15 October 2005

Walking (and Towing) the Line

Someone in our office likes to describe our positions as having "all of the responsibility with none of the authority" to make change happen. That's a pretty accurate summation. I am not an administrator. I am not an evaluator. I am "just a teacher" like all of those in the district whose work I am supporting. And yet, I am charged with encouraging teachers across the district to examine (and perhaps alter) their practices regarding the teaching of science. I am to help select instructional materials and arrange training on them. I am to guide the use of standards-based lessons in the classroom. But when the rubber meets the road in the classroom, I haven't a lick of authority to "enforce" the implementation of any of this.

This means that building positive relationships with teachers is my main hope of effecting change in their classrooms. If teachers see me as a supportive guide, they are more apt to buy what I'm selling.

My office is fortunate enough to have the resources to staff a number of full-time substitute teachers. These are then used by learning specialists to guarantee teachers for some release time for professional development. It's an awesome arrangement. And while I don't have a regular schedule for the 4 I am allotted, I have so far been able to accommodate every group request I've had from science teachers in the district.

I haven't attached any strings to using these subs---but I haven't felt like I've had to. The projects teachers are working on are, in my mind, worthwhile and about improving what happens in the classroom. What better use for "curriculum subs" could there be?

The math coach for the secondary schools isn't quite of the same school of thought on this. He's new to his position and I know he is trying to figure out what it means to do this job. But he has provided a list to math teachers in the district about what sorts of projects are acceptable. I do understand why he's done this. Curriculum is footing the bill for the release time---the department should be assured that they are paying for the kind of work that fits department goals. The problem is simply that teachers already have an "us vs. them" mentality when it comes to central office. And telling a group of Geometry teachers (for example) that their desire to work on some common lessons doesn't fit the criteria only reinforces that mentality.

Am I walking a line with this? Yep. If geometry teachers aren't supposed to work on their projects, then perhaps I shouldn't have scheduled the bio and chem teachers to do so. However, not only do I need to foster those positive relationships with them, I truly believe the work they want to do is valuable. I do have some agenda items that I would like to push, but I know that there has to be some give and take. I trust them to put kids first in their thinking and planning. Maybe they'll trust me to provide them with some additional guidance in that regard.

It's possible that there may be some requests this year that I will need to turn down. But I hope that I will be able to gently explain to teachers why it's not an appropriate use of resources and then help them find funding and support elsewhere. I don't want to lay out a set of rules at the beginning that turns them off. I hope they see me as an ally so that we can all tow the (party) line together.

1 comment:

ms. v. said...

I think you are absolutely right. Showing teachers that you trust them as professionals to know their own needs is exactly the right approach.

Maybe the next step, to add a little accountability, is that you meet with the teachers at the start of the project and agree on some useful product that will result from their release time - useful to them, and possibly useful to other teachers in the district, and useful to you as a way of justifying continuing the program. Keep it simple and make sure the product is above all what the teachers want to create, but don't be afraid to point out that this kind of covered release time is rare and that you, as their advocate, need to collect evidence to defend its continued existence.