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Barbara

Yes, I need to take responsibility. Sometimes it is hard because there are many "good" people in teaching BUT my number one priority must be assuring that all students receive the best possible learning environment that i can offer.

Thanks for the post. It confirms a conversation I just had with my administrative team. I have to make sure I am thinking clearly and keeping my priorities straight.

Scott McLeod

Greg, I'm going to give you a chance to elaborate here. What would you say to the administrators (e.g., often those in rural or urban districts) who have trouble even getting an adequate supply of teacher applicants, particularly in hard-to-staff positions (math, science, special education, etc.)? Are their choices somewhat more constrained than administrators in districts that have ample numbers of applicants?

Dave Sherman

Greg,
How do you really feel??
Seriously, this is a terrific post, and I completely agree with you. My first kneejerk reaction was to complain about tenure and unions, but I won't use that old excuse. If we principals want to get rid of bad teachers, regardless of tenure, we CAN DO IT. Sure, it is hard work, and it is very uncomfortable, and we become the mean ogres of the school, and people won't talk to us for a while. However, the majority of the good teachers in the school know who the bad teachers are, and privately, they are glad someone is doing something about it.

We must always remember why we do this job - It's for the sake of students, not teachers. I am constantly asking myself this question, "Would I want my own children in that classroom?" If I honestly answer no, then it is my responsibility to do something to change the situation. That does not always mean remediation or termination. It could mean staff development or coaching (from me or other teachers). The goal is obvious, and the message sent to the entire staff is very powerful.

Kathryn Peyton

Alternatively, if you have GOOD teachers, you should make sure to reward them--opportunities for job enhancement and leadership, flexible work schedules as possible, good old fashioned pats on the back.

Carl Anderson

How do you define "less than effective?"

I have worked in quite a few different schools with quite a few different administrators. I have yet to come across two administrators who have the same, or even similar, response to this question. I have seen teachers who were extremely effective by measure of one set of criteria but if applied to the criteria another school principal might apply would flounder. Does this make them any less effective? What happens when a teacher is effective and can demonstrate their effectiveness fails to meet or even fall in the realm of what the administrator thought was possible? What of the teacher who you look at and say, "by every measure of what I know about teaching and learning this should not work but it does?"

I am tired of seeing effective teachers removed from their jobs because a principal has determined that they secretly prefer to see the status quo. Real effective teaching has a way of acting like a mirror and showing the flaws in the practice of those around it. Effective teachers are too often let go or reassigned because they make the administrators look bad or because administrators are pressured into this decision by other staff members who don't want what one teacher does to call attention to their own flaws.

It seems to me the greatest position for leadership in a school is the classroom. We learn by example, why shouldn't teaching be any different. A principal really has a limited role when it comes to leading teachers into effective practices. Most administrators have rather limited time in front of the classroom (even if they were once great teachers). The problem with the way most schools are set up is that the principal, who should be the best teacher in the school, is usually tucked away in an office somewhere. Any edicts they offer get interpreted as "do as I say" rather than "do as I do." At one time the principal was the principal teacher. We need that position back again. If a principal is going to hire and fire staff based on their effectiveness they ought to consistently demonstrate what that effectiveness looks like. The only way to do this is for the principal to teach.

Greg

Carl,

If you REALLY believe what you wrote:

"A principal really has a limited role when it comes to leading teachers into effective practices."

Then there is simply no post or comment long enough for me to respond. Perhaps someday we can meet at a conference and debate that statement over coffee...

Let me just say this for now - if I thought that was an accurate statement, I'd leave education and become a barrista at Starbucks!

Marshall

Excellent post, and right on the money. I have blogged before about removing teachers that were less than effective – not just “poor” or “bad” but under the bar. My first effort has always been to support, but when they fight that, it’s time to leave. It does take time, and does take a backbone, thick skin, AND a personal commitment. By the way, effective teaching stretches to willingness to be a part of a team committed to students. Being both successful and unsuccessful in this effort, keep in mind it is not ultimately the principal that terminates a contract. Friendships and politics with members on the board can undermine the best efforts IMHO.

