The Unspoken Rift Between the Central Office and Teachers
After eighteen years in the classroom, I had the opportunity to move over to the administration side of education and have been the gifted coordinator for the last five years. I am part of our central office staff, assigned to the teaching and learning department, which oversees the curriculum and direction of the educational philosophy for the district.
I tell you this to provide context that I have been on both sides of things. I have been the teacher complaining about the decisions the central office has made and how it will make my job of teaching kids that much more difficult. And I have been on the side of the central office who is trying to make wholesale changes to a humongous system that would benefit students, but who cannot seem to get teachers on board.
There seems to be an us versus them dynamic going on between these two groups of people who seemingly should be moving toward the same goal. Take, for example, the sound educational practice of personalized learning. This suggestion goes to teachers, and their mindset is, “I cannot possibly do one more thing,” when in reality, the central office is not suggesting adding this practice; it is suggesting that it take the place of a more traditional strategy that probably sucks up more time. The argument on the other side of things is that teachers who want to personalize their learning and not make one size fit all get told by the central office that we need to consider equity. What we do for one student at one building should be available for all. Both groups are moving toward the same goal but getting in each other’s way.
As a result, the stereotype each entity has created for the other is that teachers are lazy and want to do what is best for themselves, while the district office is concerned more with dollars than students. Neither of which is true, but it becomes easier to blame someone else by creating this stereotype. This creates a rift between the two where nothing gets done because the other is preventing it. This then creates mistrust between the two.
To give you a specific example, I had a teacher come to me in a panic. We were handling the professional development requirement that the district had for teachers by allowing them to choose PD that was personalized to their specific needs and would not be a waste of their time because it was something that should be meaningful to them. This teacher was very concerned because a group of half a dozen teachers and myself had decided to read a book together and have weekly discussions over it. I had neglected to go into the district spreadsheet and indicate that this teacher had indeed been in attendance at this meeting, thus fulfilling the PD requirement.
“It’s really no big deal, I’ll get it put in by the end of the week,” I tried reassuring her.
“No, you have to put it in today, or I might get in trouble,” she said, not placated by my solution.
“Who are you going to get in trouble with?”
“But I’m with the district office and I’m telling you it’s not something to worry about.”
“But they are going to see that my name is not in there and I haven’t met the PD requirement.”
“Who exactly are they?”
“Do you really think there is someone at the district office who has the time to go through all of those names from all the different schools and determine who is on it and who is not?”
“It will look like I wasn’t there, though and they might come after me.”
“Who is going to come after you? Have you ever seen someone from the district office come into the school in order to come after someone?”
“I guess not.”
“So, what are you worrying about?”
“I just would like it to be done.”
I get told all the time by teachers; the central office told me I have to do this. I always ask them, “who specifically told you this?” Usually, the answer is “well, no one specifically.” Or a central office staff member complains about a single teacher, characterizing them as representing all teachers when, in fact, it is not the norm.
I think it is really important that we realize that we are all playing for the same team. The problem is that teachers get caught up with their individual classes and don’t look at the big picture. At the same time, the district is firmly looking at the big picture, not realizing all of the repercussions and ripples these decisions are going to have on the classroom teachers. There needs to be a mindset shift where we are all working together to ultimately do what is best for kids. There are three things these two groups can do in order to shift this mindset.
1. Communicate – when a teacher wants to share an idea, there is this chain of command it has to go through. The teacher tells her department head, the department head tells the principal, the principal tells the curriculum coordinator, the curriculum coordinator tells his director…you get the general picture. In this chaotic game of telephone, messages get altered, and by the time it makes it through all of it, there may not be any time to act on it. The central office fairly gets criticized for putting up walls between themselves and the teachers. I get the whole chain of command thing, but this is not the military nor a big business; this is an entity that should be teaching kids. Ideas are gold and should be shared with the people that have the most influence to offer help with those changes, whether it be time, resources, or funding. The central office needs to do a better job of making themselves available.
2. Communicate – no, I did not mistype this. Communication is also important in that teachers often want to complain about something without considering the reasoning behind it or complain about something but don’t offer a different suggestion to make it better. I was as guilty of this as anyone while a teacher. It is bitching for bitching’s sake, and it gets no one anywhere. The philosophy should be, “I’m not going to complain about something unless A) I get the entire story as to the WHY, or B) come up with a better solution.” This way, it is not bitching; it is providing productive feedback.
3. Communicate – hopefully, you have gotten the point by now. This communication comes in that both sides need to quit blaming the other when something is not working. They need to first and foremost consider the needs of the student(s). How will the student benefit? How can we make this happen for the student? Is this in the best interest of the student, not the district, the community, the union, or the individual adult? Communicate that and everything will take care of itself.
So the next time you get mad at the central office for giving you one more thing to do or complain about that teacher who wants to take the easy way out, remember the kid is the one most affected when the adults don’t communicate effectively. Keep them in mind.