Old School vs. New School

Perspectives on Leadership

01/07/2018  |  Foreword by Deirdre Edwards
LEADERSHIP
image

Being an educator is a true calling.  It takes a passion for education and a love of community to become the educator-leader needed for successful learning environments. Assuming this leadership role is no easy feat and administrators are the backbone/leaders of a great school and school district.

In The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Challenges for School Leadership, conducted five years ago, there was a lot to say about leadership and the principal’s role. This survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, shed light on the perspectives of teachers, principals, and thought leaders in education. Some of the major findings in education leadership:

  1. Eighty-nine percent respondents of teachers and principals felt the principal should be held accountable for everything that happens in the school
  2. The majority of principals and teachers feel that managing the school budget and resources are very challenging for leaders
  3. While most principals and teachers felt that each role was doing a pretty good job, about 69 percent of teachers say they are not interested in becoming principals (The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, 2012).

Five years later, has much changed? Just how do administrators lead their schools and districts to success in 2017-2018? What motivates them daily in education? What steps did they take to assume this role? We realize these are major questions for current administrators and administrators-to-be. In this feature of SEEN, we wanted to explore the principal’s perspective of education, how they view the role, and what advice they would give any teacher aspiring to go into an administrative role. We reached out to two principals, one with less than a year experience and another with 15 years of experience as an administrator. Read on to see what they have to say about leading in education today.

Meet Dr. Myron Davis. Davis is the principal of Kenneth Gardner Elementary in Kingstree, South Carolina (Williamsburg County School District). With a new perspective on “principalship,” this is what he had to say about being an administrator:

 

SEEN: How long have you been in your current administrative role? What was your background prior to your administrative role? Size of school and staff?

Davis: I have been in my current administrative role for four months. My previous background before this role was Literacy Coach, Assistant Principal/Consultant, and a teacher in grades three through six in various subjects. The size of my school is approximately 415, third through fifth grade students, and we have a total of 25 certified teachers and a number of paraprofessionals and office staff team members.

SEEN: What is a “normal” day for you?

Davis: A normal day for me is to be in the classrooms, making myself visible throughout the building, returning calls, attending to the needs of the faculty, staff and students, making sure that teaching and learning time is protected as much as possible. Being an instructional leader is about the teaching and the learning; therefore, during a “normal” school day, that’s where I can be found — right in the thick of things. 

SEEN: How do you prepare for your day/week/month at Kenneth Gardner Elementary?

Davis: One of the ways that I prepare for work for the day/ week/ month at Kenneth Gardner Elementary is by constantly reflecting on how to make things better. Another way that I prepare to be effective at Kenneth Gardner Elementary School is to meditate and talk to God. Even sometimes this takes place during my morning commute; this is a special time because some of the most extraordinary ideas come to me during that time concerning what I do as principal.   

SEEN: With this new administrative role, what are some of the things that have surprised you the most about the job and community? 

Davis: One of the things that has surprised me most about this job and community is that everyone who says they want what is best for children, do not always. Another thing that has surprised me the most about the job is that the job of principal is lonely at the top. Decisions made in this role are based from a professional standpoint to address the needs of the school community — i.e. students, staff, parents, stakeholders. To be an effective decision-maker and leader, a principal cannot make decisions based on personal opinion. Sometimes my decisions are not popular because they are taken personally by some affected by them.     

SEEN: What are some of the challenges you face as an administrator? 

Davis: One of the challenges I face as an administrator is funding. We are in a rural and poor school district in South Carolina and a lot of the children that we serve do not bring a whole lot of experiences that could help them bridge prior knowledge with the knowledge that the teachers are attempting to transfer. The students come to school already behind a large number of their peers, yet they are expected to perform just as well as students in other non-rural and more affluent places. Another challenge that I face, as an administrator, is trying to keep parents, faculty and staff, and students focused on the end. We are attempting to transform lives, but we need all stakeholders to know that they have a distinct role in ensuring that all children are successful. If our students have these ingredients in place, and we are all going in the same direction then I believe it just helps to secure their futures. 

SEEN: Do you feel your previous role prepared you for the position you’re currently in?

