Leaders Empower Educators
Are school leaders doing enough to empower educators, and are educators doing enough to empower themselves? Many educators, who would like to do more, don’t, because they get in positions where they are afraid to try new things. The dreaded words of warning, “we don’t do that in this district” can put off, even the most energetic educator from doing more than what seems to be the norm. They’re waiting for an OK. And that OK they’re looking for most often needs to come from an administrator, who is busier than most anyone at a school, or in a district. Sadly, in that scenario, it is difficult for a tech-savvy educator, with new ideas, to get past set-in-stone, well-meaning, mentor teachers, to explain to an administrator, sufficiently, a different way of teaching the same curriculum, using new tools and solutions with students. And for that matter, why would a school or district change from what seems to be comfortably working? While the number of tech-savvy administrators is growing, chances are they just don’t know enough, are experienced enough, or have seen enough, yet—and then there’s that time thing to consider. In education, there is never enough time, but everyone must remember the finite time students have, too.
Therefore, educators, new and veteran, need to take steps forward without waiting to take that step. Whenever the “we don’t do that in this school, or district” flag is raised, educators should see it as a bull in an arena would. Ask “why not?” The answer will not be a great one. Educators need to know that they have the power to, for lack of a better word, experiment, within reason, to appropriately improve instruction for student learning and achievement through better engagement in this century! Unfortunately, very few educators feel confident enough to know that they have the right—yes, the right, to do that, without a nod of the head, from a higher rank. I know that new teachers are cautious, for good reasons, the first 3 to 5 years are critical to a long career. That tenure thing still weighs heavily over provisional educators, but it should never cause an energetic teacher to stand back from trying new things, sharing new things, and sending kids home amazed and excited at what they can do and learn from those new things.
With all that said, there is a brilliant opportunity, here, for even the busiest, and less than tech savvy administrators and school leaders. Don’t wait; gather all your educators together. Just say, “In this district, in this school, in your classrooms we should never hear, ‘we don’t do that here’. When you have a new, appropriate, learning idea that will energize and actively engage our students to be interested, achieve, and want to learn more—don’t ask permission to try. And if it works, share it with your colleagues. You are all professionals, and I trust you to do the right thing for our students. Any curriculum questions for your new ideas check in with your department heads. If the answer you get isn’t satisfactory, see me. That’s it, end of meeting, make learning exciting—go do it! Next meeting, let’s share what you’re doing.” Now, that sort of short and sweet meeting probably hasn’t happened in most districts and schools, yet—or often—but can you see how easy that is to do. Educators at all levels will be a bit stunned, and of course want confirmation, but the bottom line should be to be confidence to do what needs to be done to make student learning exciting and motivating. Imaging the immediate, positive buzz that will create!
This teacher power, and school leadership liberation, should be a fundamental—right from the start. And the best school leaders have somehow figured a way to say that, and make it understood early on. Just as it may be difficult for many educators to give up complete classroom teaching and learning control, because sharing that with students, while new, may be better, administrators may have the same difficulty sharing leadership with staff. Taking the chance to find out will be a positive for district and school community climate and morale, teaching enthusiasm, and student learning. Don’t be surprised if the small-group grumpy conversations go away. There will, of course be, as in anything different, adjustments to make as you go. Leaders sharing power is a winning leadership decision that will get positive actions from those best equipped, and educated, to empower student learning. An empowered educator is a necessity.
About the Author:
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.