What Do Teachers Need From Administrators? (Day 1) [guest post]

Hi, my Name is Brian Crosby. Scott has asked me to kick off his week long series, “What do teachers need from administrators?” You can learn about me on the “About” page on my blog, Learning Is Messy, and about my students here.

The short version is that I have taught for about 30 years. I currently teach in a very “at risk” elementary school – almost 100% free lunch and almost 90% second language learners. I usually “roll” a class for 3 years. I get them as 4th graders and keep them through 6th grade. Poverty causes a high rate of turnover, so I usually end with a little more than half of the students I started with after 3 years. Some years I have 20 or more changes in my classroom. I have the only 1:1 elementary laptop classroom in a school district of 63,000 students. My state (Nevada) funds education 50th in the country.

I’m not going to pull any punches on this topic, and because it is focused on what teachers need from administrators, I’m sticking to that. Just know that administrators need plenty from teachers too, so don’t take what I share here as dumping this all in administrators’ laps. They need our support and guidance as much as we need their’ s. Remember I teach elementary, so my feedback will be shaded by my experience.

I’m pointing my post at all school administrators not just principals. What do teachers need from administrators?

– Give us, and advocate for us, more time to plan. Effective teaching requires, more than ever, effective planning. I would love to have as much as 2 weeks (not including a day or two to set up my classroom) at the beginning of the school year. Time to plan as a staff, unit (for example – upper elementary grades), grade level and self. I know this costs money … might be some of the best money spent.

– It’s the 21st century – let’s go there with our schools! If a teacher from 100 years ago, or even 50 could pretty much move right in, that’s not good. Would that work in medicine or business?

– Teachers should have the most say in the professional development they receive – some of that 2 weeks time at the beginning of the year could be PD teachers planned to help drive their teaching and their plan for the year.

– We are glad you get to attend conferences during the summer. Don’t make us adopt, adapt and integrate the great thing you saw or heard about there at the beginning of each school year. We don’t get enough planning time as it is – see above (in my school district we get 1 day and have to set up our room too), it usually just adds to the stress and have you noticed they are usually a bust.

– “Research Based” does not necessarily mean good, or right for our situation, great, effective, or proven over time.

– There are many, many powerful, important, effective, innovative, sometimes transformative pedagogies that are NOT research based. Maybe we should try some of them too.

– “Not everything that can be counted (tested) counts, and not everything that counts can be counted (tested).” – Einstein
Please, please, please – remember that when you are making decisions that narrow the curriculum for our neediest students (or any students). And yes, I know you’ve seen that quote before.

– Changing course constantly is very bad. Teachers that are constantly put in a position of dealing with changing rules, curriculums, programs, principals, other colleagues, your pet project from your summer conference (and the assistant supes too), “We have dealt with the new reading adoption for a year and I see us struggling with it. And so even though we were told (as we always are) that we need 2 or more years to adjust and make this new program work, lets change things up some – oh, and remember this year we ALSO have a new science adoption to start-up,” – “Oh and our writing scores dropped some so we are going to try this new writing approach …” – “Now let’s go out there and be the best dang teachers and school ever! – BTW please have your discipline plan, school improvement plan (sorry, the school district requires that), and back to school night plan to me before you leave today.”

– Don’t tell us that teachers are “the salt of the earth” and that we are the best darn teachers and staff that was ever assembled, and then explain to us all the “top-down” decisions we have to implement that we have little to NO real voice in. We, mostly, have master’s degrees, years of experience and current experience (you, as an administrator, don’t have current full time classroom experience). Let us use ours – trust us and hold us accountable for that. Hold us accountable for our planning, lesson design, creativity (and the results of that planning time you are advocating for).

– You can’t hold us accountable for student learning by making us use a program – and use it strictly – if we really follow the program. How come we never blame the textbook/program companies that “promised” 5% or 10% 0r 20% or more percent increases in student test scores if we followed their program (that we paid big $ for) ????? Do you ever mention that?

– Are the tests (assessments) we give students to decide if they have learned what they are supposed to learn actually good, valid tests? Do we REALLY know if a student passes them (or not) they are a good or poor student? If you are not sure – please speak up.

– Don’t have meetings or set-up committees or trainings unless they are a REALLY valuable, powerful use of teachers’ time.

– This is harsh, but – If you have been an administrator for more years than you taught full-time in an actual classroom, you are probably disconnected from what it is like to be a teacher. If you taught for less than 4 or 5 years … sorry, but you probably don’t know what it is like to be a full-time classroom teacher (there are exceptions).

