Being an elementary teacher who has moved to administration, the one question I am asked the most is, "Don't you miss the kids?" The short answer is yes. The long answer is more complicated. What it seems that I have given up has actually amplified. Instead of having 18 students, I now share 331. Instead of working with a team of 7 other adults, I work directly with 52 adults and even more adults school-wide. I used to get many hugs a day from children, now I get hugs from adults that are less frequent and full of emotions.
I was also asked recently what I have learned as a new administrator. Combining the two questions: Do I miss the kids and what I have learned; I came up with a list of 6 changes I have experienced. These changes have provided great fodder for lessons as a new administrator.
1. Community Building- Every classroom teacher is concerned with their learning community being healthy. I was! Every year I put a lot of energy into building and sustaining a fabulous community of learners. As an administrator, now I put a lot of energy into building a community of educators. If the teachers are happy and supported, student learning will be happy and supported. My daily goal is to make a teacher smile - whether it is bringing her copies from the copy room, writing a note or modeling lessons in a class. Keeping a healthy community of teachers is vital to the fulfillment of the school's mission.
2. Parent Perspective- In the classroom, a teacher's main concern is student learning and well-being. As a teacher, I worked to make strong connections with families because they provide insight into the child and support for the child's learning. Parents gave me information, compliments, notes, suggestions and complaints. As an administrator, the latter is the most common to hear. Complaints. Thus there is a need for listening I never had before. Listen for what the real message is and address that. Parents want what's best for their child and we, as a school, want what's best for all the children. I definitely have been gaining a new broader perspective.
3. Schedule: Full of variety and unpredictability- As a classroom teacher the day was always busy and full of laughter, learning and sometimes tears. The events of the day were unpredictable but maintained a predictable routine. As an administrator, about all I can predict is that I will be going to school. The variety of my day is great....from working with children to adults, from problems to solutions, from old ideas to new ones, from maintenance issues to supervision, from children learning to teachers learning. Then the superintendent walks in my office and says he wants me to fly to São Paulo for the day to attend a meeting. The variety of my day to day is enough to keep my brain active, jumping around and awake well past my bedtime.
4. Judgement- As a classroom teacher I always wanted what was best for my students and that meant for advocating for them. I now realize, at times, I was wearing blinders and only seeing what was in front of me. As an administrator, I want what's best for the school and that means everyone. For example, the guards were being too loud on the microphone during elementary dismissal and disturbing secondary classes that were still in session, I needed to figure out a solution and make it better quickly. I now have a clearer view of all the moving parts at work to provide what is best for students. Solutions are not as clear and easy as they seemed when I was a classroom teacher.
5. Risk-taking and Mistake-making- Just as we want our students to take risks and make mistakes, as a teacher I would take risks and make mistakes too. They always provided for great conversations in the classroom. Within my four walls, I could trip up, say I was sorry, fix it and move on. As an administrator, mistakes or misjudgements have a large ripple effect. The idea of apologizing, fixing it and moving on takes more courage due to being in the spotlight on a grander scale. Realizing when mistakes or wrong decisions are made, it is not about ego or who is right and who is wrong, it is about the education of our students. The bottom line is student learning. Saying sorry to a group of parents or a teacher can be humbling but it is all part of the job.
6. Keeping to Myself: information and thoughts- As a classroom teacher, it was very important to share, collaboration and talk about teaching and learning. The topics that I use to talk about were pretty much for anyone's ears, but now I find as an administrator that I have to think before speaking. While I still speak about teaching and learning, I also have information and thoughts that now need to be kept to myself or timed very well. Not be coy, but rather to keep confidential information as it is meant to be kept. Timing is everything as the saying goes, administrators have many different aspects of the school to keep in mind, many pieces to the puzzle.
While I loved being a teacher with my 18 students, I am loving being a part of the bigger picture. I enjoy the new challenges I am being faced with. As my administrative career progresses, I am sure some changes I am experiencing now will be "old hat" and new ones will soon arise. I have been building school-wide relationships based on trust and collaboration. I really enjoy working with all the people that make our school function so that children have positive experiences and learn at school. I really loved my old work and I love my new work too!
Do any of these experiences resonate with you? If so, leave a comment below.
Readings that influenced this post:
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Hacking Leadership: 10 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Learning that Teachers, Students and Parents Love by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis
Reframing the Path to School Leadership by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal
It is logical to assume that a healthy dose of parent involvement is good for children and the school as an institution. The article Parental Involvement is Overrated by Robinson and Harris starts off indicating that most people believe that parent involvement leads to increased student success. I was one of the people in the "most people" category. Now I am questioning, what does lead to student success by way of parent-school-child relationship? The article is a result of a twenty year study and looked at parental engagement in 63 forms. The list of what works is short:
1) parents engaging with their child's learning; and
2) expecting their children to go to college.
These two points result in higher academic success rates. PTA involvement, friendship discussions, homework help, and others all have no correlation to student achievement and in some cases actually have negative effects.
As a classroom teacher, I always encouraged the parents to use prompts that I sent home to talk to their child. This seemed to make sense at the gut level and I am glad to read that it is backed by research. Now, as a school leader, I will be using this same strategy on a grander scale. At the start of every Unit of Inquiry, I will coordinate sending home a newsletter with information about learning activities that will occur over the next 6 weeks in their child's classroom with ideas for parent questions to engage in with their children. As the article by Robinson and Harris says, an indicator of student success is engaging with their parent in discussions about learning activities.
Another tool that my school is implementing is SeeSaw- an online learning portfolio and communication tool. This tool will allow parents to see photos and videos of the students work and/or activities in real time. After reading this article, I am thinking of having a workshop for parents on how to use SeeSaw as a tool to promote discussions about learning with their children. I will share the research findings regarding what is not helpful so parents know where to focus their energy. I will be able to evaluate if this is working, if parents log in to the SeeSaw accounts and I we hear children sharing what they spoke about with their parents at home. The population that I work with is very affluent and everyone has a smart device in their pocket and children have tablets in their backpacks. SeeSaw is one strategy that we can try based on our knowledge of our parent community. I would reconsider this idea if I was working with a different socioeconomic or racial background. I would consider a different method of sharing learning activities with the families.
The goal is for the parents to engage with the child to discuss learning and future academic. Janet Goodall's work created a continuum from parent involvement with the school to parent involvement with their child's learning. I found an image below of this continuum that shows the progression from volunteering on trips, to helping with homework to modeling/guiding/discussing learning with children. We need to keep in mind that education in school is just one place that children learn. We can help parents to see that learning is a much larger topic than just schooling and they can make a positive impact when focused on their child’s learning, especially if time is limited. Helping parents to know where to invest their energy to get desired results will most likely be a cultural shift away from mere parental involvement as we move to understanding true engagement.
Source: University of Bath, Janet Goodall presentation based on the book Do Parents Know They Matter? Raising Achievement Through Parental Engagement by Goodall, Harris and Alma, 2009. Here is a link to the presentation.