"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Struggling to learn the obvious...

Click on this link and read this blog entry first...Notes from a Knitter. Then come back here and read this...

My question is where is the district administration in this? You were asked to "please get along with" this principal. Why? Why are incompetent and, yes, dangerous, principals like this tolerated?

I've only been teaching for (good-god) 32 years, but I have seen enough to know that good principals beget good teachers. If you have a strong principal then even your "crappy" teachers will shape up, or leave. In my short career in public education I have worked with one...maybe two...good principals who:
  1. have the best interests of the students at heart...know and remember what it was like to be a child and feel powerless - AND
  2. have the decency to stand up to the central office when they do something that is obviously harmful to students...know how to support their teachers when appropriate to the administrators who are twenty miles away in the central office and out of touch with real, day to day, education - AND
  3. have had the strength to tell teachers who are crappy to shape up...at the same time knowing how to lead them to improve...aim for improvement not punishment - AND
  4. who put their money where there mouths are by jumping in and being a teacher along with their staff - AND
  5. who are expert teachers who keep up with the current trends and research in education.
I've worked for principals who have done one or two of those things (Usually number three, but then they don't know what to do to help the teachers become better), but it's the rare principal who can do all five.

So...maybe this post will become a critique of "the Principal's I've Worked For."

I won't mention any names...you can figure most of them out if you know me...and I'll tell you who they are if you want - but only in person.

A was a definite number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and was a friendly, easy to get along with person. His big strength was in educational leadership. He knew what he wanted a classroom to look like, and while he was open enough to realize that teachers had different strengths and classrooms would not all look identical, he still had a vision that he promoted to teachers about the way interactions should take place in a classroom. He pushed having good, strong, relationships with students way before Ruby Payne and was fond of saying that "students learn best when they feel safe" a maxim which has since been proven to be true. He also was a strong advocate of his teacher, students and school to the central office. The school was on the outskirts of the district, but he made himself known and frequently stood up at school board meetings to talk about his students and teachers.

B was an interim...he was in way over his head, so I won't even begin to assign numbers to him. Luckily for all, he is retired now.

C was one of those principals who students loved. He was always doing things with them...playing in gym class or intermurals, sitting in the library with kids...sitting at the lunch tables. So he was definitely a number 1 and 4. Other than that, he spent most of his time typing memos. With him as principal the school secretary had an easy job.

D was one of my favorites to work for. Nice person...and had a good way of working with people. He was a number 1, 3, 4 and 5. He was the only principal I ever worked for who actually went on a field trip with some kids...on the bus! Sort of a wimp when it came to standing up to the central office, but he stood up for me to some nasty parents...and won my undying loyalty. He did bug me to wear a tie every day, but I have since forgiven him for that.

E...oy...I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assign him a number 1...though sometimes I was not sure about that. Also, a 2. He had no problem telling other people what to do...and by the time I worked for him, he had no qualms about disregarding the central office as well as everyone else who he disagreed with...or when he just felt contrary, which was often. I would have given him a number 3 because he was very good at telling bad teachers to shape up...but had no idea how to help them. Once in a while, though, he got it in his head that someone was no good, no matter what they did, and then he was vindictive, petty and mean. In at least one case, he overreacted so much that someone else had to come in to do the evaluation on a teacher because he was so antagonistic toward her and obviously unprofessional about it. Lo and behold, the teacher turned out not to be as bad as he said...and in fact had some very good results in her classroom.

F was another interim principal. An obvious 1, 2, 4 and 5. In the short time she was there she had a positive impact on the personality of the school. People were happy...staff and students. She was welcoming, professional, and open. Too bad she was only there for 3 months.

G was not the most popular, but had some very good points. Numbers 1, 2, 3, and 5. I originally wrote this without putting number 4 on. But then I remembered...this was a principal who I watched sit in the hall and read with children each year. She had a very good knowledge of what it means to be a teacher...and kept up on current research, sometimes with help from me :). There were some personality issues (as there are with any employee/employer) which did cause some problems. Some of the teachers did not like her...thought she was stern and unfriendly, but I found her to be fair and cooperative. More than that, she promoted her teachers (even the ones who didn't like her) to other principals, boasted of the good things which were happening in her building and, unlike other principals, did not take all the credit for herself.


The most important factor in the amount of progress a class makes in any given school is the classroom teacher, but the principal is the one who creates the atmosphere of the school in which teachers and students can either thrive or falter.

Obviously the principal at the middle school discussed in the other blog had no business being in education, let alone as the principal of a middle school.

It's time that the administration take charge of that building...and instead of asking you to "please get along" with an incompetent principal...get him away from children.

"If we don't stand for children, we don't stand for much." -- Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund

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1 comment:

Meg said...

Good stuff Stew. I'm going to take your list and apply it to the principals with whom I have worked. Plus I love your strong words for the nasty principal in my blog.