April 30, 2006

A leap into administration?

I don’t want to be an administrator. Of course, there was a time I didn’t want to be a teacher either. I once held a Teacher on Assignment position for two years where I only taught three classes and spent the rest of the time advising a student group on campus. When I went to my then principal to resign I explained that part of the reason I was quitting that position was that I didn’t see myself as an administrator, and that I wanted to spend more of my time in the classroom. He accepted my resignation, but shared that he didn’t see me the same way I did, and that, like it or not, administration would be in my future sometime.

The last time I wrote about administration I really stepped in it. Part of the reason I don’t want to make the leap into administration has to do with what I wrote before:

…I also believe that the minute you lose daily contact with students, you lose your effectiveness as an educator. I believe that one must have the best intentions and desire to improve schools if they take on an administrative position, but that motivation often gets set aside by the requirements of security, discipline issues, parent contacts, and now, test scores.

But if I were to become an administrator, what would my “best intentions” be?

First, I would make sure that the life-long success of the students was the primary focus of the campus. Seems obvious, but sometimes I wonder if that is really the goal of education today. By that I mean that the current educational environment measures student achievement in test scores. How well do they perform on the standardized test? While testing is an important measurement for student progress, in my opinion, standardized tests do not reflect a student’s ability to survive in the world we send them into after graduation. I don’t know about you, but once I graduated college, the only tests I took were to become a teacher. If a person doesn’t plan on teaching, or medicine, or law, then what is the value of making them professional test takers? I think we are doing the students a huge disservice by focusing so much attention on test scores. I don’t know what difference I could make from a campus administrative position to this nation-wide current in education, but I would do my best to make sure that my students left my campus with more practical skills than just test taking.

The second thing I would do was to make the teachers the educational leaders of the campus, and not the administration. I believe that administrators are there to support the teachers, and not the other way around. Frustrating when not all teachers are willing to take on leadership roles with their colleagues. But it’s the teachers, and not the administrators, that have the daily, hourly contact with students. Teachers should be given all of the support they require to do the best job possible for the students. Support in the form of funding, time to prepare, and appropriate staff development. I would schedule time to not only visit every classroom at least once a week (if physically possible), but also sit down and talk with my teaching staff about whatever they wanted to talk about. Our conversations could be school related, or not. The important reason to talk to the teachers would be to make connections and build relationships with the staff, just like we should be doing with our students. Teachers, like students, will work harder for individuals they know, and who they feel know and appreciate them. Once I knew my teachers better, I would encourage them to exercise their areas of strength by sharing and collaborating with their fellow teachers within and outside of their subject areas.

Third, I would strive to include more parents in the educational process. After all, its their kids were teaching. Not all parents feel like they have a place at their children’s schools. That feeling needs to be changed to one of invitation and inclusion. Kids do better when they see their parents actively involved and caring about their education. Parents volunteering in the classroom (yes even in middle and high school) and office, parents involved with activities, parents as not only guest speakers, but also guest instructors. The teacher credentialing process makes becoming a certificated teacher very challenging, and excludes some very qualified candidates. However, that does not mean that experienced parents cannot contribute to the education of students in the classroom with credentialed teacher supervision. Of course parents work and have commitments that keep them occupied while they send their kids to public school, but with a little creativity, and maybe through the use of technology, parents can become even more involved. The school belongs to the community; the education of students should be a community effort.

Finally I would require my administrative colleagues to work directly with students for some portion of their day. Not in the role of disciplinarian, but as a teacher. Whether it is teaching a single class during the day, or working with student government, or coaching a sport, or sponsoring a club, this type of connection with kids is vital to staying focused on the most important thing schools do, teach students. In exchange for time not spent administrating, I would encourage teachers to share in part of the administrative burden. Instead of teachers always sending their problem student out to administrators, relying on admin to handle parent contacts, I would leave that up to the teachers to handle on their own. In this way it would require teachers to improve their classroom discipline, relationships with students and parents, and gain a real appreciation for what administrators face everyday.

I’m not an administrator and that’s probably a good thing. It’s likely that after reading this few teachers would want to work for me anyway. A current administrator reading this might remark that I had no idea what I was writing about. There is a whole world of administration I don’t know anything about, for example: working with the district office, maintaining buildings and grounds, the expulsion process, attendance issues, operating a security force, holding cabinet meetings, dealing with legal issues, and of course making sure that every student performs adequately on the standardized tests. Maybe if campus administrators didn’t have to deal with any of these issues they could spend more time on the four areas I listed above. I suspect that if I did join the administrators it wouldn’t be long before my idealism was weighed down by the realities of marinating a public school. And maybe not. Sure my ideas may be wishful thinking, but change and reform does not happen until somebody dreams up a crazy idea and then takes a leap of faith.

Please post your comments below.

1 comment:

  1. i personally think that you would make a wonderful administrator. to me, it sounds like you've just described an administration utopia.
    i like that you realize tests aren't the most important part of education. and i really like the idea of administrators spending a portion of their day with the students on some sort of non-disciplinarian level. i think this would not only benefit the administrator, but also the students. they'd see the administrator as a person instead of just the person who's alwasy riding their cases.