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Exception or Extinction as an Administrator: It Is Yours to Choose

by Dr. Bruce Ellis
administrator

If you are like many educators, you may really enjoy teaching. But at some point, you may want to move up the ladder to work in administration. Having classroom experience can give you a tremendous understanding when working with other teachers. The dilemma, though, is that the further your position is from your classroom position, the less likely you are to remember what it was like (REALLY like) in the classroom. If you don’t make the effort to keep in touch with classroom teachers and their reality, you as an administrator run the risk of becoming extinct and of less value. But, with some effort, you can find that you are the exception to that rule (and possibly some of your colleagues) and are able to continue providing extremely relevant support.

In order to help you maintain value, you need to regularly engage with classroom teachers, have discussions of their troubles and their triumphs with their students, and learn how various programs are impacting their classroom instruction. Here are a few strategies and tools that you can use to keep in touch with classroom teachers so you can be the exception to the rule of becoming extinct.

Strategies for Staying in Touch

Make Scheduled Classroom Visits – It is very easy as a district administrator for your time to be consumed by the important but mundane tasks that go along with the job description. If you aren’t careful, you may find that without intentionality, you can go weeks without setting foot in a classroom! To help prevent this from happening, choose one day every week in which you will visit classrooms. Depending on how many campuses your district has, you may find that only a few hours for that day is adequate for you to stay acquainted with what is going on in the classroom. Besides looking for particular aspects of your content area within classrooms, consider asking questions such as the ones listed below.

Questions for Teachers Questions for Students
  • How can the district better support you as a teacher?
  • What additional tools or resources might you need to be more effective?
  • What are some of the successes you see in your classroom?
  • What are you working on?
  • How do you know when you have done well?
  • What can you do if you don’t know what is expected?
  • What would you like to do when you graduate?

Recognizing Success and/or Effort – Many teachers are doing a fantastic job. Unfortunately, they may invest many hours a week that go unnoticed and thus grapple with how to successfully differentiate instruction so they can best meet their students’ needs. In recognizing educators for success and/or effort, you need to have a general  understanding of what the teachers are up against. Is it a mismatched curriculum that they are expected to align themselves? Are teachers having to be creative and resourceful in order to provide adequate access to engaging content? Is there adequate training and ongoing professional development to understand how to implement research-based strategies with fidelity? The better you can understand what your teachers are experiencing, the more meaningful your recognition will be.

Annual Focus Group – It is likely that you have many teachers in your district that care enough about teaching to give honest feedback. Consider identifying some of these teachers from a variety of campuses and a variety of content areas and ask for feedback. Provide the questions ahead of time and then make yourself available at a convenient time and place for them to share. For those that aren’t able to attend in person, allow them to share via an email or form. Gathering input from your teachers will give you great data to help inform possible needs for the next budget year.

Tools to Assist in Staying in Touch

Appear.in – This no-brainer online conferencing tool doesn’t require anyone but you to have an account. Consider using this tool to have virtual office hours or just-in-time professional development and discussions. Besides the basic video conferencing you can do, you and participants can also share their computer desktop and chat via texting within the tool. This freemium tool allows up to four people to collaborate. Additional tools are available in the pro version for administrators wanting a more robust product.

Zoom.us – If you are wanting a simple webinar platform to connect with and collaborate with teachers, consider giving Zoom a try.  The free version allows up to 100 participants, but limits you to 40 minutes per meeting…which may be perfect for most of what you want to accomplish.

Google Voice – Being available to others sometimes means sharing your phone number with them…but you may not feel comfortable sharing your personal number with everyone. That’s where Google Voice is a perfect solution. You can set it up so if your office or other number(s) ring, it will automatically be directed through your Google Voice number. What I like most about having a Google Voice number is that it texts me a transcription of the voicemail that the caller left; for me, checking texts is much faster than listing to a long voicemail. Google Voice is free, so it fits every budget!

Otter Voice Notes – In this technological age, why not have artificial intelligence help you out and make life easier? If you are having a face-to-face meeting, a phone call/conference, or a video conference, Otter Voice Notes will listen and transcribe everything for you. The audio and text are conveniently synced making it easy to search later. You can also easily share the transcript. Otter also identifies keywords to help you find information quickly. You can even train Otter to recognize voices, learn special terminology, and improve accuracy.  The free account allows up to 600 minutes of transcription per month!

Voicea – Similar to Otter Voice Notes, Voicea uses artificial intelligence to assist you in turning talk into action. EVA, the Enterprise Voice Assistant, joins meetings (personal and online) and takes notes for you, which allows you the freedom to focus on the meetings instead of being distracted by taking notes. Identify key words for EVA to listen for during meetings. Notes and action items can be automatically sent to email, Slack, and other applications to assist in keeping everyone on the same page. The free version allows up to 25 minutes of audio recordings per meeting with up to 150 minutes per month in transcripts and predictive highlights.

Flipgrid – If you find that it may be like herding cats to get everyone together for a meeting (even an online meeting), then consider using Flipgrid. You can create video conversations that can be reviewed at anyone’s convenience and transcripts can be generated on the fly. You and teachers can give feedback via text, video, and/or social liking. This is an easy way to document and share great teaching that is happening in one classroom so that other teachers can benefit from viewing it, though they may not be able to physically visit that classroom due to time or distance constraints.

Whether you choose one of these strategies or tools or a combination, you are sure to have a better understanding of what teachers experience in the classroom. That experience will pay off by allowing you to design better supports and structures as you continue to strive for excellence in your role.

Other Ideas for Staying Connected

Have you moved up from the classroom, but have been able to stay connected and “in the know” with what is going on in the classrooms? If so, leave us a comment and share how you have made your experience the exception in order to provide the best service possible for your teachers. We’d love to hear from you!

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