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Are Principals Too Removed from Teaching?

Are Principals Too Removed from Teaching?

"I think that many campuses would benefit from fewer full time administrators and more teachers taking on small portions of the administrative responsibility while they are still teaching in the classroom."

As the oldest high school on its original campus in California tries to find its way through the maze of current educational reforms so that it can stay on the top of most “best of” lists and maintain both its API and AYP the answer to too many questions has been more middle management. A mistake made time and again in the business world is now being made in education. Of course there is a need for educational leadership on the public school campus, but I believe that this leadership should come from classroom teachers raised up into leadership roles without taking them out of the classroom.

Anytime a teacher steps away from the classroom and into a support position of any kind they loose touch with the most important part of teaching: working daily with students. Only when a teacher is teaching do they truly know first-hand what it means to fight the good fight daily. Once they are out of the ring (or the octagon) their experiences may remain valid, but teaching kids is a fluid and dynamic experience that changes moment to moment. If a teacher is not in the moment, they are disconnected from the teaching experience, and lose their ability to make meaningful and effective changes.

You see it on the university campus all the time. Professors of Education have great theories about education with very little application. Theory is nice. Every great teaching method works great on paper, but the test is in the classroom, and not the lecture hall. Educators can sit around and talk all day about pedagogy, but that conversation has little to no effect on the relationship of teacher and student in the classroom that is necessary to ensure that the students actually learn something.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t want to be an administrator. I am considering a PhD in Education, but only if I can keep teaching in the public education classroom. However, I do have an idea of how I would want to run my campus if I were a principal. Here’s my plan for “Cal High”.

There are only two full-time administrators at Cal High. The Principal is the educational leader on campus in charge of Curriculum and Instruction and master schedule. That is all. The principal works daily with teachers in classrooms and is highly visible and known to all students on campus. All educational reform ideas generated from teachers filter through the principal who makes sure that the teachers are all on the same ship heading on the same course. The Assistant Principal is the public face of Cal High. Their responsibilities include building and grounds, testing, attending all district and public meetings and security. Who does the rest of the usual administration of the campus including attendance review, counseling and discipline? Teachers.

The teachers at Cal High teach four periods daily. Their schedule includes a conference and preparation period and a period for administrative duties. The teachers administrative duties lie in the attendance, counseling and discipline of their own unique set of 20 to 30 students. These students stay with the same teacher for all four year of their high school experience. The teacher meets with his or her students regularly either on a pull-out basis during the school day, or during hours structured into the day before, during or after school. Imagine a seven period schedule where teachers instruct for four periods, prep for teaching during one period, check on their small group of students during one period, and then have an additional time, say 15 minutes of so, to meet with their small group. Simple.

Many teachers get frustrated with their administrators. Administration is a brutally time consuming and challenging job taken on by brilliant and well intentioned former teachers who wish to have a more global effect on their campuses. This is good. Unfortunately, many administrators get caught up in the management and loose touch with both the teachers, and more importantly, the students. Some are seen as outsiders attempting to force their will on the proletariat. This is not good.

I think that many campuses would benefit from fewer full time administrators and more teachers taking on small portions of the administrative responsibility while they are still teaching in the classroom. Sure, it might mean some more work for the teachers, but I believe that this structure would be better and more effective for educating the students. After all, we are all educators.

Discuss now. Do teachers make good principals?


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