Principals as Teachers Part II – Early feedback

Once again

Yesterday in “Principals as Teachers” I pitched a general proposal that would encourage and empower principals to cross some artificial lines we have created in the business of public schooling.  Sure, we could have allowed building principals all along to retain the teacher hat and with it-  many of the potential benefits I spoke of yesterday.  I’m sure it’s done somewhere.  Odds are, it almost has to take place, right?  We’re a big, diverse country that has invented more than one way to tackle a problem.  Actually, now that I think down this line, it must be at least a strange enough idea that I don’t personally know a school system that has done this.  I’m sure they’re out there.  There’s no way the idea of allowing an administrator to retain a classroom is that bizarre.

Surely the entirety of our public school system isn’t as monotonously vanilla as to not have any school system at least experimenting along these lines.  It’s an info-rich world out there.  In my experience, if you can think it, there’s a good chance that you’re not the first…  and that makes someone out there somewhere…  your potential best friend to come.  Or hey, perhaps it’s that out-of-bounds.  Perhaps I finally found a really edgy proposition that rides the true margin of what is being done.  Not likely.  I understand statistics better than that.  I’d love to chat with administrators who have retained the “teaching” hat in their school.  I’d love to hear the pros and cons from someone with insider knowledge.  Anyone?

Earth Science Distance Learning Event

The whole thing reminds me to the “distance learning” discussions that were once had in my district (and elsewhere) once the technology to allow such a thing had finally matured.  If a gadget is out there…  I can promise you we have one somewhere in a closet.  You know the drill:

  • Step 1) Plop a teacher in front of a camera in one building.
  • Step 2) Sit kids in rows around a massive TV monitor in the same place in another building all at the same time.
  • Step 3) Essentially add electricity and awkwardness to a nearly century-old instructional model that has outlasted its match to society.

I avoided that scenario like the plague in its day.  To some it sounded edgy and forward-thinking.  To me, it would have stifled the open classroom environment that I work so hard to create.  I’m glad the shine of that promise has dulled a bit.  Don’t get me wrong, if you’re in a rural area with little else to do in order to get the coursework your students desperately desire, that approach might still be worth the effort.

Fast forward to the past five years or so when freely-accessible, digital, two-way communication tools became ubiquitous.  Many of those tools allow a pretty slick asynchronous connection as well.  At the very least, the addition of read/write digital tools today could add an element of interactivity and presence “outside of class” to make such a venture meaningful today.  It is the advent of these various simple tools that allow an interplay between synchronous and asynchronous communication modes that I believe brings us to the realm of feasibility.  And by feasibility here, I mean… getting some smart cookies back into a classroom experience of sorts.  Getting more smart folks into the game at the ground level will help keep us from ever heading recklessly down a path of fully online instruction until we can do so to a high standard.

Barbershop Quartet

Initial feedback

Before pitching ideas that seem to come from fuzzy internal space, I tend to find my favorite filters.  By “filters” I mean trusted colleagues who will shoot me straight.  I think it’s important not to filter everything you wish to assert, but when stepping out of the box a bit, it helps to seek the advice of friends in the know.  Having smart and passionate friends is a good thing.  I highly recommend it.

The first person I pitched these ideas to was Roberta Dias, a friend of mine and principal of Bode Middle School in Saint Joseph.  She’s been a trusted friend and a model administrator for years.  Roberta said that she agreed on many of the aspects of such a plan.  However, she added a really excellent addition with regard to collaboration and personal learning.  In her feedback, she said that rather than teach a course she was personally certified in (Business Ed.), she would rather team with someone teaching science since that is the subject area where she is charged with facilitating district professional development.  To me, that idea was golden.  No better way for an administrator in charge of PD to see the ground floor aspects of its application.  Roberta seemed to think that even though some might balk at the additional work load, this might be valuable enough to warrant such a thing.

Luke McCoy is the Assistant Principal of Benton High School.  I’m pleased to say that I’ve been able to work side by side with Luke for the past couple of years.  He is a thoughtful and considerate leader.  He rarely jumps to conclusions and often returns to a discussion after much thought and reflection.  That is exactly what Luke did in this case as well.  In his words, “…after I got past the whoa, dude, I have three little kids and zero extra time…  night supervision, committee work, etc., I came up with the following.”  Below is a synopsis of Luke’s replies:

  • I would LOVE to collaborate with another administrator on something like this.  I think we’d learn a ton in the process.  Talk about breaking down some walls.  Our district needs those walls broken down, in my opinion.
  • I think we could also offer PD to staff in such a fashion.  We’re not far from that.
  • Collaborating with a teacher on an online course would be very interesting.  The conversations that are limited because I am no longer a direct practitioner anymore would suddenly have more juice.
  • Credit recovery courses?  (and not from a can!?! <=my emphasis)
  • What about a summer course for incoming freshmen when we go 1:1 that really preps them for the upcoming adventure of high school?  That would certainly be a hook for getting the computer early.  If the first taste of high school was such positive instructional interaction (in their world) with a master teacher or administrator… can you imagine?
  • This might also impact my relationship with staff members.  I would be forced to talk instructionally with a variety of folks beyond what I currently do.  Asking questions, seeking advice, the opportunity for real collaboration.  Takes a principal “from the wheelhouse to the rail.” (Deadliest Catch reference).  This could help change the climate of a building.

