Principals ARE teachers

Most principals became administrators because they are passionate about education and they love to teach.  Why, then, does the system make it so difficult for principals to teach?  How can we change the current structures in a way that would encourage principals to have the flexibility to do more of what they love?

Last night on Twitter, I had a great conversation with Lisa, Jennifer, Jerry, and Aviva about principals teaching in schools.  I was shocked to learn that they had never been in a school in which the principal taught students.  To me, there is a problem with this.  I do not believe that principals make the decision to NOT teach, I believe that the structures of meetings, tasks, and district responsibilities force principals away from the classroom.

When I arrived in my current district (a rural district in British Columbia, Canada), the culture and expectation of elementary principals teaching was already present.  My previous principal taught writing and art and the principal before that taught reading and physical education.  In this district, every administrator (aside from high school principals) has a teaching load – most in the range of 10-20%; this seems to be quite common in British Columbia.  The vice principal at our local high school says that teaching his senior physics classes is, without a doubt, the best part of his day; it is just “he and his students” focused on learning all things physics.  Every administrator that I have spoken to wishes they could teach; so what practices and structures need to change to make this happen in other districts?

Three years ago, day-long district meetings were common for administrators in Fraser Cascade School District.  Our principals and vice-principals association said enough was enough and fought to have this changed.  The senior administration listened and we now meet in the evenings for shorter periods of time; now we are rarely out of our schools during the school day for district initiatives.  This is just one example of how we can use our voice to create change in a way that benefits administrators and students.

Last year was my first year as principal.  As stated, there was already the culture and expectation that the principal has a teaching load.  I decided that 20% would be a manageable amount of teaching but I was not sure where to allocate this time.  I was a high school phys ed/math/science teacher and I had taught grade 5/6 as a vice principal.  One of my primary teachers approached me and asked if I would be interested in teaching reading to a group of grade 1′s; she would be my mentor and help me to learn the pedagogical aspects of teaching primary reading.  Although I was nervous, I jumped at the chance to learn from an experienced primary teacher and spend more time with the younger students (I also provided prep coverage for a grade 4 PE class and a grade 6 social responsibility class).  I have to say that not only was my teaching time the best part of my day, it was the most rewarding experience I have ever had as a teacher (although I am still not sure how you primary teachers do it -where do you find the energy all day long?!).  It also facilitated a learning relationship with my staff as the primary teachers became my primary literacy mentors.  What better way to learn than to learn from our own teachers? What better way to model learning and pedagogy than to actually teach?

This year, I wanted to change the way we support our struggling readers.  The staff met in the summer and decided that we would increase the interventions for these students.  Rather than direct the staff to move in a certain direction; I wanted to be a part of the movement.  This year I am teaching reading to a group of grade 3 students and also learning some intervention strategies from other teachers.  We are working together to help these students; without the flexibility I have in my schedule, I would not have this opportunity to teach and to learn together with the staff.

True leadership happens in the classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds; management happens in our offices. How can we cut down on the managerial and busy tasks so that we can spend more time doing what we love – teaching and leading.  The Connect Principals Session on Sunday further emphasized the importance of modeling, learning, connecting and relationship-building; how, then, can we decrease the state/provincial, district initiated tasks so we can spend more time teaching and building relationships in the classroom?

Principals ARE teachers; tasks and meetings with adults can happen at any time, teaching kids cannot.

I would love to hear from teachers and principals about their experience and views about principals as teachers.  It is not a matter of asking the question “can we teach and spend more time in the classroom” but more about asking the question:

How can we do more of what we love; how can we decrease the managerial tasks and increase the time spent teaching?

For more thoughts on education, please visit The Wejr Board blog or follow me on Twitter.

42 comments for “Principals ARE teachers

  1. September 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Wow! What an awesome post. I’m glad that I could be a part of this discussion. I will definitely be sharing your post with my principal and vice principal. I’m sure they’d also love a way to cut down on managerial tasks and be in the classroom more. I love the fact that your job allows you to do both. I’d love to hear how other Boards make this happen!

