Positive Classroom Management Series

Positive Classroom Instruction

Chapter 12 - The Leadership Role

A staff development program that grows within a district must sell itself to a considerable degree by its own success with participating faculty serving as ambassadors. Yet, though much of the program support must come from the bottom up, the rest must be supplied from the top down by administrators and the school board. To the extent that administrators with the help of the school board perform their leadership role, wisely, growth and change will take hold and thrive. To the extent that the district leadership fails to grasp its role in creating and maintaining growth and change, any staff development program, no matter how well designed and implemented, will be seriously undermined and its impact limited.

 

THE FOCUS OF CHANGE AT THE SCHOOL SITE

One of the primary emphases of the preceding chapter was that deep and lasting change must not only reach the majority of teachers at a school site, but it must also involve those teachers in a lasting growth process that is supportive, instructional, and enjoyable. The school site is the primary functional unit of change in any school district because it is the primary social unit of any school district. Its members are physically close enough to each other to see each other on a regular basis, to share ideas readily, and to offer support on a daily and weekly basis. Since the school site is the social unit that will impact most directly on the teacher's daily life, the leader of the school site will therefore be the main facilitator or inhibitor of change.

 

The Importance of the Principal

Recent research has pinpointed the principal as the primary determiner of the success in any staff development effort at a given school site. Yet the principal is usually neither the one who disseminates the program directly nor the one who uses it within the classroom on a daily basis. The principal, however, determines the program's long-term life or death by the nature of his or her participation.

 

To understand why a principal has such power over the fate of staff development we must keep in mind two key factors.

 

  1. Penetration and longevity. The short-term success of a staff development program may be determined by the relevance of its content, the charisma of the presenter, and the degree of skill mastery achieved during initial training, but the long-term success is measured in terms of penetration and longevity. Although principals may not determine the content, style, or methods of initial training, they do determine penetration and longevity to a large degree by the nature and extent of their ongoing support for change at the school site.

  2. Change is not easy. On a good day 20 percent of the human race enjoys and seeks the stimulation of change, 30 percent are ambivalent, and 50 percent find it downright threatening and aversive. To bring the middle 30 percent, and ultimately the lower 50 percent, into involvement in a process of change, they must be actively and consistently affirmed and supported for their efforts and given extra help along the way. Affirmation and support for change that elevates a staff development program to a position of lasting prominence at a school site comes mainly from the principal.

 

It is the principal of the school site who is the gatekeeper for change since it is the principal who determines what is important and what is not important at the school site. From among the dozens of urgent imperatives coming at teachers from all directions - all the way from the national government to an upset parent - it is the principal who determines what is on the front burner and what is on the back burner. The rule of the stovetop states that things on the front burner get done, and things on the back burner do not.

 

 

Change must be kept on the front burner in clear sight for an extended period to achieve program penetration and longevity. Half the faculty is hoping that they will not have to participate in the program; and history has taught them that if they ignore the program long enough, it will dry up and blow away. School districts in general have compiled an abysmal record of staff development implementation and follow-through over the years. Teachers who find comfort in the status quo are banking on history to repeat itself. The less involved 50 percent of the faculty will simply keep a low profile until the initial enthusiasm blows over (which usually engages the chronically eager top 20 percent of the profession), and then they will chalk it all up to just another false alarm. The middle 30 percent of the faculty is the swing group that can be pulled into a good program or pulled by the bottom 50 percent away from a program that is not properly sold. Apart from introductory presentations by CNITP personnel and the "teachers' lounge effect," selling is largely the job of the principal.

 

When the principal is one of the bottom 50 percent, there is in effect a silent conspiracy of do-nothingness among the majority of professionals at the school site, which will also pull the middle 30 percent into business as usual. With change safely on the back burner, any staff development program will ultimately fall victim to limited volunteerism and the natural forces of atrophy. Consequently, innovation eventually dies of neglect at the school site-save for the top 20 percent.

