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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Administrators May Need a Facelift

By Peter DeWitt — March 10, 2012 4 min read
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“If we can’t have fun in an elementary school, we have no business being there.”

Times are tough. School budgets are being cut, teachers and administrators are losing their jobs and state testing feels more like an interrogation than a tool to see how our students are doing. However, if we can’t find a positive in a sea of negatives we have no business being in school. Kids did not ask for all of this and deserve better.

Unfortunately, administrators are seen as the reason why all of these woes are hitting education. If administrators didn’t have a strong bond with students, parents and staff before the economy went down the toilet, it will be much harder for them to create positive relationships with those stakeholders now.

There are numerous reasons why the public lacks trust when it comes to administrators. Teachers have a direct connection with students and parents but administrators are the well dressed adults in the main office who do not always have those connections with the school community. The trust that is needed takes a long time to establish and it starts from the first minute they walk in the door.

If administrators have been disconnected with the very staff they are supposed to lead, they are making the myth that administrators do not know what goes on in the classroom a very sad reality. It’s time to change. The following are some of the reasons why administrators may need a facelift:

Top down decisions - schools are facing many mandates and increased testing pressures along with teacher and administrator evaluation. Administrators are seen as the people who blindly lead staff through those mandates instead of educational leaders who want to find a better way. It’s time to speak up against the top down decisions that are taking place at the state and national level.

Administrators know that education can be better. Many were classroom teachers first before they ever became administrators. They may have stepped out of the classroom but they have not stepped out of the school. Support the top down decisions that are good for kids and provide your feedback for the ones that are not.

Disciplinarian - Administrators are often the ones who call parents with bad news. Even when I call parents with good news they’re first question is, “What did he do?” As much as administrators may feel as though they’re not the mean person in the main office, there are many people who are intimidated by the position.

The Main Office - the main office can be a very intimidating place. As much as classrooms can be noisy and fun, the main office is often quiet and lacks color. The main office should be a place of laughter. My secretary is fun and engaging. She loves kids and they want to come see her. We work hard to make our students feel welcome!

It sounds really silly but I announce the day of the week and lunch order. That part isn’t silly but the way we announce it is! We change green beans to beans that are green, cheese pizza to pizza with cheese. As much as it may sound corny to the passerby the kids often talk about how funny the morning announcements are and they enjoy it.

There are too many administrators - Some schools are top-heavy with administrators. Other schools are not. Very often parents do not see what administrators do so they’re not quite sure what the job entails. It’s important for people to understand that administrators are working on curriculum, helping support teachers with resources and research, leading grade level curriculum teams, dealing with mandates, communicating with the public, and working with students.

If administrators are not doing these things, then they should be. The main office is not the ivory tower and administrators should be in classrooms every day observing teachers, getting to know students, and creating relationships with all stakeholders. Support the great teachers, and work with the ones who need help. In addition, students remember every teacher they had. It would be great if those same students remember their administrator as well.

Not your parent’s administrator - Parents often remember their administrator as the person who they never saw, and if they did see them it was for a disciplinary reason. Those times are hopefully changing. Although in the past there were always great administrators who students loved and adored, the job has changed over the years and there is more engagement between students and administrators. Principals don’t stop at the doorway to talk with teachers; they enter the classroom to talk with students.

Administrators should be expected to keep up with new initiatives like the Common Core State Standards and should be sending their teachers the latest research on math, science, technology and ELA.

In the End
Administrators are in need of a facelift. Too often they are bashed for not being a teacher when in reality that is where many of them started. Administrators can and do make important connections with students and work as a mediator between parents, teachers and students. A true servant leader works to bring all of those groups together so they can all be on the same side.

Given the sad realities of public school administration it is more important than ever to work with teachers, parents and students instead of against them. Not everything about the public school is perfect and it will take all stakeholders to change that.

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On March 24th Peter will be presenting on safeguarding LGBT students at the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.