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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

School & District Management Opinion

Advice for Principals: Empower Your Teachers

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 31, 2022 9 min read
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(This is the final post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is the one thing a principal can do to support his/her teachers, and why is what you’re suggesting so important?

In Part One, Wendi Pillars, Aisha Christa Atkinson, Robert S. Harvey, and Jessica Cabeen shared their suggestions.

In Part Two, Cindy Garcia, Cindi Rigsbee, Jen Schwanke, Cecilia M. Espinosa, Laura Ascenzi-Moreno, and Mary K. Tedrow provided their ideas.

Today, Jacqueline Sanderlin, Jeremy Hyler, and Gretchen Bernabei wrap up the series.

Develop Partnerships

Jacqueline Sanderlin (Dr. Jackie) is an accomplished school principal, lecturer, speaker, and author of The Why Not? Challenge: Say Yes to Success With Community-School Partnerships:

The best thing principals can do to support their teachers is to empower them to teach. Yes, of course, it is also important to provide systems, professional development, and to be a strong leader. But what good is it if we don’t empower our teachers to do the very thing they have dedicated their professional lives to?

Let’s think about the multifaceted role of the principal first. Usually, they have been a teacher, so they know the job. They also know the demands, early mornings, and the amount of preparation it takes to teach to a variety of student needs and handle communicating with multiple families. Principals should make a conscious effort to remember what it was like while they were teaching. It will humble any principal.

For principals, it is part of their work to inspire and motivate their teachers to want to continue to teach, change lives, and think about their role in education with the root word of education which is “educ,” which means to “draw out.” When we empower teachers to draw greatness out of their scholars, they focus more on finding the gifts and talents of those they teach versus trying to always pour knowledge in.

Here are a few strategies principals can use to support their teachers:

  1. Empower—Empower with a smile or a positive word or by giving them space to be heard. Empowerment is not only a word—it is an action that can be felt when your presence comes in the classroom. I learned the power and importance of empowerment when I realized that it was not enough for me to monitor instruction. When I took time to meet with each teacher and find out their “why,” it changed everything. I always tried to take them back to thinking about what it was that had made them want to become a teacher.
  2. Passion—Principals have the power to reignite passion by taking teachers back to their “why” for entering the vocation of education. They can use part of their teachers’ professional-development time to share stories and help each teacher center on their purpose.
  3. Purpose—This is another entry point of principal empowerment that is needed. Helping teachers to redefine their North Star. This simply means being able to align their purpose with their passion. This can be done using storyboards, vision boards, or even opportunities to engage in purpose mapping. These kinds of visuals help to empower teachers in concrete and reflective ways.
  4. Partnerships —Principals can empower their teachers when they remind them that they are thought partners. A teacher is many things, and being a thought partner is one of them. They help make teaching and learning better because of their ideas, input, and collaboration. Principals can create platforms for their teachers to share knowledge and expertise.
principalsshouldmakejac

Consistency

Jeremy Hyler is a middle school English and media-literacy teacher in Michigan. He has co-authored Create, Compose, Connect! Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools (Routledge/Eye on Education) and From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age, as well as Ask, Explore, Write. Jeremy blogs at MiddleWeb and hosts his own podcast, Middle School Hallways. He can be found on Twitter @jeremybballer and at his website jeremyhyler40.com:

It is without a doubt that administrators have a tough job. However, two of the best things a principal can do to support the teachers in their building is to have consistency and follow-through.

The word “consistency” is an umbrella for which many other things can fall underneath. For instance, I think it is beneficial to see a principal be consistent with discipline with regard to students. By having consistent discipline, students will respect the rules and know that misbehavior will not be tolerated, no matter who it is causing problems. Furthermore, students will have the clear understanding that school is for learning and not a place to get away with goofing off.

Besides having consistency with discipline, principals should have consistency with how teachers handle communication with parents.

Over the past several years, I have seen too many times when teachers are given the green light to use any type of platform they see fit to effectively communicate with parents. Now, it is commendable to give teachers the freedom to use the tools that seem fit for their class, but when it comes to communicating with community members and parents, choosing one platform saves the parents a lot of headache. For example, just make the executive decision that every teacher needs to be using Remind. If parents have multiple platforms to keep track of for multiple teachers, and they have more than one child in a school district, it can be very overwhelming to keep track of when trying to keep things organized.

Along with consistency comes follow-through, which can go hand in hand. A principal who speaks and follows through with their actions shows tremendous support for their teachers. Too many times, principals talk continuously throughout a staff meeting about policy changes, routines, or events and never follow through with any of it. Too much lip service and no follow-through leads to mistrust by staff members and potentially can create a hostile work environment, which could eventually impact the learning environment for students. Follow-through indicates that a principal can be trusted and will have the teacher’s back when it comes to tough situations. Principals don’t have easy jobs, but they can make their job easier by simply being consistent and following through.

twoofthebestthingshyler

‘Listening to Student Writing’

Gretchen Bernabei taught grades 5-11 in Texas schools for 34 years. She is an ardent fan of the National Writing Project institutes throughout the country and has written 13 books to assist teachers of writing:

The most powerful way I’ve ever seen a principal support ELAR (English/language arts and reading) teachers is to join a classroom when students read their work aloud.

One principal I knew asked his ELAR teachers to let him know when students would be sharing their work in read-arounds or author’s chairs. They did. He was busy, as principals are, but now and then, he would slip into an empty chair and listen as students read their stories, letters, essays, and journal entries throughout the year. He didn’t take over; he didn’t comment. He just listened. And he would slip out.

Teachers get to know their students when they listen to or read their writing. It’s one of our biggest perks. So one of this principal’s perks was the same. He got to know the students not by what administrators see in the hallways or in the offices but through their own thoughts.

Furthermore, he could see whose classrooms involved the students in meaningful work. He didn’t need to see the teacher’s lesson plan or hear the teacher’s instructions to the students. He saw the instructional results. John Hattie’s research has shown that responsive instruction is almost single-handedly responsible for powerful results. And listening to the student writing told the principal plenty. Furthermore, when a teacher watches a principal listen, she knows that principal sees her work. That’s huge.

But maybe the most important reason to me for a principal to hear student writing has to do with burnout prevention. Donald Graves examined burnout among educators and explained that all of the activities that we educators engage in do one of two things: They either drain energy from us or they fill up our energy tanks. Principals (and teachers) necessarily engage in so many of the draining variety that they are practically an endangered species. Listening to student writing is a form of self-care for principals.

And a principal who cares enough about her students to want to hear from them? That’s the principal I’d like to keep in our schools.

A principal with this habit sends out signals to the students, but more than that, to the teachers, too. The signals say student thoughts are valuable but also that the teachers who ask their students to write are doing something valuable. It’s validation all around, without even a word.

References:

Graves, Donald (2001). The Energy to Teach. Heinemann. Portsmouth, NH.

Hattie, John (2016). Conversation recorded for Google Singapore. Corwin Literacy. Thousand Oaks, CA

Hattie, J.A.C., & Donoghue, G. (2016). Learning strategies: A synthesis and conceptual model. Nature: Science of Learning. 1. http://www.nature.com/articles/npjscilearn201613

themostpowerfulwaygretchen

Thanks to Jacqueline, Jeremy, and Gretchen for sharing their thoughts!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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