    Thanks for the great discussion and the excellent post that resulted from it!
    Aviva

    • September 28, 2010 at 11:54 pm

      Thanks Aviva! I love the fact that, by teaching, I will get to try some of the amazing stuff you are doing in your classroom. The decision for principals to teach is not only made because principals like to teach but also because of budget pressure. In our district, we use school-based budgeting which means that the more I teach, the more services we can offer for our kids. Another principal in the district is teaching almost 40%! She does this because she has to make her budget work but she also has a huge passion for teaching. I believe this is too much as it does not leave enough time for all of the other stuff. There is a concern in BC that principals are being forced to teach too much. Somethings has to give if we want to be in the classroom more – but what are districts and provinces/states willing to take out to make this happen? Principals being forced to teach because of shrinking budgets is much different than principals choosing to teach. We want to decrease the busy work so principals have more flexibility to choose to teach. I love the balance in my school this year but if I was forced to teach more (rather than choosing), it would cause me to be less effective both as a teacher and as a leader. Thanks for commenting!

      • September 29, 2010 at 12:05 am

        This makes a lot of sense, Chris! I’m glad that you clarified that here. I think it’s great that you can choose to teach, but I wish that this choice could be yours without it being a “budget case.”

        I think that your students are very lucky to work with somebody that is so passionate about teaching and learning, and I think that your staff is equally as lucky too. I’m so glad to have you as part of my PLN!

        Aviva

      • Dom Francis
        October 20, 2010 at 11:37 pm

        mr wejr mrs watson showed me the email you wrote about me and i9 thank you for that it made me feel good about myself and i want to show my gramma so she can be proud of me

  2. September 28, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    This certainly isn’t an answer to the boldface type at the end of this post… but just to let you know others are thinking similar thoughts. In fact, an even larger stretch is to think such things in the world of secondary ed. However, that stretch is exactly what I was thinking about in this post: “Principals As Teachers.” http://nashworld.edublogs.org/2010/07/30/principals-as-teachers/ …and the “part II” post also found there.

    I think perhaps one of the reasons I see this issue in this particular light was the smart move of allowing me to keep one class (Marine Biology: http://stjoeh2o.ning.com) while moving into a newly-created position as “Academic Technology Instructional Specialist.” Of course, the fact that I built this course as a night class ten years ago allowing students from all three local high schools in almost any extracurricular activity to participate… probably goes a great distance toward making this feasible within my schedule. The bottom line: we meet F2F 23 times throughout the school year, and the rest of our work is in digital spaces.

    So yes… I do see the power of staying active in classrooms. Particularly with regard to educational technology. Things move pretty fast in that area. Exponentially fast to be more exact. Peeking in classrooms alone is just not enough any more.

  3. September 28, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Great post that all administrators should read and follow.

    I once at a school board meeting where I lived urged all the administrators to take the chalk once in a while. They gave me strange looks and never took the chalk.

    Of the 10 principals, countless assistant principals and six superintendents I served under only one ever took the chalk from me. This superintendent thanked me for allowing him to teach my class.

    I placed a link to this post on my Administrators page:
    http://cybraryman.com/administrators.html

    • September 28, 2010 at 11:56 pm

      Thanks Jerry and thanks for initiating this conversation on Twitter last night! I cannot speak for the reasons your admin chose not to take the chalk but it is usually about time. The challenge for districts is to free up time so more admin can take the chalk. Thanks again for commenting!

  4. September 29, 2010 at 12:11 am

    What a timely post for me to read! Earlier today I wrote in a message to a colleague how I was looking forward to spending time learning with his staff as we team teach in the classroom. Just writing those words energized me as I thought of being in a classroom teaching. Teaching is a part of who I am and each day when I wake up I go to school to teach and learn. For me and most of us teaching happens anywhere, anytime and with anyone. However, what I am most excited about is over the next months being in the classroom teaching again. Now that’s modeling! What better way to understand and support good teaching than to practice it.

    • September 29, 2010 at 12:15 am

      Wow, that is great that you get to do more of what you love! I think your last sentence sums it up, “What better way to understand and support good teaching than to practice it” – and in order to be part of the conversation around teaching and learning, we need to be doing just that! Thanks for commenting and I hope you have a great year with more time in the classroom!

  5. September 29, 2010 at 1:57 am

    Great. Post
    I currently teach almost half a day and I am Judaic Studies. Principal. Teaching has made me a better administrator and it has helped me be a better educational leader to help my teachers grow. I also believe my teachers respect me more.
    Thanks for sharing
    Akevy

    • September 29, 2010 at 2:16 am

      That is a great point Akevy! Teaching does make us better and I think (and hope) it helps gain respect. Also, on the other side, being an administrator has made me a much better teacher – I get to go into classrooms and observe great things every day and then try them out as a teacher!

