Saturday, July 18, 2015

Common Ground: Teachers, Administrators and Evaluations

A few days ago, @CHS_Mr_F (a great connected educator in our school) shared a post from a blog conversation between two other respected and connected educators.  Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) is a teacher, and John Bernia (@MrBernia) is a principal.  The conversation centers on teacher evaluations and the perspective of each "side".

This is a great conversation and I love the perspective from both sides.  I've said many times, the job of principal has become nearly impossible, and it requires a ton of talent and hard work to do it well.  Teachers have to work very hard to do their jobs well, too.  But they do have the luxury of clarity of purpose.  Teach kids, help them grow and to learn.  The good ones are the most valuable assets any school has.  Indeed, their purpose is the very reason schools exist.

The principal has a much different challenge.  Most would argue that the primary mission of the principal is to support instruction (and therefor, the teacher) and that is certainly true.  But principals must serve more than one master, and in the past two decades, those masters seem to present ever more crossed purposes.  Supporting instruction is certainly necessary for teachers to be at their best.  But a principal must also feed the system of accountability and management.

There was a time (some would say, back in the "good old days") when information and content was warehoused and curated by academic institutions.  In those days, systemic management, accountability, and support of instruction went hand in hand.  The school educated the child, the system was designed to feed that education through the teacher, and the system served all with efficiency.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this century.  Content and the ability to access it left the realm of the school and became ubiquitous.  The role of the teacher changed dramatically.  We don't feed; we coach, we guide.  We help students discover their own learning.  The role is every bit as important and the teacher every bit as essential, but it has changed.

In this time, the system of accountability, management and support has changed very little.  The built-in structure of most schools and state agencies simply does not possess the agility and flexibility of the individual classroom.  So, as our teachers discover the new mission and follow the path, the system falls further behind.  And there in the middle, lies the principal.

The irony of the times in which we teach is that everyone really wants the same thing.  We serve students.   The trouble is that the paths available to that service are far less open and clear to the administrator, and even less so to the state bureaucracies which must support them.  It is a very strange time.

The hope, I believe, lies in communications.  Conversations such as these are far too rare.  Isolation is the enemy, and connections are the most effective weapon to defeat it.  We have to do a better job of helping our leaders to connect with each other, with state agencies, with their teachers, and with the local community.  Yet we spend very few resources on this task.

The final irony is that very many well-meaning and dedicated principals feel that sacrificing their professional growth and learning for the sake of supporting their teachers is a wise choice.  The logic is that resources should go more directly to instruction, and that is a noble thought.  But it is misguided, for if we are lead our teachers, we must go before them, or at least travel with them.  We can't simply try to follow.  We truly must lead from the front.

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