Davis: Yes, I do believe that my previous role allowed me to be mentored by some great, great leaders. My former principal trained me as she was trained and that is to be an instructional leader, to focus on the reason why we enter the school building each day. One of my previous positions had a major curriculum emphasis, and I feel that being able to “unpack” the curriculum is key to being a successful instructional leader.  

SEEN: What are some of the effective ways you’ve learned to communicate with your faculty and staff?

Davis: Some of the effective ways that I learned to communicate with faculty and staff is first and foremost through my modeling the expectation. Secondly, I keep them informed through Padlet, email, newsletters, Edivate, and face-to-face. These methods seem to work well with communicating. 

SEEN: As an administrator, your communications also extend to your direct manager — the superintendent. How are those conversations different from the conversations you have with your staff? We all know school districts, while education-centered, are still very much a business. What are some of the general topics — from an administrative side — that you discuss such as budget, staffing, etc.?

Davis: My communications with my direct manager is just her availability. We speak about personnel matters, and she often asks how are things going.  We communicate through text messaging, and she even calls sometimes. She understands that we are dealing with some distinct challenges in our present culture that is prevalent throughout the world, but believes that the schools can be successful. Most recently, I had a conversation with the superintendent during American Education Week. She had breakfast with the District Teacher of the Year and some of our student leaders. She asked questions and communicated very well with all of us. She provided opportunity in the conversation for student leaders to talk, giving me some great feedback from the students.

SEEN: Do you aspire to become a superintendent? If so, how do you best prep for that role? Do you have mentors in place within the district to ensure you’re successful in your career pursuits? 

Davis: I want to first state that I do not view this role as merely a job, I see this role as my calling. As long as I am doing what I am called to do, then I will be happy. I truly enjoy seeing lives impacted for the good no matter what role I am holding. If a superintendent’s role unfolds, then I would weigh my pros and cons, but for now I am pleased with what I am doing. I just want to make a quantifiable difference in the lives of our young people. I want to see our children succeed, that’s my number one goal! 

SEEN: Education has rapidly changed in just a few short years  — and it’s not slowing down. From the way we teach to the way we handle administrative duties, everything is in flux constantly. How do you view the field of education today as a career choice? What keeps you and motivates you to stay in this field? 

Davis: Yes, it is very true that the field of education is changing rapidly and some view this field as unattractive, but that’s why we must be called to education and not just enter the field as having a job. This is a work of the heart!  We have to remind ourselves that each child has good deposited in them from God and it is up to us to creatively bring the best out of the child whether it is through building relationships or through some extrinsic motivation. What we do by investing our time and talents on a daily basis will one day effect how the world shapes up in the future and probably in our lifetime. We as educators get to help shape our own future. Our students are learners becoming leaders of this world! 

SEEN: What advice would you give someone looking to become an administrator?

Davis: The advice that I would give an aspiring administrator is to study administrators that do it well. There is not one person that is the total package, but there is at least one thing that each administrator does extremely well that anyone could come along and put in their arsenal for the time when they will become an administrator. If this is done effectively then when the administrative job comes along, then you have already assimilated best practices so you will more than likely start off ahead of the game. Also, an important part to achieving in any area is to read about the craft, there are many successful administrators that have written books about administration that will cause anyone who read to experience the leaps and bounds without having to experience the struggle that the person writing had to go through.  

SEEN: What goals are you looking forward to achieving in 2018? 

Davis: One of the main goals that I am looking forward to achieving is to have a large percentage of our students meet the required score on the standardized tests in the Spring.  First and foremost, that is number one because student growth and achievement is the name of the game.  We are an educational institution that has a job to do, which is to move our students to the next level of success. The next goal that I have for 2018 would be to retain a highly qualified faculty and staff that has bought in to the vision and mission of the school. Since we are in a definite teacher shortage nationally it is hard to find good teachers. We are constantly investing in our teachers and I do not like the idea of investing in making teachers better and they leave before we are able to see the rewards of the investment. 

Meet Brian Partin. Partin is the principal at Ross N. Robinson Middle School in Kingsport, TN. In addition to being a veteran administrator with 15 years of experience, Partin is also the current NAESP President (National Association of Elementary School Principals). Here is Partin’s take on being an administrator:

SEEN: How long have you been in your current administrative role?

Partin: This is my third year at Robinson Middle School. 

