It doesn’t always cost money

Yesterday’s post, “In their shoes” drew a number of comments.  I enjoyed going through reading and “likeing” them all.  There were some great observations from those that commented.  Nobody defended the status quo so I guess that’s a message that we still have a ways to go.  Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment.

The post did come from me with my tongue firmly between my teeth on a couple of items.  The observation that there are typically 5 minutes between classes correctly identified that it’s often all taken up getting from one classroom to another in secondary schools.  Heaven forbid that you might have to do something else.  That time period could be extended by another 5 minutes easily to allow for nature or locker breaks and just a chance to stretch your legs.  Sitting for a long period is indeed tiring.  I wonder how many other changes could be easily made.

Then, I got an email from a principal, not a comment.  Uh oh.  The tone was a little different and she noted that rules are crucial to maintaining discipline and order within a school.  Extending the five minutes would allow for more opportunity for students to do things unsupervised.  Whatever happened to mutual respect?  I’d suggest that you could even give it a try to see how students responded and if it had an impact on classroom performance if you had another five minutes to stretch your legs.

I was also informed that busing was the job of the administration and not of the school and it goes to the lowest bidder.  That’s true so, unfortunately, we won’t be seeing any highway coaches on the road anytime soon!

There are things that can be addressed by the school and then there are things that are out of their hands.  We all know that.

What of the things that can be addressed within the school?

I think back to an administration that I had early in my teaching career.  I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m one of those “early to work” people.  Yeah, I’m one of “them”.

But what surprised me, at the time, was that no matter what time I arrived at school, either the principal or vice-principal or both were already there.  The caretakers opened the building at 6 and I’d be there 6:30-7:00 and there they were.  As a new teacher, I just figured it was part of the job.  The consistency of that impressed me so I just had to ask.

As is my approach, I made an appointment and typically started with a smart aleck remark.  “Don’t you guys ever go home?”  Their answer surprised me.  For the record, yes they did.

However, it was their style and their decision that one of them would always be there before the teachers arrived.

Why?  I still remember two of their answers and I thought that I’d follow their lead if I ever reached that position.

First, they wanted to make sure that there was an administrator in the house to address any early morning concerns from staff.  They were there to make phone calls, take orders, or request caretaker assistance to make things right.

Secondly, they realized that there were times that a teacher left work frustrated with one thing or another.  They wanted to be there to greet the teacher and ask if there was anything that they could do.  The goal was to ensure that everyone started with a clear mind and no baggage from the previous day.

There may have been other reasons but those two still stick in my mind.  Their simple action didn’t cost any money; to my knowledge, they never made their actions known.  I only knew because I had taken the time to ask.

I wonder what other changes could be made for the betterment of students or staff that wouldn’t cost any money and just need some dedication to identify a situation and then address it.

What could you do to make things better at your school without costs involved?

 

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5 thoughts on “It doesn’t always cost money

  1. I’m not sure if I have any more suggestions to add here, but two things that you said really hit home. The first was a comment about additional time between classes, and the principal’s concern. The comment about “free time” struck me, as I just had a conversation recently on this topic. Some educators were saying that their kids don’t know how to use “free time” (the comment was made in regards to outdoor time). This made me think about Kindergarten. Every morning, we start our day outside. We’re outside for at least an hour (sometimes more), and we don’t plan this time. We observe students carefully, look for learning opportunities, and extend this learning with questions … but there’s no planning. Our kids have no problem using this “free time” well, but I constantly hear that students in all other grades do (and I’m not even necessarily talking at my school — I’ve heard this comment for years at multiple schools, and have even made it at times). When I heard the comment recently, I questioned, “why?” There was the comment made about over-programming of students with extracurriculars, but all of our K’s are in extracurriculars too (including some rep sports). I made this comment and said, “so why the difference?” Eventually I asked, “is it because we don’t provide enough of this time as students move up in the grades? With curriculum demands, are we worried about giving this ‘free time?'” But by not giving students some more of it, trusting them to make good decisions, problem solving with them when necessary, and making links to curriculum expectations in those ‘ordinary moments,’ do we continue to perpetuate a system where we worry that students can’t use ‘five extra minutes’ well?

