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