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?