Friday, July 10, 2015

Can We Tear Down the Great Divide? Yes!

This morning when flipping through twitter I came across this blog post by Pernille Ripp titled Dear Administrators, Can We Tear Down the Great Divide?

I had actually recently been thinking about the role of a principal and what is the perception when people hear that job title.  I know for most people when they think of a principal there is a certain image they think of, and unfortunately that image is not always positive.  What do people think about when they hear principal?  Dan Butler covered this in his blog post Belding, Vernon, Rooney.

The reason I have been thinking more about this recently is I came back from NAESP just over a week ago.  I came back so inspired by these amazing principals.  These principals were not what most people probably think of when they hear the word.  They were enthusiastic, tech savvy, honest, open, knowledgeable and true leaders.  I have never seen them at their school or with their staff, but you could just tell by their enthusiasm,
knowledge and communication skills that these principals definitely inspire both staff and students.

So lucky to meet and stay connected to these amazing principals.

Right after NAESP I went to CUE Rock Star Lake Tahoe with 8 of my teachers.  It was one of the best experiences I have had as a principal.  I have already expressed how great I think CUE Rock Star camps are here, but this time it was different because I had my teachers with me.  We were learning together.

Our staff together at CUE Rock Star

Which all leads me back to Pernille Ripp's original question.  Can we tear down the great divide? Here are a few suggestions I have for principals:

-Keep Learning.  Your best teachers are always reading, learning and wanting to go to conferences and improve.  As principals we need to be doing the same.  I might not be able to go to all the PD my teachers go to, but my staff knows that I am constantly learning.  I share what I am reading, what conferences I am going to, what I am learning.

-Learn Together.  How many times have you been at a conference and teachers are learning and the principal is there but they are off to the side dealing with stuff back at school.  As principals we need to be in the middle of the action too, asking questions and participating. And if you ask your staff to read something or try something new, then make sure you are doing the same.

-Know your staff and make sure they know you care about them. Do things together as a staff. Multiple times a year we get together as a staff outside of school and get to hangout.  Whether it is a holiday party, getting together after Back to School Night, end of year party, or even having a staff meeting outside of school, we make sure we get away from school to bond.  There is something about getting to know them away from school, get to know their spouses and families.  The first question I always ask at the end of the year when we meet is "How is your family?"

-Be open and honest.  Sounds so easy but it is essential to tear down the walls between administrator and teacher.  For example, I open it up to my teachers what they want to see us spend money on for the upcoming year.  They know not everything they suggest will be able to be purchased but at least I get to see what they feel is important.  I constantly ask would you rather have us spend money on this or that. When it comes to bigger decisions I am as honest as I can be about why I made that decision and the thinking that went into my final decision.

-Care about the students as much as they do.  Our teachers care deeply about their students and expect principals to care as much as they do as well.  As principals it is important we are out high-fiving kids everyday,be in the classroom, know all of their names, and care as deeply as our teachers do.

So far everything I have listed are things that principals can do to help tear down those walls.  I'm sure there is more than one, but here is one thing that teachers can do to help.

-Know this job can be really difficult.  I know as a teacher I never fully appreciated what a principal has to do and deal with on a daily basis.  It is nonstop.  Many of the things principals do is to clear the way so teachers can worry about teaching and not all the other things.  For example, if I asked teachers in your district how many teachers are effective, what percentage would they give?  What if I asked the same question to teachers about principals, how many are effective?  My guess is that the percentage of teachers seen as effective would be higher.  And maybe that is because we do have more effective teachers than principals.  Or it could be that the job of a principal is so challenging that we are put into a position that is very very difficult to succeed in.  I'm sure it is not always the case, but my guess is that same principal who might not be seen as effective as an administrator was an effective teacher and someone that was very highly thought of as a teacher.

I don't have all the answers but hopefully some of these ideas will help other principals to tear down walls if that is how they feel with their staff.  I would love to hear from teachers what they feel about this divide and how we can break it down.  I would love to hear more from administrators too.  There are plenty of challenges standing in the way of us doing what we need to do to help our students.  We don't need to add another challenge by having a wall between our teachers and administrators.  The bottom line is we are all on the same team.  The only way we can be the best for our students is if every moment of everyday we are working together to help our kids.

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