Institutional Constraints: Administration

In my last post, I introduced how resistant institutions are to change and labeled the specific roadblocks “institutional constraints”.  In this series I will provide some strategies and ways of thinking that I have found useful for navigating the political hurdles of implementing reform-based instruction.  This post will focus on working with/around administrators.  Ideally, we would want our administration to have the same goals as us, but even those who claim to have lofty goals for students often say very different things with their actions.  I feel very lucky to have the support of my administration in my current school and hope some of the strategies below will help you gain administrator support.

Initially, you want to try to gain your administrators support, don’t assume you have an uphill battle if you don’t.  Have a lesson of which you’re particularly proud? Invite your principal or other admin to stop by your class to see what your students are doing.  Don’t wait for “evaluation day”.  Inviting your administrators in allows you to demonstrate that you take pride in your teaching and you have confidence in your own competence. Are you an education blogger? Tell your admins about your site and encourage them to visit.  I have always felt blogs are an excellent reflective tool.  Now use your reflections to demonstrate your desire to continually learn and improve your practice.  Still at school 2 hours after “contract time”? Stop in the office to “check your mailbox”, and if an administrator is still there, stop in to say hi/goodnight.  Some of my best conversations with administrators have happened in instances like this – the hectic day is over and the office isn’t buzzing with people.  Of course, you’re also demonstrating your high level of commitment.  These actions are not dishonest or manipulative, you are just working to draw your administrators’ attention to the positive things you are already doing!

Volunteering can get you onto administrators’ good side as well. Volunteering for committees or curriculum teams not only shows your willingness to be “part of the team”, but also places you in positions to help move your entire building toward reform.  Yet, you want to be careful in these committees (dealing with colleagues will be a future post).  One last action is to ask permission for things you might assume you wouldn’t need to.  Want to hang students’ work throughout the building? Ask your admin’s permission, not because I think you should need it, but because you will be sending a message about yourself and the level of respect you have for the people running your building.  Additionally, you draw their attention to your students’ work – further highlighting the great things you do in your classroom!

Perhaps you have taken the above steps, but your administration has some expectations with which you disagree.  Or you want to do some things in your class or building that makes your admin uneasy.  This situation is when 4th order thinking comes into play (see previous post).  First, consider how what you are doing or want to do fits with the administration’s expectations and how you can convince them of that.  Instead of choosing to oppose your administration, choose to seek ways to meet your goals within their expectations.  For example, my district expects objectives to be written on the board for students each day.  These objectives are supposed to tell students what they will be learning that day.  Ok, I personally don’t like objectives for students because 1) the learning in my class can change quickly based on student feedback and 2) if you need to be told what you have learned, have you really learned it?  I see two ways around this expectation.  The way that I chose is to have a question written on the board for students to think/write about when they come into class.  This question serves as an indication for what the class topic will be and gives me some insight on student thinking when we discuss the question.  I have been able to convince my admin that the question serves the same purpose as the “objectives”, but it more closely lines up with my goals for students – critical and reflective thinkers rather than being told what to learn.  Another strategy I thought of trying is having students write objectives as a class at the end of class.  Kind of a “what did we learn today” task.

Of course, you may find yourself in a situation where you cannot get your admin’s support and you cannot work within their expectations and still work toward your own goals.  In this situation, the classroom door is a powerful tool, shut it.  However, these are not ideal working conditions so you may need to re-evaluate if you want to be a part of that district.  

Please leave comments sharing your own ideas how to work with or around administrators with whom you do not see eye to eye.

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