By the way, Scott is 100% accurate on the applicant pool. I have hired a single position 3 times in 4 years and will again for next year. The applicants are few, the quality is at times weak, and I’m not willing to stick with someone that was the “best option” in my opinion at the time but has not gotten the job done. We are a small school too, which means several “good” teachers use us to springboard into a larger district after they demonstrate their effectiveness. That is a whole new topic, however.

Greg

I probably should make this a post...it's going to be a long comment, so bear with me...

If it WERE a post, I'd title it:

C'MON IN! THE WATER'S GREAT!

Scott asks an excellent question.

The down and dirty answer is: "Yes, they are certainly constrained."

But there is much more involved in a complete answer...because I believe that the full extent to which they are constrained can be greatly lessened (I never said eliminated)...LESSENED with pro-active District and Community efforts.

Allow me to explain.

There are certainly content areas as well as geographic areas in which the pool is awfully shallow. I have observed that the pool runs the deepest in areas around the best universities, growing cities, and exploding suburban areas. The pool seems to lose applicants in direct proportion to the quality of the schools in stagnant urban areas and in how close the nearest Wal-Mart is.

Here in Texas, if the nearest Wal-Mart is more than a 45 minute drive, the town has one stop light, the fire department is all volunteer, and no one gets upset when one of Jake's cows wanders into the hardware store...you are in RURAL territory and recruiting teachers is a challenge.

Last week, check the Dallas papers for details, a riot broke out in a school cafeteria and the DPD sent in their Riot Squad. Made the news here...might it affect the pool of applicants?

Both of these examples are true and illustrative of what Scott points out. But there are some practical approaches which can be implemented to help - maybe not solve, but HELP in areas which present recruiting challenges.

In no particular order, here are some methods I have observed:

1) Some one from the district should attend the recruiting sessions offered by almost every college nowadays. Armed with contracts and authority to hire on the spot, we sometimes catch a real keeper - their profile is single, somewhat adventurous, and anxious to nail down a job.

2) Recruit from various pools: retired citizens, churches, military, and local manufacturers/businesses. Establish relationships with these groups to be "tipped off" when a potential addition to the pool moves in.

3) Advertise and recruit heavily from all the Alternative Certification Training Programs.

4) Establish a Grow Your Own Program. Spot promising potential teachers while they are still high school students. Offer scholarships in exchange for future service.

5) Plug into and heavily promote Loan Forgiveness Programs. Student loans carry forgiveness clauses for years of service in certain areas and subjects.

6) Plan on turn-around. As you use creative recruiting to bring staff in initially, work on the assumption that you probably will not keep these teachers more than 3 years. In other words - always maintain a "recruitng mentality" and never kick back and relax just because the schools are staffed for this year.

7) Work with the community in building enticements for teachers to move and work in your area. Banks can offer low interest home loans, and no interest car loans. Doctors can offer free "basic" healthcare. The district can offer free housing in district-owned homes. Cash-on-the-barrelhead incentives can be offered.

8) Combine Efforts. Other areas around you are probably in the same situation. Join with them in building the applicant pool. For example, when you apply to my district on-line, your application is actually submitted to several area districts at the same time. One idea behind this is that someone applying to Keller may not be offered a job, but Northwest and Birdville have access to that candidate's application and may have a "match". Here is the statement from our website:

"Birdville ISD is now participating in an application consortium with the Region XI Education Service Center and seventeen [17] other surrounding school districts.

This consortium allows an applicant to submit one application within the consortium to be considered for future employment within all eighteen [18] participating school districts. The applicant may choose to be considered by all participating districts or just by specific school districts."

OK. These are just a few of the ways that I have seen used to fill the applicant pool. Of course, having a pool to hire from and then having a program to help you RETAIN the BEST teachers is equally important.

We must pay attention to all aspects of the school and community environment. At the VERY least, a system in which teachers feel supported, informed, and empowered is critical to establish. Access to safe and affordable housing helps. Overall school and community upkeep and basic services must be in place and maintained.

In other words, it takes the entire community and local economy to help attract and retain good staff. One of our Personnel Directors is also the Mayor Pro- Tem on the City Council. One of my teachers is on the City P&Z Board. I am active with community affairs. All of us realize it takes more than just a "pretty school building" to attract and keep quality teachers.

p.s. Great comments everybody! Thank you for responding and causing me to re-visit what I wrote and sometimes revise, sometimes confirm, my thoughts.

