Much of my life has been spent inside of a school and even when I am out of school I find myself drawn to learning as much as I can about education. I have had many roles in education, I’ve been a teacher, department head, vice principal and principal and all the while I have been, and continue to be, a student.
I do a lot of reading about education and many of my conversations with others lead back to education, I guess you could call me an “education junkie”.
In my new role as a principal, I have doing quite a bit of reading about leadership and how to support teachers and staff. I know what I had wanted from my many principals when I was a teacher.
In the school where I spent more than 20 years teaching, the administrators office was a revolving door of people who would be hired and shortly thereafter move on. I sat down one day and reflected on all of the administrators that had gone through our building and I had a difficult time keeping track. If I include the principals and vice principals, the number of people is 17. Over a 22 year span our school saw 17 different administrators! The changes in administration brought a continual change of focus, each new leader bringing with them a new outlook, a new initiative, a new “flavour of the month” while the common core of teachers and staff worked to meet the challenges.
In reading Shelly Rees’s blog post, “19 Things Teachers want their Principals to Know“, she cites many of the things that have come up over the years in conversations with my colleagues. Many of the things that teachers want are the same things that any worker in any field wants from their bosses, things like support, understanding and trust. But the one point that stands out the most to me as I reflect on my own experiences and those of several of my colleagues is fairness. Rees states:
“Don’t punish me for a job well done. Just because I am hard-working and capable, don’t come to me to be on every committee and to help solve every problem. It is not fair to give me the difficult, heart-wrenching cases year after year because I do a good job. Spread the workload fairly. “
Oftentimes I have seen the same teachers step up to be the members of committees, the sponsors for school clubs, the teachers who deal with the “difficult” students because… well, “Mrs. X can’t have those students, she doesn’t get along with that type of student” or “We need you to do ____ because you can handle it, while Mr. Y cannot.” Should people who are able to handle difficult situations be the ones who are always assigned to deal with them? Wouldn’t it be better if those people who don’t have the skills required were placed in situations where they could learn these skills? I’ve had people say to me over the years, “Its almost better to do a bad job because then I would get the easier assignment.” This just does not seem fair.
What often happens is the people who are the busiest and the most passionate about their jobs are the people who get called upon to do more, because after all, they are the ones who will find the time. Everyone else is just too busy. This type of leadership can lead to crispiness, the stage just before burnout. When the energetic become tired and start to notice a lack of fairness, they will begin to shut their doors and close themselves off from the excitement they once felt about education. They will continue to do the great job they have always done within the four walls of their classroom but they will no longer step forward to be the risk takers they once were and that we need in our schools. Administrators need to take time to show appreciation, spread out the workload fairly and equitably, provide the supports to those who need to develop and learn new skills and in so doing build a strong team. Don’t punish people for a job well done. The people that you take for granted today may be the people that you need tomorrow.