Friday, September 29, 2017

Administrators!! Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Every year, the Principal’s Office participates in a 360 evaluation process.  An online performance survey is sent to the faculty and staff on a random administrator for feedback.  The survey is anonymous and asks various questions about our communication, leadership, and ethical character.  Last year, someone wrote on mine:

“Jen might benefit from teaching a class at Brebeuf, as her more regular encounters with students in the classroom could give her a whole new appreciation of the teachers she evaluates, as well as these teachers’ unique challenges in the classroom”

This statement really stuck with me.  This is a very fair suggestion but I didn’t know how on earth to make it happen.  And then we had no teacher for our Newspaper Publications course.  Okay anonymous commenter – challenge accepted!

**side note – I have never taught Newspaper Production in my life.

Tweet by @jdferries

Going back into the classroom, albeit for one class, was the best decision I’ve made since leaving the classroom 10 years ago.  I work with bright, talented, witty students in a hard-core project-based learning environment.  We use industry standard software (InDesign), write in various formats (news, op ed, sports, reviews), podcast, engage in social media, and all the great ed tech, student-centered buzzwords I’ve been writing on evaluations to others for years.  The class is led by student editors who do the heavy lifting of daily routines.  We have a large, open classroom functioning much more like an old-fashioned news room.  

And some days … it kicks my middle-aged butt.

Eight weeks in to the school year I’ve learned:

Living in a bell schedule again is hard
Every administrator I know accepts being late to meetings just happens.  Guess what?  You can’t be late for class!  Those teenagers will call you out faster than your own mother!  Your school have a tight tardy policy?  Just try and write up a 15-year-old for being late to class the day after you yourself was late…. Not cool.

Changes in the schedule really do mess things up
As administrators, all kinds of great ideas walk into the office that will disrupt the school day.  I fall under the “Let’s do it! What a cool experience that will be!” bandwagon.  And maybe it is worth it – but I have learned the hard way that too many altered schedules (and last minute changes) really is frustrating for classroom teachers and students.  We need to do better at discerning our somewhat whimsical time shifts.

Online grading is time consuming
I now know the joy of watching the spinning wheel of death while the online grade book tries to load.  It’s real.  It’s frustrating.  Teachers have a right to complain.

Designing meaningful lessons enhanced with technology is hard too
I teach a tech heavy course with a seriously concrete product at the end… and I have trouble sometimes integrating technology in meaningful ways.  If your school is like mine and incorporates a lot of walkthroughs – seeing deep integration is not going to happen every moment of every day.  Deal with it.

Kids surf the web every chance they get
Just like adults do in staff meetings J If your school’s evaluation has any check box about 100% of students being on task with their technology – delete that now!  I actually am fine with a little surfing – it’s natural and gives everyone a little break to reset.  I do step in when it’s causing a ruckus (four 15-year-old boys huddled at a desk snickering draws my attention every single time).  Otherwise I let them decide how to best use the allotted independent work time.  Can’t wait until my office mates come through for my walkthrough!
In short – like online trolling – it is so easy to be critical behind the safe walls of an evaluation form.  But the classroom is a real, living, messy place.  I challenge more admins to get back in the classroom, see what it is really like day-to-day and then reflect on evaluation documents and processes.  You will get serious street-cred from your faculty, hone your own skills, meet some really cool young people, and learn a lot about what teaching is actually like now-a-days.  It’s different from the last time you were here – trust me!

And I'm not just talking K-12 here... even higher education is testing these waters!


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