Poor Elijah’s Almanac: In Search of Educational Leaders | Perspective


May Day, in addition to celebrating spring, international workers and Soviet-style missile parades, is also National Managers Day, not to be confused with October, which is National Managers Month.

According to the less than modest joint endorsement of the two national associations of principals, “the key to a great school is a great principal.” Echoing this sentiment, the reform-minded Learning First Alliance said heads of public schools are “behind teachers in the classroom in terms of internal school factors impacting student learning.” .

This second classification is based on a fundamental error. The most important school factor affecting student learning is neither the teacher nor the principal, but the student himself, his abilities and his efforts. Attached to each student are parents, whose “impact”, although not actually “at school”, rightly and effectively eclipses mine as a teacher. Reformers and policy makers love to leave students and parents out of the “impact” equation. It is generally safer for elected politicians and public servants to blame employees, rather than blame students and parents.

Recognizing that, like every student, parent, and teacher, every principal is an individual with an individual impact, for better or for worse, what can we observe about school administrators in general?

I had the good fortune during my time in class to work for and with three competent and reasonable directors. Each had learned from years of experience as a classroom teacher, and none had forgotten what it was like to work with real students in a real classroom. Everyone saw the teachers in our school as colleagues whose opinions were welcomed, valued and taken into consideration. At the same time, there was no doubt that everyone was the boss. I know this because I periodically disagreed with each of them and was rejected by them. Everyone also understood that being the boss meant helping teachers who needed guidance and respecting the judgment of those who had proven themselves in their classes.

I know there are other managers like mine. However, I also know from observation and conversation over decades that my experience is not the common experience of many of my fellow teachers at other schools.

Many administrators do not bring years of teaching experience with them. Some flee the classroom after barely surviving the minimum required for an administrator license. Some have served strictly as special educators, and while this admirable work requires specialized teaching skills and knowledge, managing individual and small group special education settings is a different world from managing a room. classrooms, not to mention a school full of classrooms.

Some aspire to the position of director and beyond because they can earn more money, which is not a bad thing, or because in education, becoming an administrator is the way to acquire the power that comes from advancement in any company. This is rarely a healthy desire, especially in a business dedicated to providing a service.

Others hope, as administrators, to have a broader and deeper effect on the education of children. Even this good intention can be problematic if your sense of mission blinds you to the practical realities of classroom life or to your own limitations as the master of all things education.

I’ve met mediocre teachers, but I’ve rarely met one who thinks they know it all. This is because we spend our days caring for children who regularly prove that this is not the case. Administrators, on the other hand, spend most of their time with other administrators. They bicker sometimes, but when it comes to the theory, method, program, or evaluation of this season’s bandwagon, they reinforce each other’s temporary wisdom. They all endorsed No Child Left Behind until they don’t, and they will all promote standards-based education until they don’t.

Woe to any teacher or administrator who does not believe in what he is doing at this particular moment.

If you’re wondering why schools and school districts seem to be staggering from one initiative and major project to the next, keep in mind that superintendents and other central office officials are usually former principals who have chosen to distance themselves even further from the reality of the classroom. Although I have known capable superintendents, including two of my exemplary principals, that is often not how career advancement in education works.

When not managing the day-to-day activities of running a school, 21st century principals are expected to serve as “pedagogical leaders.” In a perfect display of education reform myopia, the National Association of Elementary School Principals actually describes the idea that principals should be the lead teachers of their schools as “a relatively new that emerged in the early 1980s”. This, of course, ignores the fact that for centuries school principals were, and still are in some places, known as “headmasters” because they are the leaders of the other teachers in their schools, also known as teachers.

Predictably, the contemporary definition of “educational leader” is laden with jargon and virtually meaningless, resting on “core beliefs” and abstractions such as “facilitative leadership” and “a culture of public practice”. and reflective practice. In the name of school improvement, NAESP-appointed experts wrestle with other critical questions, such as whether to call principals “pedagogical leaders” or “learning leaders.”

If you read between the lines, and sometimes just read the lines themselves, you will find that to be an instructional leader you must temporarily point your teachers in the right direction so that they all pledge allegiance and “buy in” to the latest educational fashion. If a principal does not toe the party line or chooses not to coerce his teachers to join him, that principal is not an instructional leader.

I would like to suggest another definition. An instructional leader is not a bandwagon chaser. He is someone who knows how to teach and who can help another teacher to improve. If we had more principals like this, and the good ones had more time and freedom to help and lead, our schools would be stronger.

Unfortunately, decisions about this are made by upper-level administrators who, at best, visit classrooms but never live there.

It is difficult to recognize instructional leaders if you are not one yourself.

Pierre Berger has taught English and history for 30 years. Poor Elijah would be happy to answer any letters sent to him in the good care of the editor.


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