Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Only Thing That Matters Is That It Should Really Matter

idea2 At one point early in my career, I remember thinking that there was no way I would ever consider taking on a formal leadership role in schools.  My fear, as I so eloquently said at the time, was that “I would wake up one morning having lost all common sense.”  One of the reasons I had such an opinion at the time was that the level of autocratic, top-down directives were pervasive that I truly felt as if I had no value at all outside of my class.  I wanted to contribute.  I had good ideas.  But none of that mattered.

Now, as I serve in my current role, I am highly aware of the need to be inclusive and work to understand, appreciate, and involve teachers in the operations of the school.  I believe these are important qualities for any school leader.  Establishing a professional and respectful atmosphere in which your best people can contribute and are motivated to engage in school-wide initiatives is a key element to success.  Most effective leaders will agree with this point.

Good teachers engage in the life of the school.  They make a difference because they bring all their talents and enthusiasms to their classes.  The results are usually engaged and active learners.

Would we attach this same description to an effective leader?  In other words, is a good school leader one who is engaged in the life of the school by bringing all their talents and enthusiasms into the building each day?

Let’s assume both descriptions above are acceptable.  Let’s also assume that a great idea has been brought up for consideration.  This idea is student-centered and is something that both teachers and the administrators believe will have a positive impact on the students’ learning.  Many of us can probably relate so far to this example.

Now, let’s assume the idea originated from a teacher or group of teachers.  How would you expect the administrator to react?  In a healthy environment, it is probably expected that the administrator would ask legitimate logistical questions, ask what kind of support is needed from the “office”, explore the impact on items specifically under the administrator’s responsibility, etc.  Ultimately, the teacher would expect to be told to “go for it” or “give it a try.”

In an unhealthy environment, the idea is likely never heard by the administrator.  It lives on the faculty lounge and filed under the heading of “great ideas that will never see the light of day.”

Let’s flip the scenario somewhat.  Let’s assume this great idea originated with the administrator.  In a healthy environment, the idea is presented in a way that allows the teachers to reflect, ask questions, clarify purpose, and make adjustments as necessary.  If the school uses a department chair system, the administrator probably presented the idea to the chairs first to gage potential issues and work out some challenges ahead of time.

In the unhealthy environment, the administrator is treated with skepticism.  He/she is accused of forcing an agenda on the teachers or being too top-down and dictatorial.  Since there are likely no objections (after all, why object, the administrator is going to do it anyway), problems arise early on during implementation.  Teachers are blamed for not following through.  The leader is blamed for not considering the teachers needs.  In other words, the administrator has “lost all common sense.”

Great ideas that can potentially make an impact on learning are invaluable.  Does it really matter from where the idea originated? 

If a teacher has one, administrators need to listen, ask clarifying questions as needed, and then ask about how to support the effort.

Teachers also need to accept that administrators sometimes have great ideas too.  Believe it or not, most of us have not lost all common sense (at least not yet).  Ideas generated by your school leadership are not top-down efforts to micro-manage your life at school.  Often, they are simply great ideas for students.

In the end, the only thing that really matters is that new ideas have a direct impact on student engagement and learning.

The only thing that matters is that it should really matter.

Image by Cayusa

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