Works Both Ways

Two men representing administrator (wearing a suit and tie) and teacher (no tie and carrying a book & satchel)

In a school, administrators make the rules for the teachers, and teachers make the rules for the students. Modern schools often make a big effort towards “empowerment” and “student voice,” giving students a say in how the classroom and school procedures and practices should work. Similarly, teachers are often given areas of responsibility, voices in committees, etc.

The actual modeling of such initiatives is key to their real and perceived success. When a teacher actively listens to students’ concerns and does what they ask, or when a teacher puts the same effort into class preparation and marking as the students’ are expected to, it makes a clear difference to the student. It is far harder for students to defend their lateness or failure to turn in work when the teacher is regularly punctual and returns feedback on time.

This works for the school leadership as well. When administrators model the things they ask of their teachers, it shows the reasonableness of the expectations and fosters a collegial atmosphere. A teacher who sees his/her principal doing similar things to what the teacher must do cannot complain about the work or feel unfairly burdened. It leads to an attitude of “we’re all in this together” instead of an “us v. them” feeling of administration and staff.

A simple precept: any school leader should manage teachers the same way the teachers are expected to manage students.

What does this mean? It means that whatever a leader requires a teacher to do, that leader models the practice by doing the equivalent in his/her work.

  • If a teacher is expected to differentiate lessons for students, adjusting workload and teaching strategies to meet each student’s needs, then a principal should do the same for teachers: individualizing management styles, procedures, and expectations based on each teacher’s abilities, weaknesses, and needs.
  • If a school expects a teacher to write individualized student comments, reflecting on each student’s strengths and weaknesses and commenting on each student’s achievements and identifying areas of growth and suggesting next steps, then a principal should do the same. If a teacher does this every term for a student, then an administrator should do likewise.
  • Teachers expected to give each of their students individualized attention and care should have a reasonable expectation to receive the same type of treatment from the leadership.

And so on. In essence, any statement describing teachers’ responsibilities and expectations of good practice should be similarly applied to administrators. Replace “teacher” with “administrator” and “student” with “teacher.” So “teachers are expected to give feedback to students within 24 hours” equates to “administrators are expected to give feedback to teachers within 24 hours.”

Administrators might argue that this is unreasonable. They have so many more things to deal with than teachers: budgets, meetings, etc. However, as any teacher who has also worked as an administrator can tell you, teachers have their own additional tasks (marking, lesson plans, etc.) that administrators do not need to do. Both roles have heavy responsibilities and workloads. An administrator who argues that she is “too busy” to implement similar practices to what is required of the teachers should consider how busy her teachers are and to what extent they are able to do what is asked of them.

Schools and leaders who ignore this basic form of equity, run the risk of developing an environment in which teachers feel victimized or at least unfairly burdened. It fosters an atmosphere of division in which the administrators are the rulers and the teachers are the lowly workers.

Schools and leaders who embrace this modeling will show their teachers that they “walk the talk” and lead by example. This will inspire more admiration and willingness to follow among the teachers, and will foster a more collegial and cohesive community spirit. Furthermore, administrators will find they are more empathetic to their teachers’ needs and understanding of their stresses and challenges.


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