 

Two Types of Principals

When it comes to enjoying change, principals are distributed pretty much like teachers and the rest of the human race-20 percent like it, 30 percent are ambivalent, and 50 percent find it aversive. The middle 30 are a swing group that can be pulled toward growth or nongrowth depending on the prevailing priorities of the district, and the bottom 50 percent need a lot of help. Yet regardless of which way the swing group swings, in the final analysis the principal is either part of the problem or part of the Solution, As regards staff development and institutional change, principals can be characterized as operating to various degrees in accordance with two contrasting styles: (1) instructional leaders and (2) plant managers.

 

Instructional Leaders One of the most useful descriptions of a leader is a person who maximizes the performance of everyone over whom he or she has direct responsibility. The leadership role of the principal would therefore tend to focus on facilitating teachers' job performance, professional growth, and morale. Thus, although principals may not be the direct agents of change in most cases, they must be expert to the extent that they are able to aid teachers in selecting growth objectives, and they must collaborate effectively in providing professional development opportunities. Above all, the principal as instructional leader is aprocess person whose role in professional development calls forth skills of communication, problem solving, team building, morale building, and quality control.

 

Communication, Problem Solving, and Team Building Only when administrators and teachers work together toward some overriding goal, which expresses shared values does problem solving become consistently constructive. At the beginning of systematic teacher training, such teamwork rarely exists at a school site and must, therefore, be built as a by-product of training. Team building occurs at many levels; it begins with the ironclad rule that training will never occur at a school site unless the administrators are trained as trainers right along with their selected faculty members. Although the faculty members carry most of the weight of program dissemination in the long run, it is vital that the rest of the faculty view their administrators as clearly committed, informed, and involved.

 

Team building progresses as 11 "continuation groups" are formed immediately following training. Each continuation group contains at least one trainer or "coach" to provide retraining and to guide group process, and the principal has a support role to carry out that is clearly structured.

 

Morale Building Morale building and professional development are far more intimately connected than is usually appreciated. A person's relationship to his or her career functions according to the laws that govern all relationships. Like a marital relationship, for example, a person's relationship to his or her career is either growing or dying. There is no lasting equilibrium or homeostasis because life always upsets equilibrium by presenting problems to be solved. You must constantly cope to stay even, and to cope you must solve problems and grow. To remain the same is to allow problems to grow unresolved until they finally assume overwhelming proportions. Unless you work at growing together, you finally grow apart; the relationship atrophies until it finally becomes a burden.

 

The methods of teaching are the teacher's craft, and it is through growing in the skills of one's craft that teachers keep their relationship with their profession alive. To fail to grow is to face the same classroom every day with the same subjects to teach in the same way. The dynamics of the profession is missing, and instead of the challenge of growing and the pride in getting better there is only repetition.

 

Antonio Stradivari built violins from his apprenticeship in adolescence until his death at the age of 93 (1644-1737). It is recorded that in his fifties he remarked that he was finally beginning to understand the woods. History tends to prove that statement accurate since his "Golden Period," so named because of the great number of masterpieces that were produced, spans the years 1700 to 1730 - from age 56 to 86. To one who does not understand the nature of craft, Stradivari would seem to have had a repetitive job indeed - one violin after another with an occasional cello for nearly 80 years. But one who understands the nature of craft also understands the challenge that keeps a craftsperson alive and growing. For an instrument maker no two pieces of wood are ever the same, and producing consistently excellent tone calls for constant variation in design and the utmost skill in execution. For a craftsperson such as Stradivari something about design is learned from each instrument, and coping with the perniciousness of each new piece of spruce or maple provides a constant challenge. These challenges kept the master alive and growing in his chosen craft for eight decades.

 

Teaching too is a craft that, in order to stay alive, must continually grow through the development of the skills of teaching, and the craftsperson must continually change to adapt to the needs of the raw material - the students. Professional growth provides the enduring yet eve-changing focus that is the natural antidote to boredom and spiritual burn-out. If teaching long division is primarily content rather than process, then boredom is foreordained since long division will be about the same from one decade to the next. But if creating learning and social maturation in students is our craft, then we can look forward to the continuing mastery of our craft for as long as we teach. Thus, good teachers are "process people" first and "content people" second.