– This might be the most important – Be open to creativity and innovation. No, BEG for creativity and innovation from your teachers and students. Then support what obviously works, and ask for changes and tweaks to what doesn’t. Then hold us accountable. (But remember the planning time!)

– Please help teachers have voice, and ask us to help you have voice. There is too much education bashing going on, partly because we tend to take it and don’t push back. Our kids pay the price (and it isn’t fun for any of us either).

Lastly, where are the great examples of what works? What is awesome that happens in your schools with your teachers and students and parents!? Do you have some examples to share? Then shout out about them in every way you can think of!! Right now only others that have a different agenda (and lots of money and connections) seem to have a voice, so they are the only ones being heard. Where are your “Working, breathing, reproducible, intriguing models!?” Tell the world about them – better, have your teachers and students and parents tell about them too!

OK, I actually have more, but I’ve challenged you enough, and there are more educators this week to challenge you more. Remember, I was asked to share. Thanks for your time,

Brian Crosby

31 Responses to “What Do Teachers Need From Administrators? (Day 1) [guest post]”

  1. Well done, Brian. I bet many teachers wish their admins would read this. Then again, it might do even more good if our politicians read it.

  2. Thanks Scott! I appreciate that!

  3. Brian,

    Thank you for writing this piece, Scott thank you for inviting him. Your words speak volumes and as I was reading it I just kept saying, “yes!”. You nailed so many different yet similar topics in the head, and did it in a very smooth way. Perhaps either Scott or yourself could post a one click link to send the article to a friend so that teachers could anonymously send this to their administrators, and then post. The results how many times it was done, I think it would be very telling of our education system. As a trained teacher and with my Mom being a lifetime teacher I am feeling more nd more that the last 20 plus years, allot has “happened” in teaching, but no ine can convince me students rare better off, in fact they may be worse.

    Thank you again for sharing!

  4. Those top three were so essential – and the rest were great too. Maybe it’s naive but I think if we had the top three – planning time, 21st century methods, and control over PD – then the rest might follow. Principals would (hopefully) see the results, ask for more, and knock down more barriers. I might add that 21st century methods wouldn’t simply mean use of technology, but perhaps some additional breaking down of artificial barriers. Use information and communication tools to allow for more flexible groupings of students, and more flexibility with teaching. For example, why not have two or three teachers responsible for any given groups of students, perhaps with one being “the” official teacher, but dividing up various roles according to teacher strengths and student needs?

  5. Great post Brian.

    So common sense for teachers I wish that administrators (at times) could remember what it was like to be a teacher and to cherish that limited planning time. I would make the generalization that this goes the same as students, not so much the planning but the ability to be involved in the decision making in their classroom. Teachers and students are in it together!

    Thanks for the post!

  6. @ Brian
    Well said. I like your point on the years spent in the classroom and the years as an administrator. I’ve had four years as a teacher and eight as an administrator. Two years ago I decided I would teach a class each year. I’m in a high school. We’ve just added a 1:1 laptop program and a curriculum redesign using a trimester model with a focus on progressive methods implementing project based learning. I believe selling these changes to the staff would have been much more difficult had I not made the commitment to teach a class. I’ve taught theology to personal finance and this year will add a history of american education course for our students who want to be teachers. I find if I model the technology use it helps with the changes we are making. To be fair I don’t think most administrators have the time to teach. I’m blessed to have two very capable assistant principals who handle 90% of the day to day events which leaves me free to drive the mission and push for change. The teaching keeps me better connected to the staff and the students.

  7. Well said Brian. I particularly liked your commentary on the progressive nature of teaching versus medicine in terms of outdated practices.

  8. I can’t think of one thing to add! Very extensive exploration. The one thing I would like from our administrators is acknowledgment/understanding that our teaching is at the forefront of what we do, that the ‘paperwork’ and other such tasks draw away from that most excellent lesson I could be planning. Also, recognizing the great things that are going on in a school is very important for staff morale, but it needs to be done consistently; otherwise, some teachers are given kudos and others feel that their efforts have been ignored (I KNOW, we’re all adults, but it’s nice to be remembered)!

  9. Excellent and insightful! Well done Brian!

  10. Your post is insightful, straightforward, and dead-on right. Administrators are an integral part of any school, but the move toward putting administrators in the role of instructional leaders is not what teachers need.

    Thank you for saying what needs to be said and more importantly, needs to be heard

  11. Michelle Howell-Martin Reply September 6, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Well said! I plan to share this in my district, particularly as there are some top-down professional development session going on that really aren’t going to do anything except increase paperwork and decrease the amount of time we have to plan. Couldn’t have said this an better. Thank you!

