“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” St. Jerome
After years of teaching in many buildings and several districts, I have acquired a number of observations on how teachers view and rate administrators. Of course everyone’s view is skewed by each person’s idea of how an administrator is supposed to provide leadership, as well as what amount of an administrator’s job should be administration and how much should be education. It has been my experience that more often than not an administrator’s worth is judged on faculty morale and school discipline within a building, or a district in the case of superintendents. Lack of student discipline and low faculty morale are too often indicators of poor leadership. These symptoms tend to expose the obvious poor leaders, who hopefully are not a large part of the system.
In my opinion the bigger issue is less obvious, how should we differentiate and improve between successful levels of school leadership? What are the differences between good, better, and best? Assuming the poor leaders stand out, how do we get good leaders to be better, and the better to be the best?
Getting educators to agree on generalities is not difficult, but getting them to agree on specifics is often a difficult, if not an impossible task. Most educators are thoughtful, reflective, and fair-minded when it comes to evaluating people, even administrators, since evaluation is part of their job when it comes to kids. Teachers often give administrators a wide berth either because they are kind and non-critical of authority, or compliant. Maybe more honest feedback to administrators from their staffs would affect a more positive change in the system.
School Culture is probably one of the greatest influences on the learning that takes place in any school. It is that institution’s attitude toward learning and respect for its learners. A good admin will recognize this, as well as the fact that it has the potential for coming from the bottom up as much as from the top down. A better admin will not only recognize this, but will use that culture in branding the school to the outside world. Not only is it important for a school to do a good job, it is also important for an admin to tell everyone about it. The best admins not only recognize the culture and use it in a positive form of marketing; they will feed into and nurture that culture to maximize its positive effect on staff and students alike. This then carries over to the parents involving the entire community in learning and supporting the education community.
Observations are rarely comfortable for teachers and too often a time-consuming necessity for administrators. A good admin will use it as a tool for improvement, and not a club to intimidate teachers. A fair assessment of pre-determined objectives during a lesson is a mark of a good administrator. To pay attention to pre and post conference meetings to set goals and offer constructive feedback is a higher-level observation is the mark of a better admin. Of course the more collaborative the observations, as well as using lead teachers as models, or exemplars the more comfortable teachers become with the process. They feel as if they are part of the process instead of being a target of it. Thoughtfully sharing teacher successes with the faculty is often the mark of a great administrator. This enables the admin to nurture support and improve the performance of the staff.
Of course there is the idea that the head of any school system or building should also be the “Lead Learner”. With all that is required of modern administrators and the drain on their time, this part of the job is often overlooked. Any admin should recognize the need for at least one lead learner in a building, an individual with insights into the workings of relevant teaching and learning. They recognize the need for someone who the staff can go to for modeling the latest and greatest in the profession. The better admins are those people who are the go to people for how to approach learning in relevant ways. Of course the best admins are not only lead learners, but they take every opportunity available, as well, as to create opportunities to share and collaborate on learning with the staff. They model their approach to learning every day. They innovate ways to involve and lead their staff in teaching and learning.
Relevance is another very important measurement in being an effective administrator. Most administrators are products of a 20th Century education. Too often many administrators base their education philosophies on their college training, which is usually steeped in 20th Century methodology. That works well if the school itself has a staff that employs 20th Century methods. The problem arises when we consider that we are teaching over a decade into the 21st Century. 21st Century learning uses different tools, and different methodologies from that of the 20th Century and it is the 21st Century and beyond that we are preparing our students to live in. Using 20th century measurements to assess 21st Century teaching and learning may not be the best way to assess how much learning is going on in any given school.
Relevance has become a key issue in education today. In a computer-driven society change is constant and rapid. To keep up with change and maintain relevance Administrators along with all other educators need to expose themselves to the latest theories and methods within the profession of education. Of course the poorest of Administrators will stand out like dinosaurs holding on to centuries past in education, but lets get to the rest. The good admins recognize rapid change and support technology, and recognize that things must change from the 20th Century. Better admins are reading and sharing Blog posts, supplying relevant PD to support the technology brought into the building. The best however, are not only connected educators, they Blog, provide time for teachers to collaborate, plan for the tech in their building with ongoing PD and coaching, model the use of technology in their interaction with staff and students. They are immersed in 21st Century learning and all that it involves: collaboration, communication, curation, creation, critical thinking, reflection, authentic learning, problem-based learning, and project-based learning. The very best lead their staff by providing more sources and opportunities to connect, reflect, and collaborate further.
Being an administrator today is a most difficult job. It would be highly unusual for any administrator to have all of the best attributes, but it does serve well as a goal for which they should strive. Why not reflect on what we do, and how we do it. If we are good let’s strive for better. If we are better let’s fight on to be the best. It doesn’t have to be all at once. Let’s do it one category at a time. Motivating others is an important skill for a successful administrator, but the best administrators are self-motivators as well. But then again, what do I know; I am but a retired English teacher?