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?
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.
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.
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 .