 

The alternative to growing in one's chosen craft is the boredom, tedium, and negativism typical of most teachers' lounges. Such negativism feeds upon itself to produce a destructive cycle that can ultimately undermine morale and job performance at an entire school site. Grow or die is the imperative of all relationships.

 

Quality Control Principals have as part of their job quality control - the evaluation of strengths and weaknesses of teachers and the development of a professional growth plan for every teacher. A teacher-training program, however, can be viewed as a threat by teachers if the skills embodied in the program immediately become criteria of evaluation.

 

As mentioned in the preceding chapter, however, quality control and team building are linked through the vehicle of the continuation group. Continuation groups consistently place the principal in a supportive, nonexpert role in relation to meeting the special needs of the team and its team members. Most problem definition and problem solving occurs as part of a peer-based growth process, usually in the principal's absence. Sometimes, however, the principal may collaborate with the teachers who are experiencing special difficulties by helping them pinpoint areas of need and by allocating resources for whatever program of help is most advisable.

 

Principals, in summary, have two very different roles: (1) supporting excellence in the classroom and faculty morale on the one hand and (2) managing the plant. Helping to build instructional excellence at the school site is the process part of the principal's job which focuses on the relationship of teachers to their own careers and the relationships of teachers to each other. Insofar as principals are committed to and skillful at their process role, teachers will experience the continuing stimulation and renewal of a profession that is alive.

 

Yet not all principals are comfortable or skillful or even committed to looking after the process portion of their job. Indeed, many find the process role of the instructional leader foreign and uncomfortable. Often, therefore, principals find it preferable and in most districts relatively easy to retreat from the ever-changing role of the instructional leader to take comfort in the concrete and more easily manipulated tasks of managing the plant.

 

Plant Managers In lieu of professional growth there is little left but to manage the plant-to open it up in the morning and look after the details of keeping it running. I have an assistant superintendent friend, very savvy in staff development, who refers to most of his principals as "3B principals." The three B's are (1) beans (the cafeteria), (2) buses (transportation), and (3) budget. The three B's comprise most of the leadership role of the traditional principal, with crisis management and dealing with parents consuming the rest.

 

In schools run by 3B principals, teaching is clearly a profession practiced behind closed doors and so also is the principalship. Administrators and faculty often agree that this is the way things should be. The teachers run the classroom by themselves, and the principal runs the building while occasionally subduing outrageous students and keeping obnoxious parents at arm's length. Everyone goes their separate ways until they burn out.

 

The prototypical 3B principal is definitely not a "process person." His human relationship skills were often learned on either the drill field or the athletic field, and his capacity to put people at ease and to facilitate professional growth as a part of clinical supervision is equaled only by his familiarity with the positive helping interaction. Instituting change, therefore, tends not to be seen as a long-term growth endeavor, which is shared by teachers and administrators. Rather, change is typically seen as a product rather than a process - a matter of policy to be mandated. Leadership is viewed as dealing with concrete entities, such as keeping the plant running as smoothly as possible. Comfort with and tolerance for the ambiguity and open-endedness of the processes of relationship building and career building are typically quite limited.

 

A Shared Enterprise

Not too surprisingly principals who divorce themselves from the affairs of the classroom have a very different view of classroom management than do teachers and parents. For example, the 1982 "Fourteenth Annual Gallup Poll of Public Attitudes toward the Public Schools"' showed that school administrators see discipline problems as "absenteeism, vandalism, and similar problems," whereas parents, like teachers, see discipline problems as "obeying rules and regulations, classroom control, and respect for teachers. " Parents share the perspective of the teachers because their children live in the world of the classroom where discipline problems mean the moment-by-moment hassles that destroy both the teacher's patience and time on task. The principal's world is typically so divorced from the world of the teacher that to him discipline is all but synonymous with solving problems outside the classroom. Living in different worlds, teachers and administrators ultimately acquire viewpoints and concerns so distant and unrelated that communication about basic concerns becomes difficult if not impossible. Instead of experiencing support in their instructional efforts over the years, teachers often feel estrangement, which easily turns to alienation.

