Recently this post about admins “tagging out” instead of doing observations went viral, and for good reason. There’s no question that school culture and relationships would be stronger if more admin taught.
I can speak from experience. Kelly was the dean of students at a school where I taught middle school English. Every year she taught a social studies class. She had great relationships with the kids and teachers. Kelly was in the teacher’s lounge with us, desperately trying to fix a paper jam five minutes before class. She left school with a tote bag full of papers to grade. When she had to discipline kids, she had a better understanding of why they were acting out. She protected planning periods because she had grading to do too. She never forgot what it was like to be a teacher, because she never stopped teaching. In my entire teaching career, she was the only admin I worked with that taught. Why? Every admin should spend time actually teaching. There are so many creative ways that we can make cross-colleague collaboration happen. Here are a few ideas for getting started.
Instead of the “gotcha” unannounced observation, admin visit a classroom and “tag out” a teacher.
Part of the reason many teachers have toxic relationships with their admin is because the only time they come into the classroom is for evaluations or unannounced observations. It’s hard to take “constructive criticism” from someone who has only seen you teach once or twice. Especially when your students are unruly or the lesson you spent hours planning falls flat.
If admin want to build better relationships with teachers and students, they can visit classrooms and tag out teachers. While the principal is teaching, the teacher can use that time to plan or grade. Maybe they can actually use the bathroom and drink water without rushing for a change (wouldn’t they be life changing?).
Some schools that use the “tag out” model encourage teachers to use this time to pop in and observe another teacher. I cannot tell you how much I learned when I actually had the time to watch my colleagues teach. It was hands down the best PD I ever had.
Instead of reviewing lesson plans, admin co-plan and team teach to develop empathy and build relationships with teachers and kids.
Yes, we have standards, and Danielson, Marzano, and no shortage of evaluation rubrics and frameworks, but it makes so much sense that an admin is going to give better and more useful feedback if they have taught the lesson too. Also, it’s a lot more realistic for an admin to teach occasionally rather than daily.
No one is arguing here that admin don’t have a ton on their plate that teachers don’t have to deal with or understand (I never want to touch a budget, thank you). A lot of schools use this model successfully. A teacher writes up a short lesson description, the class period, and the admin of their choice. When the admin accepts, they set-up a co-planning session. The admin and teacher co-teach the lesson and debrief after.
Instead of passively observing and evaluating teachers, admin go on learning walks where they focus on interacting with and instructing students.
Many administrators have forgotten what it’s like to be a teacher. Admin lead instruction, but how can they do that successfully if they don’t spend time in classrooms teaching? Kelly was such a strong leader and teacher because she wasn’t just choosing curriculum; she was teaching it. Kelly didn’t just review lesson plans; she taught them.
If admin can’t teach a class, they can go on learning walks where they focus on interacting with students and observing instruction in action. Learning walks are a powerful way for admin to interact with students and take part in the learning experience, rather than passively observe it. This does wonders for building a collaborative school culture where the admin is not “the scary lady in the office.” Teachers are also more receptive to feedback when the admin focuses on the students rather than the teacher.
Teachers stay at schools where there is a positive culture and supportive admin who gets it.
Have you ever wondered why a well-liked and highly skilled teacher leaves a school? In my experience, it’s almost always because of a toxic school culture and unsupportive admin. It’s no secret that the longer an admin spends out of the classroom, the more out of touch they are with what teaching is really like. They forget how demanding, unpredictable, and challenging the day-to-day really is. So they schedule meetings during prep periods and “ask” teachers to join yet another after-school committee. They rarely pop into classrooms unless it is for a formal observation or, my personal favorite, the “gotcha” unannounced visit.
Reta, a teacher, shared in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group that her principal still teaches. Because of that, she has a better relationship with teachers and students. “When she makes decisions,” Rita shares, “she knows that they will affect her too because she is also a teacher.”
Most admin miss teaching and wish they had more time to spend with teachers and students.
Admin should also spend time actually teaching because they can spend more time with teachers and students. Courtney, an admin, shared in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group that every admin at her school still teaches. She says, “It’s really important. It keeps me connected to the kids and the teachers. It is usually the best part of my day!” School culture is everything. Admin will have better relationships with teachers and students if they spend time actually teaching. I’ll never forget Kelly. My former students won’t either.