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Teacher Support: Key to Improved Student Learning

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this advice from The Fearless School Leader: Making the Right Decisions, by Cynthia McCabe. In this article, McCabe outlines three steps leaders can take to support their teachers as they undertake the task of improving student learning.

When you set and share the intention to improve student learning, teachers will suddenly feel pressure to get results. To help alleviate some pressure, the drive to improve must be balanced by caring for teachers. If not, the school climate, which may already be suffering due to negative cultural norms or low self-perception, could suffer as staff feel the tremendous weight of higher expectations. School leaders must strive to make teachers’ lives more livable. This can be accomplished with three important steps:

  1. Get in the trenches.
    We’ve all heard the adage, “You can’t lead from your office.” And it’s true. Leaders have to "get their hands dirty" with teachers. There must be a practical partnership, which requires regular formal and informal conversations with teachers about student progress, as well as being present in classrooms to see firsthand what students are learning and whether or not they master it. A principal needs to observe the implementation of instructional strategies that have been agreed upon by the team in order to give feedback and encouragement.

    Since teachers cannot readily watch one another teach, a building leader can provide needed information regularly as to differences in style and technique so that variations in student achievement from class to class can be better understood and attributed to specific teacher actions. Finally, when students fail to learn, leaders should be connected enough to help teams determine appropriate next steps. Taking these actions breaks down the invisible barrier between principal and teacher and puts everyone on the same team in shared accountability.
  2. Protect teachers' time.
    If gone unchecked, too much of a teacher’s day can be taken up by issues that have little to do with student achievement. Returning emails, planning for non-academic school/community events, handling fundraiser information and money, and dealing with attendance, lunch, and recess issues can quickly dominate precious minutes of planning time.

    Find ways to minimize or streamline administrative tasks, while protecting or increasing time to collaboratively analyze data, plan instruction, and problem-solve. I suggest using time already allotted in the school calendar (e.g. faculty meetings, professional development days), as well as substitute time to accomplish this important work.
  3. Encourage teachers to balance work life and home life.
    Too often, school leaders unknowingly send damaging messages to teachers about how they should use the 24 hours in each day. Teachers who spend 12 hours a day at school are highly regarded and spoken about in glowing terms, while those who leave at their contracted time may be looked down upon.

    Instead of passing judgment, we need to help teachers find ways to be successful within a reasonable workday, so they may go home at a decent hour and have quality time with family and friends. If this doesn’t happen, not only will many schools remain negative places to work, but I predict that teachers will leave the profession at faster rates than they do now. As a building leader, keep a realistic view of life as a teacher and work to improve the quality of their professional lives within your school. This will go a long way to developing real trust with teachers.


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