Deadliest Catch's Sea Star

I’ll let Luke comment on any of the rest, as he continued to stream in new thoughts and ideas via email after our initial back and forth.  The final featured feedback I will mention come from Corey Vorthmann and Jeanette Westfall.  The initial feedback from Corey & Jeanette was more focused on the inability to devote their true attention to teaching when they have such a steady list of duties already.  To be honest, this is more of what I thought I’d receive from building administrators.  I’ve seen what they face during the day, and I understand the hesitation to look at wearing another hat…  even if it is a favorite hat from days past.  Corey and I chatted via Facebook chat and forgive me for not taking notes, but we were likely both tired.  It was late.  In busy times, I could only connect with Jeanette, co-principal of Benton High School via a series of emails.  Again, Jeanette’s first reply was closer to what I thought I might get from many building administrators.  At the end of a long and frustrating day, she provided an excellent litany of the potential frustrations and challenges of principals as teachers.  Like I said, these are people that will tell me I’m off if I’m off.

The very next day I received another email that started out “oh wow…,” that sought to deliver a more rounded appraisal of such an endeavor.  She said, “I find the idea very intriguing.  I like the connection with kids.  That in itself lures me.  I do wonder if I would enjoy doing this outside of the scheduled school day, but I suppose if I were compensated it would be much like teaching a college class.”  She then went on to say, “Does that change what my teachers think of me?  I don’t necessarily think so.  I think that can even work against you in some ways.”

So at least I now have this idea “on paper” so to speak.  I tend to use this blog very personally and do not market it in such a lean way as to draw a large readership, nor to get everyone to read every post to its intended end.  I use this space as a way to think…  to reflect…  to share…  and sometimes to lay out the foundation of projects, beliefs, assertions, or policy changes I’d like to see.  If you’re reading this far into this two-post adventure, you are in too deep.  I promise lighter and more universal fare next week.  😉

Artwork

*”Earth Science Distance Learning Event with Dr. James Hansen” by NASA Goddard Photo and Video on Flickr
*”Barbershop Quartet” by Eric Kilby on Flickr
*”Deadliest Catch’s Sea Star” by Shawn McClung on Flickr
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Sean Nash

District Online Learning Coordinator (eCampus) in a large public district of over thirty individual schools. Most recently, a district instruction coordinator. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at http://nashworld.me

12 Comments

  1. Dear Sean,

    I’d be curious (but do not expect) to know the career trajectory of each of those who share thoughts with you.

    *What compelled you to administration?
    *Do the filters that screen future administrators promote the kind of thinking needed to attempt the Nash Experiment?

    • Mr. Doyle,
      My career trajectory is kind of interesting, I guess. I was a science teacher (AP chem to credit recovery physical science… and loved it all). My path actually took a jaunt into the woods with working as an executive in the Boy Scout organization. That is where i learned that I have some ability to teach adults (volunteers) as well as help organize a movement. That is why I waded back into teaching and eventually into administration. I’ll probably be delving into that with more detail in a blog soon (warning, I’m a little slow in that realm, but trying). Where I’m headed next, who knows. As long it is to advocate for youth, I’m good with that.

      After reflecting a little more I got to thinking about my role and how that might change in the coming years. How something like this idea might eventually help shape curriculum of a different era. We might have to rewrite what our “normal” looks like. The current (and future) business world of creativity, collaboration, effectiveness and efficiency would probably like a say in what our “normal” should look like. Maybe a step in that direction would be online, nontraditional coursework taught by a variety of folks. Maybe not even admin or teacher exclusive. How about the director of the Chamber of Commerce offering an online summer course to our kids (if paired with a trained educator)? Now that would be out there. But our community might just eat it up.

      Anyway, thanks Sean for the post. Good stuff. Keep pushing our thinking.

    • Michael

      Learning is my career trajectory – I began teaching kids business (a variety of business courses and coaching). Had a parking lot conversation with a very wise woman & mentor that steered me toward admin instead of counseling. Trained with her for a couple of years, was an asst. principal at a high school and a principal at a middle school. Have learned from and worked with some great instructional leaders. Love learning and leading others to lead. Thanks Sean, keep ’em coming.

    • I had replied to this message at one point… then lost it in the ether. There are a couple of replies below. Is that what you were getting at with regard to “career trajectory?” Getting physics mixed up with career pathways is an iffy proposition you know?

  2. Love the idea of principals as teachers. Would it matter if it wasn’t even at their same school? Is the desired result achieved even if the principal isn’t teaching the same kids they supervise?

    My

  3. My thought is that it’s more important for a principal (or even district-level administrator) to never lose that fire and passion for teaching. If that means they teach a college or online class in their spare time, it still achieves the desired result.

  4. Sean,

    I taught one class in my first year at my current school three years ago. I worry that with all of the new tools that are now out there for classroom teacher to utilize, that I am quickly losing touch with what its like to be classroom teacher. My goal for this year is to teach as many workshops on web 2.0 tools as possible to administrators and teachers.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  5. Interesting thinking. Since my area is that of behavior, I might kick in that I have often been frustrated with the fact that our teachers receive very little instruction in the field of managing behavior and the discipline issues that arise in the classroom. There is little to no time for this in the course of regular PD schedules.
    It seems that modern technolgy as the pathway to this learning may be something worth thinking about…

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