Much is said about the importance of effective teachers in classrooms; this article focuses on the critical aspect of building leadership to school achievement. However, I would extend this insight to remark that real progress happens when effective teachers partner with a caring and capable instructional leader. The synergy of the these two elements working together toward a common goal and vision is greater than either entity could achieve by themselves.
As a teacher, I often prescribed to the “close the door and let me teach” group of educators. I did not want to become embroiled in district politics or the latest mandate for teaching; I wanted to focus on my classroom…my students. I was “blessed” with administrators that allowed me to do just that. They entered my classroom door to pull out students for discipline or for a once a year checklist evaluation. Other than that, they gave the perception of being unaware of my daily activities beyond the test scores I produced. My proactive communication with parents and good relationships with students resulted in rare complaints to administration.
As I moved into building leadership, I found I missed being in the classroom. The first years of leading a school found me locked in my office, overwhelmed with managerial tasks – I often felt like I should wear fireman’s boots to school – always putting out fires. I did not like feeling so reactive. As the principal in this article did, I learned to push paperwork to before and after school so I could enjoy drop in visits to classrooms. I liked the feeling of having my “hand on the pulse” of the school. My teachers and students got used to the idea that I would wander in, watch and listen, and move on. I tried to visit most classrooms several times a day. I also dropped into planning meetings or data analysis meetings to listen to teachers talk about instruction. I tried to be available – physically and emotionally – for teachers – to engage them through relationships and through understanding their struggles and instructional strengths in the classroom. I often offered resources or support.
What I did not realize as a teacher was that administrators share the same pressures as teachers. Many teachers today still do not view their administrator as an ally in their struggle to improve instruction and student learning. With the position power that a principal holds, I believe it is the job of the principal to build this feeling of alliance. Through a spirit of caring for the people, an awareness of their daily lives both in and out of the classroom, and a credibility that experience and presence – being available emotionally and physically – breaking down the barriers between “management” and teachers – this is the synergy that will improve our schools