It is all relative really...

Amanda said...

I'm still craving that chocolate. Like I said last week, good admins are like chocolate, you don't crave it until you don't have any more. I think bad admins really have no idea they aren't. I also think people like George are so good at what they do, they don't realize there is a struggle for others. Yeah bad teachers are going to complain about their bosses but they also aren't going to stick around much longer either. The same holds true for good teachers under the authority of a bad admin. It is so hard to just keep swimming when you are alone without a lifeguard. It's scary being there alone. While there may be other swimmers out there currents will eventually pull them apart without the lifeguard helping them find the right direction.
I have a friend that is a principal that I confide in often. He is such a good principal it is hard for to him to imagine there are other schools are ran.
I just hope those wanting to lead a school look at each of your suggestions. I think no one sets out not to lead, but get overwhelmed at all the job entails. It's hard to start out not leading then try to take charge. People are like kids, they need leaders, they need structure, they need boundaries. They need chocolate.

Devin said...

George and Josh, I am curious how many admin you have worked for or with have taken on the role of teacher in the building? I have always been of the belief that admin do themselves a disservice by not teaching in their buildings, and haven't capitalized on an opportunity to be a real instructional leader.

What issues do you believe stand in the way of admin doing more teaching in their buildings? Are they outside pressures? Self-induced?

Curious as to your thoughts.

L. Hilt said...

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I think there's great merit in setting "term limits" on administration and requiring every admin to return to the classroom or at least undertake a significant teaching load every few years before cycling back into administration. If we're developing building capacity while we're leading, this shouldn't be much of an issue, because there should be teachers groomed to fulfill administrative roles when these transitions occur.

Yes, there are ineffective administrators, and yes, there are ineffective teachers. So what if, instead, we worked on making sure all EDUCATORS in the building served at their highest capacities? I know there are a number of teachers who have said to me, "I would never want your job," and I know there are a number of teaching assignments I would not feel comfortable fulfilling. So what if we targeted 3-5 areas where the educator is passionate, develop those strengths, and also identify areas of need to help ensure they grow professionally, and then as a COLLECTIVE, for the good of the school, make plans to serve our kids in every way possible? Sharing and shifting roles, distributed leadership, collaborative problem solving, modeling and learning from one another.

It's not really how traditional schools operate, I get that. But it would help break down the notion that teachers who become administrators have "gone to the dark side." It would help teachers comprehend the often incomprehensible roles and responsibilities school leaders undertake, and it would help principals understand the daily ins and outs of classroom teaching and keep a pulse on what our kids and teachers need.

I am leaving administration and going back to being a "teacher," by contract, although most of my time spent teaching will likely be with my peers rather than with students. This will be a challenge because so many of my colleagues will still see me as a former member of administration/the dark side and that will likely impact our working relationship. It's going to be tough to overcome, and that's a shame, considering we're all educators, we're all here to grow, we're all here to serve kids.

At least that's the way it should be.

Rant over.

Ann said...

I love the idea of term limits. I have gone from teaching to administration and back to teaching by choice because I wanted to spend more time with my new baby. I learned a great deal about myself as a teacher and a leader. I had to face some real truths about my role as an administrator and think I would do a lot of things differently if I were to go back into an admin position. That is not something I am looking to do right now because I enjoy being with the kids. I loved my time as an admin, but the kids are the reason I entered the profession. I would encourage anyone in Administration to go back into the classroom for a time. You will learn so much!

Anonymous said...

Josh- Your posts always strike a chord with me. You and I have talked several times about the attributes of good and bad administrators and I appreciate you listening and letting me vent. Just yesterday I was visiting with a friend about why I’m contemplating leaving my current position. We came to the conclusion that it is very difficult to work for sub-par administrators when there are AMAZING administrators out there that we’d work for in a heartbeat. It is unimaginably difficult for teachers like myself to be connected to people like George Couros, Patrick Larkin, Lyn Hilt, Eric Sheninger, Tony Baldasaro, Chris Wejr, Pam Moran and so many other outstanding and talented administrators because we see how good things could be.

This is a snapshot of my reality. I'm sharing this not because I want sympathy, but because it is the reality that many teachers live in. I do not believe that the majority of administrators are ineffective. I think most want to be good leaders, but have just as much on their plates as everyone else in the school.

I went from having a principal that believed in shared decision making to one that imposes his beliefs on his staff. We have absolutely no say in the training we receive. We no longer are sought out for our expertise and our opinions are not valued. When my principal is in the building he is hiding out in his office. Strangers enter the building and walk the halls without ever being noticed. There are times that he and I have been the first ones in the building and we pass in the hall. He won’t say good morning or even make eye contact.

Your point about focusing on what is best for kids should be obvious, but it isn’t. We have mountains of data that show the changes we made at my school ARE NOT WORKING yet there are no discussions about what we need to do to fix the issues. Students know there are virtually no boundaries and they act accordingly. There are no consequences for their actions.

Communication is nonexistent. We don’t meet to discuss anything---ever. In the rare instances when information is shared, it is during informal conversations. That leads to exactly the type of problem you stated. It turns staff member against each other and creates an environment of distrust.

I’m far from anti-administrator, but in my case, not having an administrator at all would be better than what we have right now. My coworkers, students, and I desperately need strong leadership. I’m hopeful that we will eventually have that again. To steal Amanda’s words....I want my chocolate back. I don’t want to be a casualty of poor leadership.

Wm Chamberlain said...

Just a few thoughts:

1) A 'bad teacher and a 'bad' principal often have in common the need to police their charges. When school becomes about discipline and not learning it is a problem.

2) We often have conversations about helping 'bad' teachers get better, but where are the conversations about helping 'bad' principals get better?

3) I can't imagine the pressure of working as an principals since they work at the pleasure of the school board (and superintendent) and have no tenure. I suspect the reality to be that the 'bad' principals often are a sign of a deeper issue in the upper administration ranks.

4) No 'bad' principals sees themselves as bad, bad teachers don't see that either.

5) If school is supposed to be about learning, why don't administrators model this to the students and teachers?

6) It doesn't matter if there is only one bad principal or a thousand if you are the teacher working under the one bad one.

Josh said...

I knew this would strike a chord with many people and clearly it has...I appreciate the comments and conversation here for sure. Some additional thoughts I have after reading some of your comments and the conversation on twitter.

1. The notion of good or bad really is a matter of perspective. What I view as a great administrator some might view as bad. The same can be said about a teacher...some kids love them and some don't. That is reality and it all about perspective and context.

2. This post was not meant to slander admin at all but simply point out characteristics of some of the great leaders I have been lucky to interact with and work for in my years as a teacher. Some of them were even mentioned in the comments and at least two of them commented themselves (Lyn and George).

3. As I have said many times, I am not anti-admin just anti-traditional admin...in the same way I am anti-traditional classroom teacher. Yet, I see Will's point and wonder who is responsible for helping administrators be "better" at what they do? We have remediation and interventions for under performing teachers. Why not for administrators?

4. One thing I did leave off this list was a leader is also a learner.