 

Research is increasingly showing that effective schools differ from ineffective schools primarily by having a shared way of doing things that is the result of a long-term collective focus by teachers and administrators alike on the instructional process. Research by Michael Rutter and Associates' in inner-city secondary schools of London with comparable populations, but with differing levels of student achievement, showed that success was primarily related to the "internal functioning" of the schools - to shared and agreed upon ways of doing things that were under the control of staff rather than "external realities." The most prominent differences centered around the "organization of school life" - factors as disparate as:

 

  1. Teachers working together in groups to plan curriculum and deal with behavior problems

  2. Teachers' work being observed by senior staff with ample feedback

  3. Responsibility being stressed in class, with jobs and posts assigned to many Students and care of books and equipment stressed

  4. Concern for students being expressed in many ways, from the frequency of outings to the flexibility of counseling

  5. Emphasis on teaching and learning being ever-prominent through high expectations for exams, the assignment of homework, keeping careful records, and displaying students' work

 

In all these particulars, one gets a strong sense of coherence - of a faculty working together with clear goals, careful planning, and coordination of effort. The sense one gets from the less successful schools is that of drift - of a group of teachers without instructional leadership in which everyone goes his or her own way with no rallying or focusing force.

 

When the principal assumes the role of instructional leader, operating a school becomes a shared enterprise. The principal provides the organizational coherence to promote everyone's pulling together in a common direction.

 

All too often, however, teachers and principals go their separate ways. To our detriment, our professional training programs prepare us to go our separate ways with degree programs and credentialing procedures which provide little overlap in skills and concerns between administrator and teacher. Excellence, in contrast, results from a shared sense of purpose that comes from teaching as part of a team rather than alone. Excellence develops as principal and teachers join forces.

 

DISTRICTS THAT GROW

The Superintendent's Role

Some districts are designed for professional growth, but most are not. Whether professional development exists as a basic priority for a district can usually be gleaned from a quick inspection of its organizational chart. Where are the personnel to carry out systematic, long-term staff development? If you cannot see them on the organizational chart, then staff development is probably "nobody's baby" and receives little emphasis from management.

 

Districts vary greatly in their understanding of the process of professional growth, change, and renewal. Most districts, however, have never experienced a systematic and sustained teacher-training program with any built-in quality control or follow through. In most districts there is literally no mechanism by which systematic staff development can be implemented should the desire arise.

 

The Superintendent Sets the Priority Perhaps the most clear-cut characteristic of a school district that sets high staff development goals and achieves them is clear and consistent leadership from the superintendent. The superintendent defines the criteria by which the job performance of assistant superintendents and principals will be evaluated. But perhaps more important, the superintendent sets the priorities and professional tone of the district. If superintendents are preoccupied with budgets and politics and personnel matters to the exclusion of instructional excellence, then they convey a plant-manager mentality to all district personnel. If, however, the achievement of instructional excellence and the establishment of a staff development mechanism by which to achieve excellence is ever-prominent within the district, then staff development may live and thrive.

 

Districts with a strong, in-house staff development program typically have people at the top - at the superintendent and assistant superintendent levels - who are highly knowledgeable about the means and ends of staff development and who are thoroughly committed to implementation. They then amass the budget and staff to implement quality training while bringing the principals along gradually with the teachers. Over time a staff development institute or teacher center of some type evolves with fulltime, highly trained leaders who direct and coordinate the efforts of teachers training teachers in many specialty areas.

 

When sophistication at the top is missing, clout is missing and staff development goes perpetually begging. Enthusiastic principals, of course, can do much for their school sites through their own personal leadership aided by the failure of other principals to actively compete for staff development funds. But the district as a whole goes nowhere.

