Tips for new administrators (or any bosses who want some honest feedback)
Summer's lease hath all too short a date... and that saying carries extra poignancy in the NCLB-era. I don't know about you, but since the passage of No Child Left Behind, the state in which I live has moved back the starting time for the school year by nearly three weeks so that we have more time with students before the all-important tests and the assessment of Adequate Yearly Progress began shooting skyward like a Saturn-V rocket. 'Tis a brave soul indeed who is willing to wade into the area of administration in this day and age. 'Ats off to ya, guv'nah!
So after several requests, I am here offering suggestions for administrators to go along with my post of suggestions for new teachers. Suggestions from others are always welcome and will be included, so this post will be revised as we go along. Call it "The Carnival of Administration!" So, since my first suggestion has to do with not wasting time, let's get right on with it.
1. Have meetings only if you have something to say. Holding meetings for the sake of holding meetings, or to show the higher-ups that you hold regular meetings, wastes valuable time for everyone. This is especially important in the days before the school year actually starts. Teachers are trying to get their classrooms ready-- sometimes after the summer maintenance staff has broken or misplaced half of their belongings-- and the last thing they need is for you to read a Powerpoint presentation to them like they are preschoolers.
And how do you find something to say? Walk out amongst us, into the school, into the classroom, into the hallways. Stay current on what's going on in education. Ask people what they need and what they think. Then take that seriously.
2. Telling a room full of people you appreciate them is very nice indeed. Telling five individuals on your staff you appreciate something specific they have done is far nicer.
Of course it requires more work, not to mention attention to detail. But consider what you ask your teachers and staff to do in the course of every school day. This can be done. It SHOULD be done. And it shouldn't be done just to people who hang around your office. This behavior also shows that you know what is going on in the classrooms and hallways.
3. Especially if you are new to a district or to a building, decide on three to five things you want to change. State the change you want to accomplish in manageable, measurable terms. Then do everything you can to help make the change happen. Nothing is more maddening than for an administrator to emerge from her office as if awakening from hibernation, blinking against the glare of the light, and then sally forth through the building at full speed, dropping commands like scented hankies in Scarlett O'Hara's wake. After all, tomorrow IS another day.
Pick which things are really important to you. You don't have to change everything overnight, even if you are walking into the loosest ship in the fleet. People need to feel that they are successful at adjusting to a new leader's way of doing things. A never-ending list of demands makes your staff feel as if they can never accomplish what you want, and they can never make you happy. If this happens, they will either eventually a) subside into a sullen, mutinous silence in your presence if you are lucky, or, b) erupt into loud, openly mutinous displeasure and write you off as a crazed Captain Queeg.
And by the way, you should watch the following films for instructional purposes on what NOT to do: The Caine Mutiny, Mr. Roberts, and Office Space, especially if you don't know who Captain Queeg is.
4. Hold all teachers (and students) to the same standards. If you decide that ending tardiness is one of your priorities, and then you let one teacher make kids late routinely, you will not only erode your chances of changing the problem of tardiness, you will erode your chances of making the staff believe in any other changes you want to make.
5. Know the behavior guide. If there are rules in there you will not enforce, get rid of them. Then follow the behavior guide when dealing with discipline. And enforce it with all students.
6. If you are new, you will have a treasure bank of goodwill from which to draw. You can build on this to accomplish great things by being proactive, by being groundedly optimistic, by listening attentively, by adopting an attitude of cooperation. You only get one chance to make a first impression, but you can ruin your reputation over and over.
7. Just as the best teachers get the students to help manage the classroom and encourage a classroom emphasis on learning, the best administrators get teachers to help make their jobs easier by feeling actively involved in the operation of the school and knowing that their contributions are valued. In a well run school, administrators don't even have to think of micromanaging. Look for the teachers who not only love the kids but who make the kids work. Cultivate these as your advisors and "go-to" people. Be wary of sycophants. Realize that we are all pulling together. If we don't, we'll never get anywhere. Much less at ramming speed.
8. Purge the following sayings from your vocabulary. Actually, don't even think them:
"Bring 'em on!"
"It's my way or the highway."
"Make my day."
"I'm the decider."
"It's not about the teaching."
"Let them eat cake!"
"Do as I say, not as I do."
9. Keep the lines of communication open. Keep the office door open. Answer emails promptly. Seek feedback. Return phone calls.
Make eye contact when a staff member is speaking to you. We know when you're reading your email instead of listening, even if it's over the phone.
If the only time you ever speak to teachers is when you want to correct them, you have a problem.
9a. Never spend the day speaking only to other administrators. Do not allow administrators to stand in a huddle in the hallways ignoring what is going on around them. Don't erect an impenetrable barricade through the strategic use of a secretary or voicemail. A defensive posture is NEVER a winning posture.
10. Mundane things can make you look really smart:
Have someone proofread any written communication that is issued from your office to the staff, and especially that which will go out into the community.
Never promise to provide anything until you already have it on hand.
Before meetings, make sure there are working batteries in the microphone and in the remote.
Try to provide sustenance on Open House or Conference nights-- calorically and emotionally.
Have a sense of humor about yourself. Laugh! Helping kids learn is a joy!
Don't have nicer furniture than your teachers, and then claim that you understand our hardships.
11. Know what you are asking your teachers to do. Know the general socioeconomic background of the school population. At the end of the day, we are people who haven't had five minutes to call our own all day. Recognize that. Give us five minutes to go to the can and stretch out the kinks before starting the after school staff meeting.
12. Ultimately, it IS about the teaching. That is the thing you are there to enable. It's not about the budget, or about the football team, or about enlarging your kingdom or moving up to superintendent.
13. Finally, if you didn't like teaching, or if you weren't good at it, for God's sake, don't become an administrator!!!!! And especially, never, never allow yourself to be afraid of a student.
Enjoy the school year!