Maybe Administrators and Teachers Could Get Better at Coordinating Their Respective Essential Things?

“More than 40 percent of each group [teachers and administrators who were surveyed] said love for students keeps teachers in the profession. But many teachers also pointed to retirement benefits and love for the subjects they teach as among the top three reasons they remain in the profession.” –From Denisa R. Superville’s “Principals and Teachers Don’t Always See Eye to Eye. Can Getting In Sync Reduce Turnover?

I highly recommend Denisa R. Superville’s special report for guiding discussions in our various school contexts. Reading it, I was thinking about how teachers have extremely helpful books like Dave Stuart’s These Six Things. But do administrators? Could working out the essential things help us all get better instead of bitter?

I think we could discuss some sort of version of our administrators’ handful of essential things along with our teachers’ handful of essential things. Furthermore, we’d benefit from ongoing discussions about how the two sets of essential things are doing in terms of coordination and practice throughout the year. I bet we can get better at keeping such first things first.

In terms of books that might be helpful for starting the discussion with the administrative side of essentials, I’m thinking of two: The Five Disciplines of PLC Leaders (Essentials for Principals) and the recent PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design.

As I’m rereading and reviewing these texts, I’m thinking about the simple essential questions that all of us (administrators, teachers, students, parents, and communities) need to keep asking: What are we learning? What should we be learning? What do we need to learn? What is getting in the way of learning?

As I reflect, I can’t recall meetings where we asked each other these questions. I have had countless good conversations with colleagues over such questions, but I don’t think that they tend to make it to meeting agendas.

In contrast to learning-centered questions like these, I think we often default to merely focusing on these not-so-helpful questions: What are we doing? What else can we do? These get me thinking of a really old question from John Dewey, What makes an experience educative? In their approach to Understanding by Design, Wiggins and McTighe pick this up from Dewey. Unfortunately, many educators grab Dewey’s emphasis on learning by doing, but they miss the reflection on whether the doing is really educative or just busy. (I’m not much of a Dewey fan for many reasons, but I do believe he was spot on with the importance of asking whether any given experience is rich in learning or just in looking good.)

Often, I think we miss the opportunities to discuss what we’re learning about complex problems. That seems to me to be a big part of complex literacy and complex learning. With time constraints, we can be tempted to try to stay too positive and to try to apply simplistic solutions to complex problems. Then comes the unintended consequences.

I think the most neglected yet most fruitful PLC question is simply this: What is disrupting learning? Clearly, COVID has been a disruptive force of nature, but it’s also challenged many of us to slow down and think about what is essential for learning and to reflect on what we’re learning as we wrestle with all the disruptions of the pandemic.

Denisa R. Superville’s special report has many discussion points and tips that would be excellent for further discussion, but a good place to start is with some more open and honest discussions about essentials, learning, and disruptions.

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