Dear Scott,

I haven’t really answered your question, “What do administrators need from teachers?” Instead, I’ve deferred to a colleague who has a most unique perspective. I’d like to share some background about him- before you read his story and response to your question. By the way, I’ve always liked to color outside the lines of work so you are getting something you didn’t ask for- two blogs in one day!

Dr. Matt Haas currently serves as secondary director for Albemarle County Public Schools. Until two years ago, he led a high school of around 1700 students. This past spring Matt came into my office, sat down at my stained and worn country-kitchen worktable. Looking me in the eye, he said, “I need to ask you something.”

He looked a bit nervous, not a usual state for Matt, and my thoughts immediately turned to a concern that perhaps something was really not going well for him. Instead, the question he asked shocked me, compelled me, and indeed moved me.

I was forced to sit, silent for a moment, to contemplate a response to a question I had never been asked by a central office instructional leader. “May I teach a class in a high school next year?”

My first thought, I confess, was how would Matt ever be able to do his job as an administrator. Then, words floated back to me from my first administrative mentor, “Pam, if teachers come into your office with a new idea they want to try out, give them a chance. Even if you believe it won’t work, do NOT say no. Figure out how to make it work. As soon as you start saying no, you will close down the potential for growth and creativity forever more in your school.”

I took a deep breath, pushed away the list of Matt “to dos” for the next year, and said, “yes.” Then, I asked him, “why?” His response came without hesitation, “The last time I taught a class was in the 20th century. I think I need to experience teaching in the 21st.”

This year, Matt holds down his day job as Secondary Director and teaches a heterogeneous group of 30 ninth grade English/Language Arts learners. These two jobs now often keep him up after midnight. He writes in his journal about his experiences and I hope he’ll eventually blog for the education world. He’s tried out Poll Everywhere as a personal response system and found that almost all his students have cell phones. He’s using Edmodo with the class.

Tech learning curve? It’s been a bit of a problem, but he says his kids can teach him just about anything he wants to do with tech apps. He’s asked for a document camera so he can share printed work more easily to facilitate group conversations. He’s also shared his frustrations with me about the same tech challenges faced by colleagues in the classrooms around him- time to learn new skills, infrastructure, tech access, etc.

Most importantly, Matt’s found out what happens to kids in his class who don’t have dictionaries in their home- let alone tech devices and proximity to Internet access. Despite their learning struggles, he worries every day about these learners because he sees such potential in them. He shared that they take to tech-accelerated work like “ducks to water” and he knows he’s opening critical learning pathways for them.

He’s figuring out how to support them with extra access options at school and is securing devices they can check out for home use. However, he also experiences angst because these learners without Internet access can’t get 24/7 chances to collaborate and network with peers who have home devices. He worries about every one of his learners, but he’s especially concerned about those who are blocked from participating in the full range of learning options available to kids who simply are born into middle class homes with college-educated parents. So, when he uses Poll Everywhere, he’s figured out how kids without cell phones can log responses from his phone. He shared with me recently that one such student took her own iPhoto and turned it into his phone wallpaper. He laughed about that. Then, our conversation turned poignant about this student who doesn’t have a cell phone and the constraints upon her learning.

I originally thought that Matt and I would co-write this piece drawing upon his experiences this year as he puts his feet simultaneously in the two worlds of teaching and administration. Then, when he sent me his initial draft, I felt I could add nothing to what he wrote- no questions, no pithy insights, no perspectives. I think he nailed it. I’m learning from his experiences this year and believe I will be a better superintendent for saying “yes” to him. I’m learning what it means to be a lifelong learner from Matt. He looks for and finds learners’ strengths rather than dwelling on their deficits. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make a difference.

My answer to you, Scott, is simple. What I need are more educators who commit, feel, care, think and problem-solve like Matt. Give our children schools full of “Matts” and I believe we can change the industrial hierarchical model of teaching, learning and administration.