 

Districts that are going nowhere in staff development tend to develop a management perspective over time that actively thwarts growth and change. If most of the principals are plant managers and if the superintendent is the head plant manager, then management soon becomes a good ol' boys' club. Change does not live because there is no ongoing process which focuses on the practice of teaching. Consequently, change is seen in only the most concrete of terms - adopting a new curriculum or text, responding to a state or federal mandate, raising funds for a new building, or negotiating a new contract. Teachers' needs are responded to with quick, cheap, in-service presentations that are rarely coordinated toward any long-term goal.

 

The Mandate Mentality If you do not know how to create change, you mandate it. Mandates are the prime example of seeking to produce a product without a process - of decision making without laying the groundwork for implementation. Mandates, in fact, actively undermine implementation by separating policy formation from policy implementation. Rather than viewing leadership as a process of team building in which the people who are to carry out the policy are enfranchised in the development of the policy, the mandate mentality views leadership as solely responsible for policy formation.

 

Having to be right all the time by devising correct policy isolated from the input of those closest to implementation in the field is a stressful, impossible, and unnecessary burden. But it is not as difficult as trying to get a bunch of people to implement a policy that they don't give a damn about. The fruit of disenfranchisement is alienation. The people in the field lack commitment to mandates, and the leader then resents the apathy and resistance of the subordinates. It is the prototypical top down leadership of a plant manager. To say that such a leader does not understand how to create either (1) the skills to execute the plan or (2) the desire to execute the plan is an exercise in understatement.

 

Naive superintendents and their subordinates tend to deal with change by relying on mandates and policy directives. And, predictably, they tend to become frustrated when policies are "screwed up" or simply not carried out. Like any teacher who teaches poorly, these administrators lay the blame on the learner. When superintendents teach by mandate, the teachers who are supposed to change are often viewed as either stupid or unmotivated like any poor student. Now the fact that teacher and administrator live in separate worlds on so many levels finally bears its full fruit - open antagonism.

 

The mandate mentality is concordant with, and even requires, the viral theory of learning. In lieu of a common enterprise of growing in the profession of teaching along with one's staff, plant managers must disseminate as best they know how. For internal policy there are announcements and bulletins, and for professional development there are one-shot presentations.

 

Ultimately we must come to realize that lasting change is a result of process and method. You can mandate compliance, but you cannot mandate excellence. Ultimately learning and personal growth on a large scale are the result of an insistence by district leadership on proper teaching and careful follow through. Effective leadership, indeed, is inseparable from the production of organizational growth and change. The leader who produces the most change in the desired direction with the highest morale leads best.

 

A History of Frustration Unfortunately, many administrators who may have wished to achieve educational excellence over the years have been blocked by the sheer lack of programs which could deliver. Thus, both they and their teachers have often been stymied in developing a plan for professional growth that could succeed.

 

Until administrators have at their disposal a program that really works, they are powerless to deliver convincing results and, not surprisingly, to get the financial backing of the school board. Thus, in most cases both the teachers and their administrators must at some point become jointly sold on the merits of a particular program and experience short-term success before long-term commitments can be made. In a successful staff development effort, everyone typically grows together over a period of time. Although some superintendents have seen what quality staff development can do and are committed to it in advance, most superintendents and their school boards will proceed cautiously and skeptically.

 

The School Board's Role

A Statement of Purpose One of the characteristics of well-run and successful corporations both at home and abroad is a clear-cut and prominent value system that continually reminds all personnel of the overriding goals and objectives of the organization.' Such a statement of purpose is more than a collection of platitudes, for it sets clear priorities in production and personnel matters that shape decision making at all levels. It provides the basics that people go back to when decision making seems blocked or at loggerheads between conflicting viewpoints.

 

In high-tech industries there tends to be an overriding concern for the development of the skills of the individual and the health of the work group as necessary preconditions to corporate success. This is not surprising in a sector of industry that thrives on creativity, teamwork, and up-to-the-minute knowledge of the field.