Marshall

@Greg

Lots of good ideas there - thanks. A few I had not considered. One of which is the shared teacher recruiting. I really like the idea, but one of my concerns is that we typically vie for similar, if not exact candidates. I actually had a parochial school leader call me and ask where on the master contract we were planning to hire her current math teacher (post-offer, pre-acceptance). Of course she then sweetened the pot for the individual, and she re-signed with them. Just not a playing field I could enter into with my contractual limitations. We got a good one anyway, though!

The planning on turnaround is an excellent concept, which I am constantly using. I totally agree with Greg. Through general conversations, I have mentioned that we are always in need of coaches, and sometimes that gains interest. If you get comfortable with who is there or think they won’t move and/or advance, retire, etc. you will get caught eventually in a situation where “the roses don’t bloom.”

Kim

As a veteran teacher and future administrator, I completely agree with this quote! Well said!

"However, the majority of the good teachers in the school know who the bad teachers are, and privately, they are glad someone is doing something about it."

Great post, and I am glad that I am being mentored by a principal who has refused to fill the computer lab teaching position for the last year because he has not found a candidate he feels is a good fit. Because of this, we have had a series of long-term subs, and it has pinched our prep time, but in the long run, it is the best decision!

TeachMoore

Kim,
Using "a series of long-term subs..." may arguably be better than hiring an underqualified person for the computer lab, but it becomes a much less desirable alternative when it's an English or math class. I've seen the damage that can come to students who go weeks or even full semesters under a string of subs because no teachers were available (suitable or otherwise).
Ironically, however, I think those administrators brave enough to follow Greg's advice and deal with ineffective teachers, might actually help us attract more and better teaching candidates by improving the overall image of the profession. Better yet, we teachers should help set the standards for quality teaching and help root out those who will not strive to maintain them.

Carl Anderson

I may have come across a bit too strong in my previous comment. This post did cause a knee-jerk reaction for me simply because I have encountered many school administrators who take this approach first without explaining what they feel is effective teaching or without doing anything to remedy problems with staff members before getting rid of them. I have also worked for administrators who upon being hired systematically try to knock off existing staff so they can hire those positions from a pool of their own cronies. A post like this seems to add fuel to that fire.

Greg, when I said, "A principal really has a limited role when it comes to leading teachers into effective practices." I thought I had elaborated on that comment but in case my point was not explained I will reiterate it here. Most school principals I know have been hired from other school districts. They may have been great teachers at those schools but in their current position they lack the examples they set in their prior position as classroom teacher. Just as a teacher needs to model learning for their students, a good school leader needs to model teaching for their teachers. In this way a lead teacher has more influence than the principal over how teachers approach pedagogy. This is especially true if one of our goals is to shift the culture of our schools to one that effectively incorporates 21st century skills. It has been stated over and over that students will need to know how to collaborate with others in the jobs they will do in the 21st century, that the 21st century will be marked by a spirit of objectiveness, participation, and collaboration. The principal position as it has been used in most schools is opposed to this culture and supports a more industrial approach to schooling where the boss (principal) sits in their office and passes out orders to the workers (teachers) who are then responsible for the hands-on work with the product (students). The 21st century model must be more collaborative in nature and therefore, if the principal position is to thrive and serve the same role it did in the industrial school it must include with it a capacity to model instruction, not merely oversee it. In this way I feel the principal position has been limited.

Yes, fire bad teachers. We all know of some teachers that are definitely not right for the profession no matter what model of effective teaching you subscribe to. However, you have to make clear what you expect from teachers and make clear what it is that you feel describes effective teaching. One way is modeling and another way is letting other teachers model. But please do not let these teachers go without articulating to them what it is about what they do that is not proficient or letting them know what they can do to remedy the situation first.

Greg Farr

Oh My!! Carl?

Do you really believe this? I mean REALLY??:

"The principal position as it has been used in most schools is opposed to this culture and supports a more industrial approach to schooling where the boss (principal) sits in their office and passes out orders to the workers (teachers) who are then responsible for the hands-on work with the product (students)."

We're gonna need a LARGE pot of coffee (or whatever your favorite beverage may be) and HOURS of time to sit and talk. I could not possibly disagree with you more! I only wish I had a week to take you on a tour of local schools to show you how wrong and totally misguided your perception of today's principal is. Honestly, I have not met a principal like you describe since the late 1970's. I do not know any principals who sit in their offices and dispense orders.

