Monday, September 4, 2017

Change the Dynamic 2017-18 : An Invitation to Principals and Administrators Across the Country to Save our Education System by Cheryl Binkley

I taught in public schools for about 18 years, and have been retired about a year.  Across those 18 years,
I taught in three different schools for 6 different principals, 7 different supervising Assistant Principals, 4 different Assistant Superintendents, and 3 different Superintendents. I also have participated in several national and state level teacher groups that provide some insight into wider geographies.

Most of my Administrators were good people, hardworking, and smart, but also were fraught by things currently plaguing the job, such as:

1. Administrators, like teachers, feel professionally vulnerable.  As a result, they largely go along with what their superiors tell them, even when they know the practice, policy, or regulation is not best for the school, and will not solve the issues the policy claim to address.  Sometimes they quietly ignore, circumvent, or ameliorate the damage of those requirements, but seldom do they go to bat and openly challenge or contest them.

2. Administrators are, like teachers, caught in the double bind of having their evaluations tied to false testing-based measures that can destroy or make their careers without having real relevance to the quality of their job performance.  This makes their jobs highly uncomfortable, even as  they know in their heart of hearts that the “standards” currently used to measure their students, teachers, and themselves are invalid measures.

3. Even Superintendents often feel their hands are tied by political choices made beyond their control, like federal regulations, state policies, accreditation requirements, and funding formulas at all levels.

4. Most struggled at first to reclaim their professional center and fully develop their managerial abilities after the “Leadership Masters” they are required to take in preparation for the job and the bureaucratic gauntlet they had to run to get the position, and like teachers, their job spans and careers are getting shorter.

5. Out of necessity, more of the Administrative decisions they make for the schools are based on financial choices than on instructional choices; including who will teach the children in their schools, and which programs are offered. There is Never enough money to meet all needs.

6. Few Administrators are able to follow the labyrinth and time consuming processes of meetings, observations, and data collections now required (usually due to federal and state regulations)  for evaluating the overload of teachers they supervise.

7. They wish the job they struggle to do were as fulfilling as they had hoped and dreamed. They too want to make a positive difference in the communities they serve, yet often find that sense of accomplishment elusive. Their workload, like teachers, is heavier than it should be, and made so by the massive changes their schools have faced, and the student disciplinary part of their jobs is hard, even when they are very good at it. 

What might bring a sense of fulfillment and a real sense of accomplished leadership back to the daily challenges Administrators face? How might you be the navigators who safely and effectively steer our schools through the quantum change and complex questions of the 21st Century?

And, Why is a retired teacher writing to the nation's principals and administrators now, and what can an old teacher have to say to those still trying to steer the schools in our communities?  Perhaps it is to finally say what your still working faculties cannot, and to ask for your help.

These are a few of the things we need:

1. Please ask yourself what are the most important things for your schools to do, not for the federal government, not for the state government, not even for the local school board or the business community at any of those levels.  Let this be your guiding question:
What are the most important things to do for the children in your care?

2. Ask yourself if each policy or stance is really good for your school and community, and ask questions of policy makers. Challenge decisions that you know are questionable.  For instance, many districts these days are spending vast sums on testing and the technologies that promise better test scores rather than on creative interactive teaching and learning. There are many areas in which districts, states and USDOE are pushing you and your colleagues to accept poor practices that drain your school’s resources and morale with crushing workloads.  Be willing to ask, which data is actually useful to learning, and which is expensive shelfware or merely valuable adlist for vendors. Accept your own knowledge and skills as superior in your field to those of entrepreneurs, moguls, politicians, and bureaucrats.

3. Ask teachers questions– about their favorite units, their most effective practices, and the programs that have made the largest differences for your students.  Listen– to the good stuff. Choose those programs and practices, not what the Edupreneurs with company funded studies tell you is best. Join forces with your teachers. The push for some time has been for administrators to not think like teachers, or view teachers as their colleagues. Throw that out. Teachers are not mastodons. Most are highly capable and dedicated to their field and students. They can both follow and create algorithms.   View them as your fellow professionals and encourage the rest of your administrative staff to do the same. Ask them for their help in your mission– and mean it.

4. Ask your parents about their hopes and dreams for their children and community, and share your aspirations for their children.  Let them know that you need their help in providing the kind of school they want, not just in cookies and homeroom, but in advocacy and vocal support in the community. Help the teachers and parents collaborate more openly and more often.  They will be your advocates and your champions, and you will be theirs.

It may seem presumptuous for a retired teacher to tell you these things– and I only do so because we teachers cannot reclaim and renew our schools alone.  We need your participation and engaged facilitation.  Until our Principals and Superintendents are as strongly activist in both protecting and renewing our schools as teachers and parents have been becoming, we can all only be partially successful.

The forces that would privatize our schools and take them from the communities they serve to turn a profit are powerful and well-funded.  We cannot fully meet the challenge without your voices and activism.

If I am underestimating the activism of you or your colleagues in general, accept my apology, but from the perspective of many teachers, Administrators' defense of our schools, teachers, and students has not been as visible or vocal as needed across these sorely trying years of “reform.” We have been hoping and waiting for your profession-wide vocal defense of our schools in vain.

Whatever you decide to do, we need you now— to approach this year 2017-18 with an open hand to your faculties, staffs, parents, and students, with an awareness of how hard we are working together to keep and renew our schools.

Help us, Help you, Help our students and save our schools.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.