 

Since the means to excellence are clearly people rather than machines, these corporate statements of purpose are documents which reflect the organization's understanding of staff development. An example from the Hewlett-Packard Company is most enlightening - especially its emphasis on participation in "continuing programs of training and education" as the first fundamental requirement toward fulfilling its corporate objectives.

 

Teaching, too, is a rapidly emerging hi-tech profession. Its methods are increasingly based on both a solid empirical foundation and an advanced understanding of professional practice that is a quantum leap beyond the folklore of the past that led the public to view classroom teaching as little more than glorified parenting. This book attempts to accelerate this metamorphosis of teaching from common sense as perceived by the general public to full professional status.

 

Every school district needs to reassess its accustomed goals and practices in this time of rapid change to see if they are helping to create a new and better future for teaching or are, instead, simply echoing the past. Is there even a coherent statement of purpose? If so, does it deal with platitudes about what we want for our children, or is it a practical document that defines the form of the interrelatedness of the adults in the organization? The district payroll is made up of adults, not children, and as in a marriage, until the adults get their relationship functioning constructively, the children will be perpetually deprived.

 

The Basic Policy

There is one school policy which must be clearly affirmed by the school board in order to give the superintendent a strong hand in facilitating staff development throughout the organization. This basic policy, which I refer to as "the professional development imperative," states that:

 

"Professional growth is a basic and fundamental part of professional life. In order to stay alive and vital within the profession of teaching, all teachers need to be continually working on some focused goal of professional enrichment and development. Without such a focus and without such an effort, the practice of one's profession becomes routine and sterile and goes stale over a period of years.

 

All teachers within the school district will have a personal goal or objective for professional growth which is selected and defined in conjunction with their school site principal. The school board and the administration arc obligated to provide resources to allow teachers to actively pursue their professional development goals."

 

This policy, like the broader statement of purpose, is as much a statement of values and priorities as it is a statement of procedure. It clearly affirms up front that teachers must be learners - that we are all students. If we do not live the learning that we try to sell to kids, will they not see through our hypocrisy by the time they reach the age of reason? All who participate in this profession must be continually reminded of one simple notion: There is no credential that says growth is no longer necessary.

 

The Deficit Model of Staff Development When defining professional development as a natural part of school life, the school board at the very beginning opts out of a "deficit model" of staff development. A deficit model of staff development views staff development as remedial, something needed by a teacher who is having a problem. Such a deficit model of staff development so stigmatizes the process of staff development that personal pride and professional respectability almost require everyone to claim that they do not need it.

 

Structuring the Role of the Instructional Leader Having sidestepped the issue of whether or not any individual needs staff development, the board places in the superintendent's hands the leverage to require every principal to define as major aspects of their job: (1) consultation with their teachers concerning the selection of staff development goals and (2) the organization of resources so that teachers have an opportunity to progress toward their goals.

 

Thus the "professional development imperative" kicks down the chain of command so that the job description of school site administrators is defined to a significant degree in terms of their active participation in professional development. Until the job of the principal is defined in terms of professional development, staff development programs will always be an add-on obligation which will be seen by many as interfering with their real job, which is to manage the plant.

 

Building the Foundation for Collaboration The message from the top down that staff development is basic to professional life typically produces a sympathetic response from most teachers. Teachers know that they need to select a professional development goal, and they have to specify what they want. They will also have a reason to take their choice of goals seriously since the professional development imperative implies the allocation of resources.

 

The principal will be asking the teachers, "What do you want to do with your money?" The teachers on the other hand will say to the principals, "I have some money coming. These are the things I want to do." The administration is thus placed in the role of the benevolent dispenser of resources, whereas the teacher is placed in the role of the adult responsible for using those resources. Unless, however, the school board puts enough money behind the professional development imperative to provide quality professional growth opportunities, its policy is nothing but claptrap - another mandate with nothing backing it up. With adequate resources, the school board, along with county, state, and federal agencies, is literally putting its money where its mouth is: creating an opportunity for excellence rather than a hollow mandate.

 

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