Beyond Old Windows: A Teacher's Thoughts Between Centuries

Phi Kappa Phi Forum Columns

Working Model

Posted on March 10, 2010 at 7:18 PM

You have the chance to go to a brand-new school without leaving town, in a redistricting plan that will reduce crowding in your old school. You can be on the ground floor of a new organization, with new faces and new opportunities....

The excitement level will be high; the town has spent millions of dollars; the administration wants this school to succeed and will no doubt showcase every accomplishment....

Everything there will be sparkling clean; you will have electrical outlets where you need them, white boards instead of chalk dust, a new furnace, a wireless computer lab....

You already know the curriculum; the parents want experienced teachers to make the move with the redistricted students; the new school's principal values a mix of old and new staff.

These are tempting arguments, but they overlook one essential key: you are comfortable where you are; the administrators in your current building are facilitators; they are co-leaders who respect each other and respect you; they are people who have made it possible for you to teach to your highest potential, and to feel satisfaction in a job well done. Why would you want to leave?

Our society has a fascination with change. Some change is unavoidable, caused by growth. Some change is desirable and leads to growth. Some change is unsettling and can derail growth. Change's success depends on many variables, including choice.

You work with a principal and a vice-principal who are co-leaders by example, administrators who are models of cooperation and collaboration each day, whose skills complement each other's, and who empower teachers and students to achieve. They make leadership look deceptively easy, as though moving a building full of staff and students in a forward motion is effortless, as though the consistent momentum of improvement requires no leading. Look at your school:

This is a school where academics are taught in teams, creating a feeling of family among students and staff. Teachers operate as team leaders, managing team funds, organizing team field trips both within and independent of the grade level, and coordinating team activities that enhance school-wide curricula. Team-leader positions are fluid, and often teams rotate the leadership role and the accompanying stipend (provided by the school district) year to year. The building administrators give full rein to the team leaders in setting team agendas for the year.

This is a place where teachers willingly run after-school clubs for students. Club leaders are compensated with a stipend that the school improvement council, made up of parents, teachers, and administrators, has defended in each school year's budget. Every week, students here work after school hours in many areas: creating a school literary magazine, a school yearbook, a school play, with all the props and costumes designed and made by students facilitated by teachers. Intramural sports are funded by the council and coached by several teachers two or three afternoons a week. After-school outings happen several times a year, organized and led by teachers. A chess club, cooking club, art club, golf club, sewing club, and a math team all meet weekly, staffed by teachers. An after-school organizational and tutorial-support club partners middle school learners with high school students, encouraged and recruited by teachers. Another group works charitably to raise public awareness and support for families in need, often collecting and distributing children's clothes, toys, and more. The building administrators encourage and publicly acknowledge teachers' and students' efforts and accomplishments in all of these areas.

The co-leaders of this building encourage teachers to creatively extend themselves within the structure of the school day as well. Four days a week, in addition to academic periods and integrated arts periods, the students attend enrichment classes, designed and led by teachers who have full freedom in creating these courses. These enrichments address subjects such as calligraphy, chess, aerospace design, debate, sewing, math problem solving, and reading for fun. Students in these classes also work as film critics, science sleuths, young authors, stock-market analysts, architectural designers, and more. Materials necessary for these enrichments are funded by the student council; with the organizational support of the vice principal and the parent organization, students hold one major fund-raising event per year. Students directly oversee the spending of the proceeds.

It seems as simple as the Golden Rule. The principal and vice principal facilitate each other's administrative role by working in tandem, collaboratively, cooperatively. As a team, they then cultivate valuable confidence in the teaching teams by recognizing teachers as talented individuals with creative styles, and by providing the teachers with the academic freedom and the tools that they need to implement course work with the students. The teachers then feel valued and work willingly in both the academic and enrichment areas, communicating confidence in and enjoyment of the subject area to their students, who are in turn able to embrace learning as an achievable and empowering activity. The students in this building have excellent, visible evidence of the positive effects of teamwork. No wonder the school's motto forms the acronym "TEAM": Together Everyone Achieves More.

The model works, and with care, it can be emulated and adopted in the new building as well. That's what leadership is really all about: collaboration, cooperation, competence, and confidence. No need to change that.

By Terry Palardy, for Bruce and Floyd, with appreciation and gratitude.

Copyright National Forum: Phi KappaPhi Journal Winter 2002


Afterword: In recent difficult recessionary budgets, the student after school program stipends are no longer a line item in the town's school budget, but have been valued enough by parents and students that they are now funded by a student activity fee paid by parents ... one more invisible source of "public" funding aside from local taxes.

Categories: collaboration

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