  6. Cindy
    September 29, 2010 at 2:50 am

    I love being an Special Education Assistant for that very reason, time spent with the kids!
    Sorry guys but meetings, paper work, report cards and on and on…is not for me. I have the best job in the school and I am proud of the changes happening in our school under Chris’ leadership. The past two years I have felt and seen such positive growth in all areas. Yes, Chris is very passionate about kids but his leadership skills have Made a Difference to our school and me!
    l love being part of Mr. Wejr’s Team.

    • September 29, 2010 at 3:12 am

      Wow, this response means so much to me Cindy! I love being on your team and being part of all the amazing things that happen at our school thanks to people like you! I asked the question on Twitter: how do I get people from my district to comment on a blog – and to have these words come from a person so passionate about kids means that much more! Looking forward to many more journeys with you!

  7. September 29, 2010 at 3:10 am

    I am lucky to work with the most amazing group of teaching principals and vice-principals in West Vancouver. “On paper” in our elementary schools we have 1.0 admin time for our smaller schools without a vice-princpal and 1.1 or 1.2 admin time for our larger(above 250 students) elementary schools shared between two administrators. To suggest that our princpals and vice-principals are not in classes co-teaching, taking groups of students to enable teachers to collaborate, or leading initiatives from digital literacy to healthy living would be a mistake. Of course, this is no surprise. Before I arrived in West Vancouver, and since I have been part of making the decisions, we have actively recruited our very best teachers to consider administration. “The new wave” as it is often called often called need more support around management competencies, but they are brilliant at leading learning. These decisions around leadership are part of what make us successful.

    I like to think that it can even be possible in the Board Office to still be a teacher. Until this year I enrolled a Leadership 12 class and this year I am still finding ways to be in classrooms – it makes us all real. This morning was spent with 25 high school students helping them design a session they are hosting in October.

    It was interesting as a high school princpal that I had great feedback from teachers when I enrolled a class, but other more seasoned administrators were not happy.

    To build on your statement, not only are Princpals teachers, so are Superintendents.

    • September 29, 2010 at 3:28 am

      Wow, talk about leadership. I am often amazed at your tweets of all that you do with kids in addition to the tasks that are expected of you “in your office”. Thank you for sharing the insight of another British Columbia School District. You make a great point in that although some principals officially do not have a teaching load, effective principals are constantly providing support in the classroom and covering teachers for coaching and collaborating. Thanks for commenting and continuing to model leadership to many others in BC!

  8. September 29, 2010 at 3:22 am

    What an inspiring post Chris! What you are doing is great! Walking in someone’s shoes is so important for understanding, connecting and building a relationship.
    I teach ESL and I’ve seen coordinators and admins who weren’t teachers or hadn’t taught for a while and it was really difficult for them to understand what teachers felt about certain methods or things happening inside the classrooms. I think that being a principal and a teacher can connect you with kids and teachers in a positive way, and it also will help you see things from a different point of view.
    Thanks for inspiring us and being a role model Chris!

    • September 29, 2010 at 5:07 am

      Thanks Greta! As you know, I love talking about education and, in particular, student learning. It is so much easier talking about it when we are actually there every day. It is one thing to be able to read about what we should be doing with education but it is another thing to actually try it. I have been overwhelmed by the support and mentorship that my staff have offered me; it is through this that I continue to learn and grow as an educator. Thanks for commenting!

  9. Bob Cotter
    September 29, 2010 at 6:04 am

    Good read, Chris. And it brought back some good memories. My first year as a principal was in 1978 at an elementary school with only 69 students. I taught 80% and had 20% release time. Of course, my entire 7 year career to that point had been teaching 100%, so I thought nothing of it. And, of course, that was 1978 when demands from the board office and the Ministry of Education (I’m sure there was one then) and parents were nothing like they are in this era.

    Prior to my leaving the role of principal and becoming a member of the district staff, I had a number of different percentages through school based budgeting, including as noted by Chris Kennedy in his district, some that were 100%. But even when that happened, I still kept my hand in teaching. Sometimes for prep time relief, sometimes with small groups for platooning to meet school goals. I loved to teach. The one thing I did find, though, was that sometimes the demands on the principal were such that I was “taken away” shortly before class or in urgent situations during class – and, that was no fun.

    I’m sure that declining enrollment, particularly in our rural districts, is putting more pressure on Principals to teach more time and I do hope that the Principals who find themselves in this position have the strong support of their staff when it comes to having to deal with political, business, and social issues.

    All the best to you for a great year. And, thanks to the organizers of this blog for creating it and for having such interesting articles to date.

    Cheers… Bob (@gibsonsgolfer on Twitter) now retired and enjoying playing, you guessed it, golf.

