Monday, July 29, 2019

The Principal Who Led By Example

Lead by example.

That was the theme at the Endless Faculty Conference. It was led by The Principal, whose specialty was Endless Faculty Conferences. The Principal told us we were role models, and as such we had to display the behavior we wanted to see reflected in our students. That was the only way we could lead, he said.

Chalk and Talk was out. No more just giving info from books. That didn't work. We needed to live it. We needed to be it. We needed to show it, and once we did, that would be pretty much all we needed to do. Was that clear? Were there any questions?

Just then, a PE teacher walked in. He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. He may or may not have been wearing a whistle, but I don't ever recall seeing him without one.

The principal was horrified. "What the hell is going on here? You are LATE! Don't you know we started this meeting twenty minutes ago?"

The PE teacher shrugged and tried to take a seat.

But the principal wasn't having it.

"LOOK at the way you are DRESSED! Are you kidding me? You wear SHORTS to school? And don't tell me it's because you're teaching PE, because the students aren't here, so you AREN'T!"

I wondered how this would go over if I tried it in my classes. I actually do give students a hard time for being late. However, I only do it if they're chronically late. If you're late once in a while, I leave you alone, with maybe a request to come on time. Also, if it were an odd day, when we weren't following a regular schedule, I'd take it very easy on lateness. When your 8 o' clock class is meeting at 11, I expect massive absence and lateness. In fact, I'm happy if you bother to show up at all.

I don't really see that as leading by example. I see it as being flexible. I don't talk to every kid the same way. I don't talk to kids the same way I talk to my colleagues. And I behave differently in different situations.

Here's something I never do--I never criticize a student's clothing. Never, ever. Some teachers will criticize that girl with the halter top and the cut-offs split to her belt loops. Not me. I've sat in disciplinary hearings with teachers who've criticized student clothing choices, and even if I hadn't I wouldn't do that. I may sometimes caution students who have obscenities emblazoned on their clothing. I'm never sure if they know how people will take it. I'm also never 100% sure that my students, with limited English, even understand what the clothing says.

Here I was, faced with a principal who did something that I would never do. The PE teacher was just dressed like a PE teacher. In fact, I dress up for work, usually with a suit and tie. On days I'm not teaching, I wear whatever. I don't see exactly why I have to get dressed up to listen to lectures. I don't see it as important to set a sartorial example when I go to meetings. Maybe the principal was mad that he had to wear a tie that day and no one else did.

Here's what I know--if I ran my class the way that principal ran that meeting, my class would be one hectic place. I would not inspire my students to do much more than hate me. I can tell you the staff was not feeling the love for that principal either that day. In fairness, maybe the principal was trying to set an example of what not to do that day.

As I recall, that principal set examples of what not to do on a fairly regular basis. There are a lot of principals and assistant principals just like that. A friend of mine just told me she asked her AP to come and observe a class she was having trouble with. The AP said, "If I come in I have to write up the lesson."

What the hell kind of support is that? None at all, I'd argue. And that's precisely the sort of support that thousands of teachers are getting these days. This problem is epidemic in NYC. The very best thing the chancellor could do, if he wanted to lead by example, is to fix this problem. It's a massive ask, though.

A whole lot of people who lead by example choose to remain teachers, and a whole lot who can't or don't become administrators. I'm friends with people in small districts who are teachers and principals. They describe a completely different situation--one in which administration supports teachers and has their backs.

That's an example for all of us to follow.

Thanks to MM.
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