Principals' Life Lesson 23: Why new programs don't work
Listening to potential administrators lay out their plans to improve a school has made me feel compelled to offer some advice. The reason why I feel this compulsion is that, thus far, the people I have seen have about ten years less experience than I do in education and about 15 years' fewer experience as a teacher. Let's ignore the fact that you know I think that those two factors alone are a HORRIBLE idea, because we could go on all year long about that, and so we won't, since there is nothing I can do about this trend.
So here's the deal, from a wizened old veteran to all active and incipient administrators out there: The number one reason why new programs do not work in schools is due to bad professional development and training. We have talked about this before.
The number two reason is that there is not enough time, ownership, or energy allowed to teachers who are told to implement the new program.
It is this second reason that I would like to discuss. Administrators, think about what propelled you into administration (I will ignore those people who did it because they weren't good at teaching or who did it for the money-- and I wish I could ignore those people all the time, but I can't). Much of it was probably a feeling that you did not have enough time, autonomy and ownership of the conditions that shape the classroom experience. Remember that when you come up with four, five, six or even more new programs that you expect your teachers to implement.
If you are going to add a new task to your teachers' plates, then something else HAS GOT TO GO. There is only so much time and energy that a teacher can bring to the emotionally and physically demanding task of teaching. If you can't think of anything that can be taken away, then you really can't demand that another task be added. It's the brutal truth.
The bottom line for me as a teacher is making sure that the instruction opportunity that I provide is the very best that it can be. Paperwork to make administrators happy comes in a poor second in terms of time I will devote, because, ultimately, it is the experience that I help create for my students that is my primary job. Nothing drives me crazier than an administrator who suddenly wants me to give up a week of instructional time for some new plan that he went on a junket to someplace warm to learn. I plan weeks and months in advance. I balance this planning with trying to respond to individual students' needs. That has to come first. New programs are often met with open skepticism from their inception not because we are lazy but because we are already overburdened and short of time as it is (and if you think one of your teachers is lazy, by the way, deal with THAT person rather than placing restrictions and casting aspersions on all of us).
If administrators do not understand this, they will either get open rebellion and mockery from their staffs when they place yet one more demand upon us, or they will get half-hearted cooperation and ultimate failure for their programs. This also leads to the continual cascade of programs that fly through school as The Flavor of The Month, since "The last program didn't work." Consider please: was the last program actually given a chance to be implemented by truly giving your teachers the TIME they need to implement it?
Here's the point: administrators either respect their teachers and staff as professionals, or they don't. Professionals are given the tools they need to succeed by their management. Time, support and responsibility are three of the most important tools managers give to those they supervise. Administrators, you are managers for your teachers and staff. You would think I wouldn't have to say that, either, but I DO.
What we will discuss next week: administrators' attitudes for success.