    • September 29, 2010 at 6:53 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Bob, and sharing your experiences of another BC administrator. I think that is a frustration that has not been touched on – the idea of being pulled away. That frustrates me, too, but I have to say that our staff has been very supportive during my teaching time and this is a huge help. Having said this, there are times, where I am late to a class or have to leave early – this is not fair to the kids but an unfortunate reality with our positions. Thanks for sharing!

  10. September 29, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Thanks for the reminder, Chris, that as administrators we first were, and always will be, teachers. I am envious of principals who have assigned courses and classes to teach built into their daily or weekly schedules. Last year some of the most meaningful times of my week were those spent facilitating a fourth grade reading group with an amazing group of students. I truly miss those daily learning interactions and the relationship-building that can occur through working with our children academically! This was one of the reasons why I started a student council in our elementary school. As the “advisor,” I have the opportunity to gather with 25 eager, creative, intelligent children who help make our school a better place. I love my role as administrator because I get to interact with so many children on a daily basis, and I also appreciate that in my role I can serve as the “teacher” for our professional staff and help extend their learning as well. Great post!

  11. September 29, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks Lyn, as I said above, I am sure that there are many principals doing what you are doing: although they may not have an official teaching load, they teach every day by things like leadership, prep coverage, and student support. We truly will “always be teachers”. Thanks for your words; they again demonstrate the passion you have for education.

  12. October 3, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    As a classroom teacher and a professional skeptic, principals, I can tell you that if you’re NOT regularly teaching classes, your teachers are going to begin to doubt you. I mean, we love to spin the “principals are instructional leaders” mantra, but it’s difficult for teachers to take you seriously as instructors if you’re never instructing.

    What’s more, by teaching classes, you’ll earn credibility when it comes time to evaluate teachers as well. I have real trouble taking feedback about what I need to do to improve as a teacher from someone who:

    1) I’ve never seen teach.
    2.) hasn’t taught in a decade.

    I think that holds even more weight today, considering exactly how rapidly learning—and therefore, teaching—has changed.

    It may sound cynical, but it’s the truth: Teachers aren’t going to follow leaders who they don’t think can teach. Plain and simple.

    Does this make any sense?
    Bill

    • October 3, 2010 at 7:19 pm

      Could not agree more. It scares me to hear about schools/districts that have hired administrators that have limited time in the classroom. Respect is key in that administrators need to earn the respect through their experiences and conversations – not just because of their position in the hierarchy. As I stated, I would hope that most admin would LOVE to be in the classroom more and we just need to put the busy stuff aside and do it.

      Here is a slightly different example but it shows how the conversations around this post have also changed me for the better. A teacher invited me into her classroom to learn American Sign Language with her grade 1 students. I obviously said I would be there as hanging out with grade 1′s can be pure joy! I was supposed to go in there right after lunch but I had a problem at lunch that needed to be dealt with and then a planned meeting with a district counselor. I went to the classroom and explained that I would not be able to come today because I had to get to a meeting in which I was already late. The teacher, said “no problem, another time”. As I walked down the hall, I though to myself… which is more important: time with kids or time with adults? I stopped right there and went back to the class, spent 5 minutes singing and learning ASL with the kids. How often do we say “I have to get to a meeting” and then miss out on these great moments???

      Thanks for your honesty in your comment Bill. I hope that we are all listening.

    • Diane Casey
      October 27, 2010 at 12:33 am

      What great insight for teachers and principals. If the principal is the instructional leader of the school then they should be in a classroom. Education and student learning is changing constantly, so we need to be in the action of not only running a school, but educating on the front line. Teachers need to believe and see first hand that all of the school administrators are in a classroom. I feel that teachers tend to assist more on the outside, if they feel that the administrators are sharing the load of educating the students.
      I have found that in schools were the administrators do not teach, the teachers do not feel a need to get involved in the extra curricular events. Some teachers feel that their job is to teach and the administrators job is after school.

  13. Safina Noorani
    October 3, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    The biggest critique that teachers have of principals is that: “they don’t teach.” By placing admin more often in a classroom, this critique would be null and void. Principals can better understand the plights of teachers and they can directly affect studen achievement. Interesting thoughts to ponder…

  14. October 3, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Thanks Safina. We are lucky in our district because pretty much all school admin teach. How do we have a conversation around student learning if we cannot experience it together? Thanks for adding to the dialogue!

  15. Kathryn (koolkat222)
    October 3, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    You sound like an amazing principal! Actually, I’m very impressed with what I’ve been learning from all of the Canadian members of my PLN.