SEEN: What was your background prior to your administrative role? 

Partin: I served as a third-grade teacher for five years.

SEEN: Size of school and staff?

Partin: We are a sixth through eighth grade school and have around 950 students

SEEN: What is a “normal” day for you?

Partin: I’m not sure there is a normal day; however, most start with greeting students at the front door or bus stop, followed by a combination of meetings with parents, staff and students, classroom visits, lunch duty, possibly an observation unless there are grade level collaborative meetings scheduled. At the end of the school day, I’m back at the front door to say good bye and to supervise dismissal. After dismissal, there may be staff or administrative meeting, usually followed by some type of sporting event, which could last until six or 10:30 p.m. depending on the sport.

SEEN: How do you prepare for your day/week/month as an administrator? 

Partin: My calendar is critical in helping me stay organized. It includes all district and school level events that are usually entered by my secretary. Once added, they automatically appear on my Google calendar. We create a master calendar of events as far in advance as possible. Ideally, I like to use the summer time to map out key events for the year. 

SEEN: What are some of the things that have surprised you the most over the years about the role and the communities you’ve worked with?

Partin: Community support and messaging are critical to the success of any school. People can misrepresent your school, so it’s imperative that you are proactive in telling and sharing your school’s story, both online and in-person, to your community and key leaders. 

SEEN: What are some of the challenges you have faced as an administrator?

Partin: Trying to provide a schedule that allows all students equitable access to the full curriculum with appropriate supports is certainly a challenge. 

SEEN: What are some of the most effective ways you’ve learned to communicate with your faculty and staff?

Partin: This is an area that requires constant attention and fluctuates depending on the preferences of the faculty and staff. Currently, I send an electronic memo to the teachers and staff on a weekly basis. Other correspondence includes emails and individual and group conferencing. To promote special events throughout the community, we are currently using our school system’s media outlets that include our radio station, Twitter and Facebook. 

SEEN: As an administrator, your communications also extend to your direct manager — the superintendent. How are those conversations different from the conversations you have with your staff?

Partin: They are less frequent and a little more formal often centered on a set agenda. 

SEEN: We all know school districts, while education centered, are still very much a business. What are some of the general topics — from an administrative side — that you discuss with your superintendent such as budget, staffing, etc.?

Partin: For sure, we review our mission and core values at the beginning of every meeting.  Topic discussions vary depending on the time of year; however, they certainly include budget, curriculum and instruction, strategic plan and any other key initiatives for the year.

SEEN: Do you aspire to become a superintendent?

Partin: Possibly, but I do love being a principal. 

SEEN: If so, how have you prepped for that role?

Partin: Tennessee has an aspiring superintendent academy that I would try to attend if I were to pursue that option in the future.

SEEN: Education has rapidly changed in just a few short years and it’s not slowing down. From the way we teach to the way we handle administrative duties, everything is in flux constantly. How do you view the field of education today as a career choice? What keeps you and motivates you to stay in this field?

Partin: There is no doubt that it is challenging and ever-changing, whether it be assessment, funding, or standards, something is constantly being revised or newly introduced. The only constant, which is why I do what I do, are the students and teachers. I love working with students and teachers and believe in their abilities to do incredible things. They deserve to have a leader who believes in them and is willing to go the extra mile to help remove barriers in order for them to reach their full potential.

SEEN: What advice would you give someone looking to become an administrator?

Partin: Your network is important, so you need to surround yourself with people who understand the work and can mentor you through the process.  It can be a very lonely position at times, so you need to join your state and national associations, attend their meetings and conferences to connect with other principals. The support and resources they can provide are too valuable to pass up. 

SEEN: What does it take to be a leader? 

Partin: Personally, I feel that you need to have a strong desire to serve others in hopes of improving their personal and professional well-being. 

SEEN: What goals are you looking forward to achieving in 2018?

Partin: Professionally, we are working toward are system’s strategic plan goals which are focused on both academic and achievement growth in math and reading. This includes narrowing the gaps between our identified subgroups and finding ways to provide equitable access for all learners to the courses and opportunities that are available in our district.  Personally, I’m looking forward to completing my doctoral requirements and graduate from Lipscomb University in 2018.

Comments & Ratings
rating
  Comments

There is no comment.