The degree to which school leaders are involved in actual teaching practice varies considerably between schools, which brings us to the question: Should school leaders teach more?
To clarify for the purpose of this post, school leader refers to senior leaders in schools, assistant principals, principals and directors / superintendents.
The demands of these senior roles take teachers away from the classroom owing to the numerous responsibilities of leading schools. This is a shame in many respects because some of the best teachers go into senior leadership roles and they are ‘lost’ from the classroom, perhaps to the detriment of the profession. It could be argued, however, that this has been the case over many, many years.
From a teacher point of view, it is sometimes claimed that leaders in schools are not connected enough with what is going on in classrooms, or not connected enough with students. Calls have been made for some school leaders to be more visible and present in day-to-day school life beyond the ‘administration’. On the flip side, school leaders are frustrated that they cannot get to spend more time with the ‘kids’. In fact many leaders long to get back in the classroom because they see that as where they are meant to be.
While classroom walk-throughs are touted as a great way for school leaders to get in touch with what is going on in classrooms, they can be fleeting and restrictive in terms of leaders being able to engage with students in a meaningful way that establishes connection. Many leaders try to be more visible by being at assemblies, greeting students and walking the corridors. This is certainly appreciated and really helps the school community know who the leaders are but the connection with student learning is still limited and many leaders do find this frustrating and teachers do not get to see school leaders as classroom practitioners.
So, should school leaders teacher more?
We need to, first, look a little more at the idea of disconnect between school leaders and teachers. What is it that both leaders and teachers want? Most commonly, teachers want leaders to be able to recognise how challenging the role can be, in order to show greater understanding, and give the appropriate level of support so that they can do their job better. Many leaders just want to connect with student learning, which is the reason they entered the education profession in the first place.
If we take the teacher viewpoint, there have been significant changes in education that leaders have not necessarily been on the receiving end of ‘in the classroom’. For example, there are a large number of school leaders that have not had to integrate technology into the classroom in the way teachers are being encouraged, or required, to do so nowadays. A further example is that many school leaders were not ‘in the classroom’ when high stakes testing was introduced. As a result, from the perspective of some teachers, leaders do not fully understand, or appreciate, what it is that teachers are required to do and, more importantly, the time needed to do it and do it well. What is sought by teachers from leaders is more empathetic leadership and decision-making coupled with targeted support for improvement.
Taking into account the teacher point of view, there is a win-win here for leaders. Leaders can, in many ways, get more involved with students, not necessarily teaching a class, as this may take too much time. Here are some of the different ways in a rough order from lots of committed time to less regularly committed time:
- Teaching a class
- Coaching a sports team
- Co-teaching a class, or delivering some lessons as part of a course, or program
- Supervising student projects or extended essays
- Supporting the instruction in a school’s well being programme, or college preparation classes
- Help run some revision classes, or student support sessions
- Leading, delivering or facilitating a session as part of book week, arts week, critical thinking day etc
Through involvement with students in some of these ways listed above, leaders keep practicing their craft and, perhaps, can talk about teaching and learning with a bit more authority and credibility; teachers will see that leaders are teachers too, rather than people in a school that hand down orders and direction. Leaders need to show that they can walk the walk as much as they can talk the talk, which goes a long way to having teachers feel that leaders are in this together with them. At the same time leaders, perhaps, get to feel a greater sense of purpose, grounded in what is most important in schools: Learning.