  12. Thank you for your straight forward advice for administrators. All educators need to celebrate what we do well! There are so many fantastic things that teachers do everyday that are taken for granted. I am going to focus on taking your advice and try to celebrate what we do well every chance I get!

  13. Well said, Brian, you echo what many experienced teachers have been saying years. I hope this blog reaches people at all levels of education and helps to change the professional lives of teachers for the better.

  14. Brian,

    This is fantastic advice for us administrators. I am going to save it and use it to help me make decisions at school.

    Thank you for your willingness to share.

  15. Thoughtful, largely even-handed insights here about the role of administrators. As the editor of a monthly magazine that reaches superintendents and their deputies nationwide, I’m not going to defend or explain behavior – but I think it’s important to recognize that there are some extraordinarily effective role models out there of superintendents who are fully engaged in the instructional process and wholly supportive of classroom teachers’ daily efforts. In fact, I’ll point you to one such stellar superintendent in South Carolina who happens to be profiled in our September issue. Here’s the link to that short piece: http://www.aasa.org/SchoolAdministratorArticle.aspx?id=16304
    As someone who sees great value in putting such talented central-office leaders in front of their colleagues (to perhaps influence others’ roles and practices), I’d welcome hearing from others with suggestions for model approaches in support of teachers and building-level staff that are in place in school districts now. … Jay P. Goldman, editor, The School Administrator magazine

    • Hi Jay – Thanks for your comment – please note that my “wants” are generalized and obviously there are administrators that already keep some or many of my points in mind. I also would note that administrators have their own roadblocks that prevent them from carrying out my points above, and/or force them to do some of the things I ask them not to do. I’m not blaming administrators (well maybe a few), just making them aware or reminding them of these points.

  16. I have to disagree with the Business/Medicine comment, because other than more recently introduced tests and drugs, in fact practices are mostly the same as 50 years ago, although much worse since less time is spent trying to actually talk to the patient or client and understand his or her needs. ….wait…maybe that is a good description of education.

    I wish we had the problem of administrators getting excited about trying new ideas. The opening day letter this year was identical to the one from last year with the dates changed, and one policy that was actually changed over the summer, they didn’t bother to include in our handbook, or even distribute copies to the teachers (which, despite our requests, has still not been distributed after 3 days of inservice and a full week of classes).

    I agree 100% with administration immediately forgetting what it’s like in the classroom. Ours regularly do thing like make announcements over the PA during class change and wonder why no one heard them.

    • Hi Bill – Per your medicine / business comment – perhaps their is less time spent on patients, clients, customers … I’m referring more to have they changed the tools they use, methods they use and more. Could a nurse from a hundred or 50 years ago step into a Dr.s office or hospital and find that the tools and methods are pretty much the same? Same for business. Could you bring a teacher from a hundred years ago and give them the “Reader, History book, etc. and they would find they could not use them? How about the chalkboard? If it’s been switched to a marker white board would that be a big learning curve? Certainly many schools are full of technology and modern pedagogy this old teacher would find foreign, but how many schools would they find not that much changed?

  17. “Let us use ours – trust us and hold us accountable for that. Hold us accountable for our planning, lesson design, creativity (and the results of that planning time you are advocating for).”

    Wow! That is a powerful message and one that I think deserves repeating. We are willing to be held accountable in return for the trust of administrators.

    Thanks for the post, Brian.

  18. Great list Brian as I echo the sentiments of those that have posted on here.

    My question for you is this. If teachers got all of these things in school (which they should have), how would that change your practice? What would you do with all of that support? I would love to hear how you would take this style of administration and make change in your own school.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post 🙂

    • George – Great question! First, I generalized some in my post. So in reality I would want to use that RTTT money in a very different way than it is being used. I would want to fund at least some schools that in the first year of “change” would take maybe 3 or 4 weeks to sit down and decide the culture and pedagogy for their school. That might have me packing up and leaving if the consensus was not one I could live with or support. But years thereafter could be handled in 1 – 2 weeks (and I left out follow-ups throughout the year with teacher days to adjust the plan as needed and paid time to meet when teachers chose (after-hours, Saturdays …???) Especially the first year.

      I would love to bring school sports back to elementary as well as art programs and more after-school (after-all the elementary schools tend to be neighborhood schools) programs like art and dance and so on. Kids just stay after-school – less driving, more participation, since it is at school teachers could have students not doing their work catch-up before practice … lots of pluses.