Today's principals are aggressive, active leaders who clarify their expectations with examples, spend hours on walk-through visits and observations, and can debate and model the latest trends in educational research. If you are not experiencing this type of leadership, you are working in a situation which (thank goodness) is slowly disappearing. I guarantee, if you are still experiencing this type of leadership over and over again in today's educational environment, you should take action to change things!

Today's effectice principal absolutely does NOT oppose your "21st century...marked by a spirit of objectiveness, participation, and collaboration."

Dave Sherman

Carl,
I can't believe what I have read. Are you living in a time warp? Under a rock? Or are you really so clueless that you have absolutely no idea what today's principals are doing in schools? The principals that I know, and the ones that I read, are working their butts off with kids, teachers, and parents all day, every day. The principal you describe worked 40 years ago. Wake up!

Kelly Christopherson

As a rather young administrator - 42 - I have been working my butt off since I moved from the classroom to the principal's office to demonstrate to teachers that one cannot stand still in education. It really surprises me that there would actually be a principal who sits in their office - there's too much to do to sit in an office.

Teachers that are weak or ineffective need to be given a chance to improve, provided with support and mentored. If, however, they don't show the ability to grow and improve, they need to look for another job. Our students' futures are too important to be left in the hands of someone who doesn't want to improve, who isn't interested in putting in a full effort and who doesn't fully grasp the enormity of what they are doing.

Faced with this exact situation at the moment, one needs to be truthful with the person and put the cards on the table. The teacher needs to know that they need to raise the bar. With veteran teachers who are in a rut, they need to be challenged with the "Why are you still doing this?" question. As was mentioned, the staff knows when someone is weak - they can see it and they do question your ability to lead if you don't do something about it.

Ultimately, the learning taking place in the building is the responsibility of the principal - we are responsible for EVERYONE in the building. It can be a very daunting and if you don't think you can do it, then maybe you should rethink your decision to be an administrator. Once you demonstrate you are willing to make the difficult decisions because it is best for the students, you might not always be popular but people will trust your judgement and support you in the matter of students. If you do what is popular, you don't deserve the title because it isn't about popularity, it's about the students' future.

Great post Greg. It's good to know there are so many who believe the same.

Chris Lehmann

Greg,

I have one major concern with your post... what of the struggling teacher? What of the teacher who is open to help, who is learning the craft, but has not mastered it yet?

I've known many, many teachers whose first year... even second year... were nothing short of train wrecks, but who were at nurturing schools with administrators and colleagues who helped them improve and became excellent, excellent teachers.

We have so many teachers in our systems whose potential remains untapped... let us not write them off before we have done all within reason to help them to become the teachers we need.

Carl Anderson

@Greg

I do currently work in a school with administrators who exhibit the kind of ideals and work ethic you describe. Thank goodness! I actually work for two different schools with great, supportive, and active administrators. And not all of my prior "bosses" have been the type I described. My concern is for the few that I have worked with who would take a post such as yours and use it as fuel to flame a fire that is destructive rather than productive for students and 21st century school culture.

I guess I do not really believe that a principal can't work to demonstrate effective teaching to teachers but I still believe the greatest change agent in a school are its best teachers. In that capacity the principal position is less effective at developing effective teaching practices.

In Minnesota we have two schools that are run by teachers in private practice: Avalon School and the New Country School. Neither of these schools have administrators. Both schools have been very successful charter schools and both consistently are seen as fruitful gardens of learning. I keep thinking back to how this can be without someone in the captain's chair. I have toured these schools and everything about them screams 21st century learning. They are extremely collaborative, democratic, and based in real-world application of knowledge that is being learned. However, I suspect that if you took any one of those teachers and put them in a regular public school today they would either feel compelled to leave due to conflict of educational philosophy or they would be asked to leave because the pedagogies that work in a true 21st century classroom are opposed to the industrially modeled structure of normal public schools. Their methods would likely be deemed ineffective. The same would be true of the students in schools like these only the effect with them is easier to measure.

