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Seven Things Teachers Want Principals to Know

Dear administrators,

We don't know how you do it. You lead us into the fray of public education, steering our ship through coarse passages, torrential rains, as well as help us to appreciate the beauty of calm waters. You've taken the role of captain on this journey, and for that we are forever grateful. Although we appreciate the collaboration in our school and the open discussion environments you help to create, sometimes it is difficult for us to thoroughly and honestly express our worries and concerns. May this list serve as an open letter to all administrators from your dedicated troops – some things that we wish to share with you as insight into our world.

1. Fast-moving political efforts in education concern educators. We want to make sure you’ll always remember that we’re human beings while you strive to meet local, state and national goals. Education reform is written on paper: embedded in lines of legislature and recommendations from those who study our practice. Reforms and mandates can feel removed from the day-to-day classroom experience. In other words, just because an initiative seems possible doesn’t mean it is reasonable in our school and district. There are significant, positive improvements coming from education reform efforts, but we’re not completely convinced that all edicts would be healthy for our community. As expectations increase for us all, educators (although often capable of superhuman-like feats) need initiatives that are manageable.

2. Unstructured or undocumented work time doesn’t have to be scary. Teachers (and employees in general, as it turns out) will more often than not do the things that are considered “good practice” in the classroom without it being a mandatory initiative, part of a shared document review, or placed into regular accountability checks. It makes sense that for you to monitor fidelity of practice, you’d need us to report out. But don’t be afraid to provide professional development around an aspect of our work and then simply see what we do with it, especially if you give us the time to mull it over, kick it around with peers, and try it out without feeling the weight of expectation. 

3. We want you in our classrooms. Especially with the new world of accountability in education, we really want you to be there and witness our craft. We also understand that this is no small feat. Of course, sometimes it makes us nervous to be observed. Don’t take this personally. That’s mostly due to the aforementioned politics around our practice. We’re worried that you’re looking to “catch us”. Let us know you’re not out to get us by giving us resources to improve. Suggestions from a fellow educator (you!), presented as a helping hand and not a wrist slap, can go a long way in helping us feel respected as professionals and ensuring that a collaborative, growth-focused environment will operate in your school.

4. We need encouragement. If we’re being honest, we are living in an age where teachers are being scrutinized more than we’ve ever seen in the history of public education. Accountability is the game. And in many ways this has helped us to align our curriculum, communicate our goals, and collaborate better with our peers. Not to mention, it helps the public feel like their tax money is being well spent. However, we both know that “teacher practice” is not the only variable in this equation. And the reality is that jobs around human relationships are always going to include mistakes and flaws. This scrutiny, if not put into a realistic context, can quickly feel overwhelming and like there is a sort of “anti-teacher” sentiment among the public. This can be exhausting and very discouraging. A little encouragement throughout the day, week or month can remind us why we got into the field. A quick note via email is usually all that’s needed.

5. We’d like permission to say “I don’t know”. Things are changing every day in our field. We have bookshelves and Kindles filled with strategies and pedagogy. Our email inboxes and web browser bookmarks are littered with new ideas, articles, and the latest studies from the top universities. We’re doing our very best to keep informed, but it’s all happening so fast, and we might not be reading the same texts as you! Help us to create a community where “not knowing” is okay. Our schools have become too competitive. It’s not logically feasible that we would know it all. Once we feel comfortable saying that we “don’t know”, it naturally frees us up to comfortably say, “I want to learn”. And that … is where real growth begins.

6. Our concerns (around policy, schoolwide initiatives, school culture, curriculum, etc.) are always going to reflect the need we are seeing on the front lines. Both of our jobs are intense. There’s no getting around that. We’re not always going to agree, and sometimes decisions are out of both of our hands. Just understand that when we are frustrated, concerned, or disagreeing on an issue, that concern is always in defense of the students that we both serve. We can work together to improve implementation efforts—and then you’ll truly see great results from our classrooms. This way, you can share in the bragging rights!

7. We can’t imagine our jobs without you. Expectations are high for teachers; we can’t even begin to imagine the pressures you feel from above. We understand that in many instances in your day-to-day, you act as the General defending your troops, and we don’t know how to thank you. We mean that. We worry daily that you don’t feel appreciated. We come to you with every problem in the world, expecting you to support us, defend us, and direct us. Everything you do allows us the luxury of making learning happen in the classroom—every late night, every never-ending meeting, every conference and mind-numbing document. Your stress and headaches allow us to be what we’ve always dreamed we could be. We could never begin to do what we do without you. We don’t always get to say it: You are appreciated. Thanks!

Written by Keith Lambert, Education World contributor

Lambert is a teacher and teacher trainer in Connecticut.

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