    The second was the comment about your old administrative team. I’ve had a number of administrators that come in really early (and like you, I’m one of the first ones at work). There are even some that are there just around the time that I am. What really got me on the first day of school this year, is that my new principal always pops in and says, “hello,” every morning. He checks in with all staff constantly. “How are you? What can I do to help?” Even when he’s busy and stressed, he’s still smiling, positive, and ALWAYS making time for the staff. When I sent him an email this year about a problem, he made sure to come in and see me first thing the next day, reassure me that we would problem solve together, and then let me finish setting up before meeting with me. He also has this wonderful circle table in his office, and every time you go to see him, he pulls away from the computer, moves away from his phone, looks right at you (and if you’re staying for a longer time, moves to the round table), so that you — and your questions or concerns — become the most important thing in that room. I think there’s something to be said for that … regardless of if you’re a student or staff member. This is something “free” he does, but with big benefits.

    Curious to hear what others have to say about this …
    Aviva

    P.S. It turns out I did have one more thing to add, or at least an extension of what you added. 🙂

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  2. Ah, the difference between the administrator who comes in early to make sure things are working right and to support students and teachers and the administrator who stand by the time clock to “get” any teacher who’s a couple of seconds late.

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  3. What I find interesting is that, in my experience, many teachers and administrators don’t get the “big picture” – something I plan to blog about soon. They only see the view from within their subject based blinders. The emphasis on evaluating students (and teachers) on ridiculous test scores has made matters even worse.

    When I started teaching, we had homeroom every day – ostensibly a short 10 minute block to give distribute materials but really a 10 or so minute block of programmed down time every day where kids could just chill. It was also a set group that remained together for four years so regardless of your classes you had a consistent community defined by your homeroom.

    Of course, the administration and teachers couldn’t stand for this loss of instructional time (and many teachers resented the paperwork even though when I started the paperwork was ridiculous but within a year or two of my being in the system it had been reduced to almost nothing).

    So, homeroom went from every day to once a week to only when needed to never and materials were distributed in English class or during a set period (third for us) which was extended by 5 minutes.

    Now, over my 26 years teaching I’ve for the most part taught classes ranging from 38 minutes to 43 minutes and you know what? Over the course of a year, it really doesn’t make a difference as long as I have time to prepare. The minutes gained made not one bit of difference to the kids but they lost some important downtime and a community base.

    It’s a shame that so few teachers and administrators got it.

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  4. I think the role of the administrator is to act as those mentioned in the comments by Doug and Ava. The primary role of the principal should be to support staff, students, and parents. The teachers need to be allowed to teach and teaching is certainly the hardest job in education. My philosophy as principal was always what can I do to make your job easier? I respect what you do, I know how hard it is, what needs to be done to make you more effective?
    I was never a fan of those who wanted to pressure teachers to do ‘more’ or to drive up the test scores – a ridiculous venture at the best of times.
    There are lots of great administrators out there, but also lots who never seem to understand that they are really in the school to play a support or servant role. Maybe it has something to do with a mistaken understanding of what it truly means to be a leader in an educational community.
    One thing that I can add to this conversation. While it is essential that principals support their staff and see that as their primary responsibility, it also should go without saying that principals also need support from people at the district office. This, unfortunately, does not always happen, in fact in my experience, board officials often did not support our efforts to do the work we needed to do.
    I think this takes place because there are different understandings of what administrators are supposed to do. Many believe that principals are agents of the school board and must always put the interests of the board first.
    I didn’t believe that was our primary responsibility, which probably explains why I struggled to work with some of the officials at the school board level.
    Whatever you believe, it should be children first. We should support what is good for our teachers because they know what is best for our kids.

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