      I could go on and on. As far as my own school … to do what I see as the possibilities would be tough with current staff. Not because they aren’t good or committed, but the down-sides of being at the very bottom of funding (our state is always at the very bottom) is that most teachers still find email a steep learning curve and some use their ActivBoards to tape student work to because they want the wall space, and training is not mandatory. So the learning curve for integrating and leveraging tech and a 21st century pedagogy would be very difficult with the vast majority.

      There is so much more to answer your question, will have to answer when I have more time.

      The upshot is, much more inclusive curriculum, field trips, art, and much more learning to learn instead of learning to be taught. Active learning instead of passive learning.
      Hope that at least partially answers your question.

  19. Brian – Thanks for the great post. I am a supporter of more time for teachers. Whenever people start talking about a longer school day or school year, I always agree with the premise. But in my mind, I would start with a longer day or year for the teachers so that we could build in a Professional Development model that looked less like the drive-by model that I feel like so may of us utilize.

    While we are on the topic of PD, I am a proponent of self-drirected PD by teachers. With the tools available to us now, I think this is a real possibility. Let teachers choose their own paths instead of the model you describe. We need to trust teachers to choose what will help them most instead of spending a great deal of time organizing PD that teachers find tedious and irrelevant.

    • Hi Patrick – Remember I am generalizing some here. I’m not sure I would completely agree with your “letting teachers find their own path” idea … would depend on exactly what you meant and what the structure of the school was. But I don’t disagree either.

  20. Brian, thank you for sharing your honest advice for administrators. I, too, wish we could provide more time to our district’s teachers, especially for the use of collaborative, meaningful planning. This year I tried to include more hours of both independent and team teacher work time in our opening days, as well as incorporate teacher-led PD sessions like Patrick mentioned. The feedback from teachers was very encouraging. I also appreciate that you state your willingness to be held accountable. We hold our students accountable- we should expect the same of our teachers- and principals!

  21. @Charlie.
    Recongnizing the problem and then finding a possible solution. The problem..administrators who are so far removed from teaching that they do not or can not relate to the classroom enviroment. Possible solution…teaching one class a day. I really like what you are doing and accomplishing with this solution. You will earn staff respect, student respect,and community respect plus have insights needed to lead the staff. Wow!!!

  22. Brian, as tweeted earlier, I loved your response. It is a candid, well-stated reminder for us in administration. Keeping the most important interaction in the school – teacher and student – in mind as we “administer”, is crucial.
    A good school district has structures and strategies in place so that both teachers and administrators discuss what their roles are like, and how they can support each other. Having said that, I have found that there will be a tension between teachers and administrators that ebbs and flows, sometimes due to circumstances beyond the control of all parties. Further, that is not all bad. We have to avoid the “BTW” syndrome (believe the worst), and believe in each other.

    First, we all make mistakes. Second, top-down is not all bad. Rick DuFour espoused a few years ago in The School Administrator that sometimes top-down is necessary when a moral imperative is being discounted. A couple of examples come to mind: putting the needs of kids pre-eminent over the wants of adults; and entire districts, at the macro systems level and the micro teacher-student relationship level, owning eradication of the achievement gap of underperforming populations within high performing suburban districts.
    Thanks again.

    • Hi Mark – I’ve taken a seminar with the DuFours, met them both – and obviously sure there are aspects of school that need to come from the top. I think now, and definitely in my own experience, it is almost all top down, and too often when we are given choices it is just to say we have a choice … unimportant chaff stuff – “when will we schedule recess?”

      If my education and mandatory training is mostly about curriculum and lesson design let me use it. We have teachers that have taught the exact number of years we have been implementing NCLB and guess what? They have zero experience developing lessons on their own. They have been brought up implementing programs … I don’t think that is a good place to be.

  23. Brian – Your points are well taken, and right on. As a Superintendent, it sometimes feels like I am swimming upstream. It is rejuvenating for me to keep in mind that there are many teachers, you being one, also fighting against the current. Thanks for your courage and persistence for future generations, and have a great year.

  24. Just as your Tedxdenvered presentation proved, you don’t miss a beat. Absolutely point on, excellent article.

  25. Mr. Crosby,
    I respect how firm you are in your beliefs and knowledge as a 30-year teacher. After looking at your class blog and students’ work, it is obvious that you have enough experience and creativity of your own to help your students without interference from administrators. You ask first of all for more time to plan your lessons which would probably mean more money. Well, this would be possible for you if the administrators would quit forcing new ideas that they can not understand into your curriculum. I hope that the administrators over your school read this and at least hear you out. You deserve it.

  26. Hi Brian,

    You have really nailed it! I am with you completely.

Leave a Reply to Lyn Hilt