From guest blogger Rachael Postle Brown
Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase share a powerful story in chapter 5 of their book Building School 2.0. The story is one that describes the feelings of a failed teacher and the reaction of the teacher’s administrator. When I read this chapter I had an immediate rush of memories come back to me from my first few years as an administrator. I was guilty of many of the exact same behaviors as the principal in the story.
I had been a great teacher who built very strong relationships with kids and refused to give up on them. It was normal for me to make home visits, spend lunch periods with students, and find ways to connect and support them in the classroom and in the community. When I moved into administration I continued fostering strong relationships with students and prided myself on helping them problem solve and providing them a safe haven. I became frustrated with my teaching staff when I felt they didn’t work to form these same relationships. I often gave staff very direct, to the point feedback in a manner I never would have with my students. I cringe now when I think of some of the exchanges I had with staff in my first two years of administration. I believe this is a common misstep for many new administrators Lehmann and Chase state,
“It’s hard sometimes, Teachers are adults, and they get paid. So, as administrators, we want and expect more from them. But the values that administrators hold will be reflected in the values teachers manifest when they work with the kids. Both kindness and cruelty flow downstream” (pg. 12).
I had my eyes opened one day when I was having a tough conversation with a staff member about the number of days he was missing school. The teacher became frustrated and shared that his daughter had medical issues from a closed head injury that required multiple medical visits for care and rehabilitation. I had no idea. My mind immediately spun back three years previous when I had worked endlessly with one of my students who had experienced a closed head injury to advocate for the accommodations he needed as well has support him through to graduation. I felt like I had been physically struck. I apologized to the staff member and spent hours that night reflecting on how I could have such great relationships with students and such surface level relationships with my staff. The next day I started my journey of caring for staff in the same manner I had always cared for my students.
Todd Whitaker says it’s the people not the programs that make a school great. He goes on to say if you want a great school you must have great teachers; so hire great teachers and improve the ones you have. I just finished my eighth year as a principal and I have found Todd’s words to be true. As an educational leader your job is to support your teachers and help them improve. We have to foster strong relationships with staff just as we do with students. Part of supporting teachers is celebrating their successes as well as helping them identify their weaknesses and grow. The same way we help our students grow and learn from mistakes with kindness humility, we owe to our teachers as well.
“If we want classrooms to be active place, our faculty meetings must also be active.
If we want students to feel cared for by teachers, then we must care for teachers.
If we want students to be able to engage in powerful inquiry, so must teachers” (pg. 12).
For more about this principal special series on Building School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need, click here.
Rachael Postle Brown is a proud member of the Discovery Education Community and the principal of Pinewood Elementary in Jenison, Michigan. Learn more about Rachael by following her on Twitter or YouTube or on her school Facebook and blog.