Empowering Teachers 2 - Development

Quick Recap: We don’t disagree, you and I. I’m not revealing some deeply hidden truth from which you have been shielded for your entire career. I’m simply reminding you of what you already know. Reminder 1: your teachers need a voice, and they need to KNOW they have a voice.

Reminder 2: Teachers need to be involved in your plans for development. This includes both student development and teacher development.

First, your teachers need to be involved in the plans for student development. This is somewhat basic as a concept, but because your teachers are the primary ones executing the plans for student development, they need to be involved in the creation of those plans. In my career, I have seen this issue from both sides.

When I was a young teacher, my school decided that all of the religion classes on campus would be taught by men, and that every male teacher on campus would teach a religion class. It was not a decision made only by the principal. In fact, the principal had utilized my first reminder and given the teachers a voice in deciding the issue. At the same time, the school was bringing Advanced Placement classes to campus. As chair of the English Department, I was to teach one of these classes. With the addition of the Religion class to my workload, this meant that I would have to teach 7 classes that year, and that I would not have any periods off.

The principal came to me privately and asked me if I was willing to undertake this workload for the sake of the students. I very clearly told him that I would be willing to teach either the Religion class or the AP class, but I would not be willing to do both. I told him I could not operate effectively with no breaks. He understood and decided it would better serve the students if I taught AP. I felt involved in the plans for the students at all levels, and I was empowered to do my job at a high level. That year, nearly 75% of my AP students passed the AP exam and received college credit for the high school class.

At another school some years later, the principal decided unilaterally that the science department would begin offering a certain class that had not been offered in recent years. She had valid research to support the decision, and she had made the decision for the sake of improving student learning. It was, objectively, the correct decision. There was only one science teacher on campus who was certified to teach this new class, so the principal told the teacher that she was to teach this new class. The teacher understood the logic of the decision, but stated that she was out of practice with the course material. She argued that simply having the class on campus was not in the students’ best interest, and that the students really needed someone to competently handle the material. But the principal’s decision was made. The teacher was required to teach the class. She did the best she could with the class that year, then she quit the next summer. I remember one of the last things she said to me before she left: “I really enjoy working with you and some of the other teachers, but I will never see eye to eye with the principal.” Try to remember that it is not enough to be right; your teachers have to be involved in the plans for student development.

The second aspect of development in which your teachers should be involved is the plans for professional development. This is the development of the teachers themselves. Listen to your teachers when they ask for development in particular areas. Allow them to help you determine what is in the best interest of the teachers, and follow up on those plans. Let them help to guide you in the most effective ways of delivering professional development. Remember that every teacher deserves a coach, and don’t limit your professional development sessions to boring, ineffective seminars. Instead, vary the ways professional development is given and provide coaching sessions for your teachers. Spend time and resources deliberately developing your teachers.

And don’t just develop your teachers for the sake of the school. Develop your teachers for their own sakes as well. At one school in which I worked as an administrator, our administrative team created specific development plans for each teacher. We intentionally undertook the creation process with the teachers themselves. We asked the teachers to add their own professional goals to the plan, and we committed school resources to fulfilling the plans that included both the school’s goals for the teacher, and the teacher’s goals for him or herself.

Teachers are empowered when they have a voice, and they are empowered when they are involved in the plans for development. Next week I’ll add another tip to this list we already agree on.