I still have 102 days until I have been in my administrative role for one year. I have a countdown on my phone, because like your first year of teaching, I’m assuming (and, for goodness sakes, hoping) that this is the year where I spend most of my day wondering if I’m making the right choices, and the rest of the day in a fog where I try to unravel all of the eccentricities and logistics of the position that I still don’t know. Throughout this last year, I have grown and changed exponentially. The following are some of my biggest aha’s so far.
Climate & culture dictates trust
No matter what kind of leader you are, when you enter a new district, the current climate and culture that the other leadership has established will dictate how teachers and students trust you. It is the difference between trust being freely given and the need to earn it. If there is a common understanding that the administration can’t be trusted to support teachers effectively and rules are in place to measure compliance versus honor professionalism, a new administrator will be treated to the same skepticism and negativity as the other admins are thought of. On the flip side, if the administration has prioritized transparency, a shared vision, and supporting their staff, the administrator will most likely walk into a positive, welcoming environment. This experience has made me realize how absolutely imperative a focus on climate and culture is at every level. After all, it is much easier to move people forward when you’re trusted, and it’s much easier to maintain trust than it is to earn it.
Leaders must model what they want to see
Sometimes, I feel like I have a soapbox dedicated specifically to this topic, but I firmly believe that we cannot ask others to participate in activities, no matter how valuable we think they are, if we are not willing to do them ourselves. In my previous role, I had time set aside to research new technologies and ways to integrate them into the curriculum. It is much more difficult for me to do that now with my additional roles, but if I expect teachers to be researching and integrating technology it is necessary for me to do it as well. After all, if I say I don’t have time to do it, that claim is doing two things:
1) Making my time seem more valuable than theirs. Why would I assume that I don’t have the time and they do?
2) Negating the importance of the activity. Everyone makes time for the things they feel are important. If I don’t make time, obviously it’s not that important.
The same goes for other activities that we often ask of teachers: blogging, Twitter, reflecting, submitting artifacts to demonstrate our effectiveness…the list goes on and on. Teachers model for students and administration needs to model for teachers.
The best leadership is not necessarily by admins
As an administrator, if I really want change and buy-in into an initiative, I’m going to my strongest teacher leaders and asking for help. I can’t do it on my own. I guarantee that the teacher leaders in our schools have so much more influence than I could ever have. Why? Because they’re boots on the ground. They know what it takes to make initiatives and ideas work in the real world with real students who have real strengths and challenges. A teacher leader should never underestimate the power they have to create positive change in their district, because when it comes down to it, these people are one of the main drivers for change. And when these people feel supported by their administration, watch out! They’ll stop at nothing to do what they can to make sure their students have what they need to excel.
Vision must be shared
There is this strange, fine line between complete transparency and too much information. Too much information can be overwhelming, and sometimes admin try to shield teachers from the minute decisions being made because teachers are working with students, and it’s our job to support them in maintaining that focus. However, the vision for the district needs to be continually shared. I don’t mean this in the way of referring back to the vision statement, even though I think that is important as well. I mean for administration to make connections between initiatives, trainings and professional development, and show teachers where all of the newness is leading. They must be given the why, which should be tightly correlated with the vision of the district. Administration should never assume that the vision is clear and that stakeholders automatically make the connections. The vision, connections between the initiatives and connections to student learning should be explicitly given. Without it, people will be left without reason as to why they do what they do, and there will be little buy-in. This is especially true when there is a lack of trust between teachers and admin.
Relationships, relationships, relationships
When I interviewed for this position, I must’ve said the word “relationships” 109 times. Valuing relationships has always been a strength of mine, but since taking this role, have become significantly more important as I work with more people and need to trust those around me to do their jobs. Recently, one of my IT team members gave me I one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. She told me that she enjoys coming to work. She said she has fun, enjoys her job, and gets more accomplished than she ever has before, and she credits me with creating that type of environment in our office. I nearly teared up. I love my profession. I can’t imagine coming to work every day and hating what I do, so it makes me feel proud and humbled that I could create an environment where someone enjoys coming to work, and knows that I trust her to get her job done (and she consistently goes above and beyond her position). I’ve accomplished this by prioritizing the need to create relationships with the people who I support. I have not done this with every teacher in the district yet. But the idea of every teacher in the district understanding that I am there to support them and student learning would be a number one goal of mine, and I can do that through relationships and building trust.
Part of cultivating relationships is also the ability to have both difficult conversations and give useful feedback. I need to know that the people I work with trust that I will give them feedback and support them in growing in an area, as well as trust that I will take the feedback that they give me and reflect and change. By having an established relationship, feedback can go both ways as an opportunity for growth instead of one recipient feeling attacked or ashamed.
I am asked on a regular basis how I like my job. There are days that I miss teaching. There are other days when I miss my technology integrator role where I could focus on teachers and students. I’m not going to lie, budget is not my thing. But, I love my profession. When I turn the corner and realize that a teacher finally trusts me, or when I see a teacher trying something new in their classroom and then talking excitedly about how engaged his/her students were, or when a co-worker comes to me with a problem and trusts my opinion…it’s those moments when I think that I could finally be seen as a leader AND an admin that remind me why I love doing what I do.