I guess I am on the fence and am not entirely sure I completely believe my prior statements as I have written them but am leaning that way. You have struck on an issue that I have been struggling for a long time. Reading your post felt a lot like someone poking a bruise. A few years ago I saw a great school with great teachers who were doing great things change administration. The new administrator had a different view, a more "old school" view of what effective teaching is and what a school should look like. Many of the teachers left on their own because they did not want to deal with what they felt was a back step. In their place came teachers who held the same beliefs about teaching and learning as this administrator. The remaining staff who did not have tenure were let go and the administrator followed the same play book you outlined here:

"Grow some thick skin and a backbone and start documenting your weak staff. Have courageous conversations with you mediocre teachers.

One of the greatest ad slogans of all time truly applies here:

Just Do It!"

Only, in this case these teachers were all excellent teachers who cared about kids, worked hard to individualize instruction, and were very progressive. The rubric that was being used to judge performance was changed without the new one ever articulated to the staff. Along with the teachers went many of the students. The sad thing is, after future discussions with this principal after I left the district, he said he was glad the students left because he did not want kids like that in his building anyway. I guess when I read your post the voice I heard in my head saying these words was that of this administrator.

Reading through your post again, I think the reason I had this reaction was largely because I didn't see the words student or learner mentioned once when you talk about getting rid of ineffective teachers. If you are going to release teachers based on their effectiveness we have to define what that is. To define effective teaching we have to look to the student.

I have gone on too long.

Greg Farr

Kelly amd Chris,

It might have been a better title if I had room for "Thick Skin, A Backbone, Compassion, and Encouragement". While it went unsaid in the post, I would hope readers would understand that the flip side was meant to be implied. Namely, yes, struggling teachers are offered tremendous amounts of help. Sucessful teachers are supported and CELEBRATED.

I have a brochure which I give to staff each year that outlines my expectations. I believe I once attached the brochure to a post, but I would like to close by cutting and pasting the statement I give my staff every year:

"The No Surprise Pledge:
I believe in emphasizing and building on your strengths. I will never surprise you with a negative evaluation. If there are areas that we can work on together for
improvement, I will meet and communicate them to you personally. If you are failing to meet expectations, you will be told so - clearly and in detail. You will also be
given opportunities to grow and improve in areas that may need attention. If you are ever in doubt about anything regarding
your evaluation, your professional development, or you just want honest in-put about your job performance, please ask.
Greg Farr, Principal"

(I'd be glad to email anyone a copy of the whole brochure, just contact me.)

p.s. Carl - hang in there! Your comments have generated an excellent conversation!

dave z

Great discussion.

I'd like to chime in on a couple of points.

First, I want to agree wholeheartedly that our principals as a generality are hard working, roll up your sleeves, hands on people. I also agree that they need to improve on how to attract, retain, support good teachers, as well as how to get rid of bad teachers. However, as a teacher, I am nervous about some of the same things that Carl talks about. We do have many principals who do not understand what effective teaching looks like. We have many principals who don't know what an effective 21st century learning environment looks like. In my district, we have let go of some of our very talented teachers because, in my opinion, their teaching didn't look like what our principals thought teaching should look like. Unfortunately, I think it is the principals who have the outmoded view of teaching. So as we as a district try to train our teachers to be 21st century teachers, how do we get our principals to recognize what that looks like so we retain the teachers who are truly most effective, not just the most respectful or most manageable.

As for the comment above about having a hard time attracting teachers to urban schools where riots break out, I agree this is a major difficulty. As we talk about how hard it is for principals to do THEIR job, I am reminded of teachers when they talk about how hard it is to do THEIR job. I think principals and teachers are going to have to work collaboratively to help accomplish both.

Scott McLeod

This HAS been a great discussion!

Amidst all the rhetoric, we have to recognize that there are some really bad principals out there. There is a continuum of principal quality just like there is for everything else, which means that there are administrators at the low end of the bell curve. Amazingly, sometimes they get to stay in their leadership roles for decades. So it's not all rainbows and sunshine. Every principal is not a visionary, dedicated, hard working administrator. Some are just putting in their time. Sad to say, but true.

Marshall

Speaking of not all rainbows and sunshine, it seems that a few teachers may agree that at least some of their colleagues are not up to snuff and that maybe the administration needs to get "thick skin and a backbone."

Read on at:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-05-06-teachers-tenure_N.htm

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