Principals and other school leaders make a real difference to how well their students learn at school. The scary thing is that this impact is not always positive. When leaders make mistakes and act in misguided ways, student results suffer.
One costly, yet common mistake that many leaders make is failing to protect teachers from a mountain of demands that everyone else wants to place on their time. These demands are so overwhelming that teachers like Paul Usher literally hide during their non-contact time just so that they can get some class work done. This is ludicrous, but sadly all too common.
In March 2014, the Gratton Institute released a report, Making Time for Great Teaching, which argues that teachers should be relieved of most non-teaching duties.
Teachers have a limited amount of energy and time. When people place additional demands on this time, the only way that teachers can cope is to spend less time on their core business.
Of course, a teacher’s job involves more than just teaching kids. They need to spend time preparing lessons, marking children’s work and keeping their skills up-to-date. Yet, pointless paperwork, meaningless meetings and other bureaucratic balderdash adds little if any value at all. Don’t make the mistake of wasting teacher’s time.
From their first day at school at the tender age four, until they day they graduate high school, children deserve to have their teachers’ energies focused on them. Most teachers want to oblige. After all, they became teachers so that they could help kids. However, we keep making the mistake of dragging teachers away from their class work, when we would be better off doing the opposite.
The job of leaders is to buffer teachers from extraneous and distracting non-instructional issues
Allowing your teachers to focus their time and energy on helping their students learn is paramount to their success. In fact, research shows that the simple act of buffering teachers from additional demands on their time accounts for 7% of variance in student achievement. Put another way …
When you fail to protect your teachers from additional demands on their time you take their energy away from teaching their students, and this has a negative effect on student results. This is a tragic mistake. Thankfully, it is a mistake that you can avoid.
7 Ways to Avoid the Mistake
There are different ways that you can avoid the mistake. To choose the best way, you need to consider the nature of each demand on a case-by-case basis.
- Eliminate the task. Even when they are well intentioned, some things are just a waste of time. Even if they have a bit value, you have to decide if that value outweighs the core business that will be neglected as a result of forcing teachers to spend time on the task. If you have the freedom to eliminate these tasks, you should do so.
- Improve the quality of the task. Some additional tasks have the potential to be valuable, but the way they are conducted lets them down. Classic examples of this include professional development courses, moderation meetings and so-called coaching sessions. All of these activities have the potential to improve the way teachers go about their work, but only if they have been well-designed and delivered by people who know what they are talking about.
- Streamline external mandates. Of course, there will always be some mandated tasks that you must ask teachers to do – even when you don’t believe they are worth it. In these situations, you need to streamline the task to make it as quick and painless as possible.
- Outsource some tasks. Often, teachers are asked to take on additional tasks because they do it for free. The reality is that there is a still a cost – a reduction in the time they spend on their core business and a subsequent drop in student results. There may be some tasks that you could re-allocate to support staff, even if it means increasing their hours. For other tasks, it may be better to pay an outsider.
- Minimise school-based mandates. When making-up school policies, routines and procedures, you need to minimise mandates while still offering plenty of examples and guidelines. Teacher planning is a common task where this would be appropriate. When schools (or clusters) mandate certain templates for planning, teachers spend a lot more time completing their planning than when they are allowed to do it in a way that suits them.
- Invite Rather Than Insist On Collaboration. Involving people in decision-making can be great. People like to be included. Yet, it can also be overdone. Look around during most staff meetings and you will see that many people just don’t care about the topic at hand. One solution is to invite people to collaborate on an issue-by-issue basis, where teachers only come along if they want a say on a particular issue. Another more informal approach involves consulting with selected individuals, rather than holding formal meetings.
- Get Clever About What You Collaborate On. Research shows that collaboration can lead to better decisions, but only in certain circumstances. It worth collaborating on contentious issues and on important decisions where your teachers’ expertise will help you make a better decision – not on anything else.