    I have had several principals over the years, and none of them ever taught a single class /lesson.

    I completely agree with Bill Ferriter’s comment above. Your reply shows that you really do put kids first. I’m sure those 5 minutes made a lasting positive impression.

    Kathryn

    • October 4, 2010 at 5:25 am

      Thanks for commenting Kathryn. I have been fortunate to have an amazing mentor for 2 years when I was a VP. She has actually gone back to the classroom because she missed it so much (she did teach 20% as a principal as well), It is too bad that you have not had a principal that has spent much time teaching – I would assume this is because of all the other “tasks” that needed to be done. I, too, am learning so much from my PLN, #edchat, and Connected Principals – my learning has been exponential lately!

  16. John Hudson
    October 4, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Chris,

    Thanks for this nice post. It’s inspiring to hear that administrators are ‘getting back into the classroom.’ I have been a vice principal for three years and this year I am the principal at a K-6 building. I teach an intervention group each week but it’s only for one 30 minute block. I would really like to do more and have no real excuse other than the management aspect of the job.

    I have started to let the secretaries, who already do most of the real management work, take on some of the day-to-day responsibilities so I can be out in the classrooms more often. As administrators, we have to be able to let go of some duties we thought only we could perform. Those little things have allowed me to observe more teachers and engage with students during class time. There is nothing better than sitting with students and helping them learn!

    Keep up the good work and keep the posts coming.

    • October 4, 2010 at 5:22 am

      Thanks for the comment, John. You touched on part of the problem – letting go. I know I struggle to let go of some of the tasks when I am sure that there are others that could and would love to do it. Thanks for adding another angle on how we can spend more time with kids.

  17. Ed Taylor
    December 5, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    In the early 90s I met my first principal/teacher: Mac, an asst. principal in a “school within a school” in the New York City public school system. Mac taught a high school English class every day and said the head principal taught a double-period class every day. Classroom credibility, empathy, and staying in touch with the kids and the curriculum were strong reasons for the practice, but Mac said the best reason was when he had a teacher who needed scaffolding in some area, he could have that teacher come to his class and observe him model the practice needed.
    I have never met a principal/teacher since, and have only met a couple administrators who would be willing to go back to the classroom.
    Now, after 17 years in the classroom, and 14 years coaching, I think I’m ready to get into administration. But first I want to convince my district to make it possible to teach while being a principal. Thanks for this discussion; I’ll be sure to let the Board know about it.

    • December 23, 2010 at 3:59 am

      Wow, the more I speak with other admin the more I realize how many districts have endless meetings, etc that pull administrators out of the classroom. Time with kids cannot be replaced and I hope that with your experience, you will push schools and districts to realize this! Thanks for commenting!

  18. Christian Klaue
    November 4, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    I, too, am a teaching principal, and I don’t think I could ever change. Keeping my foot in the classroom allows me to connect with the students in a way that just being principal would never allow me to. When I see my students in the hallways, I have a connection with them. It also reduces behavioural issues at that level because I have a relationship with the students. Teaching also gives me credibility with the teachers. They know I deal with the very same issues they do. When I make a suggestion, I have examples from my classroom to illustrate the effectiveness of what I am suggesting. This also holds true when I conduct teacher evaluations. Teaching also helps me stay current with instructional strategies, curriculum, learning outcomes, assessment strategies, and student issues/trends. On top of everything, I love teaching and helping students love learning. This is what helps make my job fun and fulfilling. I am glad I have the opportunity to continue doing what I love.

  19. November 19, 2012 at 11:41 am

    I’m a secondary school principal and I absolutely couldn’t survive without having a teaching load! It’s my blissful time of no emails, meetings, phone calls, reports to write or adult problems to solve! It reminds me why I got into teaching, and helps me understand what does and doesn’t work for our staff. It also ensures that (at least some of) the kids know me on a more personal level. I try and teach a different year level each year, so that I get a better sense of what’s going on for the kids at that level.

    • January 7, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      That is truly inspiring and I am sure the students and staff appreciate it!!!

  20. Thomas Weeks
    January 7, 2013 at 10:07 am

    I am about to start a research project in Bahrain to study the impact teaching loads have on a principal’s ability to lead teaching and learning. I am having trouble locating past studies and other literature done on the impact of teaching load on leadership. Does anyone have suggestions? Or have any of you done any action research?

    Thanks,

    Thomas

    • January 7, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      Hey Thomas – I will tweet something out to see if there is anything out there.

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