Front and center of tomorrow's society – learn smarter, teach harder
King Magnus Barefoot – “The king is yours for glory, not for long life.”
King David, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Henry V are a few of the warrior kings and commanders that principals should try to emulate. They were masterful in their administrative skills and military tactics, as history has shown. But the shared quality that they have that I believe school administrators should take is this: they fought on the battlefield with their troops as well. Soldiers of these fierce leaders admired their warrior kings for their willingness to fight alongside their followers. For principals and vice principals, in my opinion, this type of servant-leadership means that they should continue to teach classes during their stint as administrators. In doing so, the warrior principal can model lessons for struggling teachers, reward educators with time off, and ultimately gain and maintain respect from students and educators.
Servant leadership is a buzzword and concept I encountered during my principalship courses at the University of North Texas. It is a leadership approach made famous by Robert K. Greenleaf that states, “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” As principals and vice principals of education, what should that look like since there are so many stakeholders to serve (faculty, staff, students, parents, and community)? From the long list of stakeholders, I will choose one, the most challenging group: teachers. How can principals help serve his/her teacher community? Teach in the classroom.
Ideally, principals and assistant principals are supposed to be the master teachers on campus. These instructional leaders are up-to-date in the latest pedagogy methods, equipped with the best behavior management tactics, and keen on how to make the curriculum come alive. But how can they do that if the last time they stepped into a classroom as a teacher, Friends was the number one sitcom? Stay fresh, connected, respected through teaching while maintaining your position as a school administrator. Here are three ways how this could enhance your warrior principal/servant leader status:
Model – Show and Prove:
Why: This is like the sports coach that can still go out there and run with the team during practice (and even embarrass a few players). In stepping down to step up to the classroom, the warrior principal has the chance to showcase model lessons. Whether or not your campus has the luxury of staffing an instructional coach, your role as the warrior principal should include the responsibility of exemplifying best practices. Moreover, for the warrior principal, maintaining his/her teaching skills will keep him/her grounded to the latest curricular and pedagogical methods. In returning to the classroom, the warrior principal has the opportunity to help struggling teachers through showing how to teach and provide insight on how to improve their craft.
How: It would be a great opportunity to indulge in your favorite curricular topic to help struggling or eager-to-learn teachers a few tips. The passion that you exude from teaching your favorite subject may become infectious or even inspiring to an instructor that needs that spiritual boost.
Caveat: As with anything in the professional world, do not try to show up your colleague (in this case, the teacher) or make him/her lose face in front of the students. The warrior principal should not enter the classroom with the mantra of “Let me show you how weak and pathetic you are”. If you are teaching a period for an educator, make sure to consult with him/her on what deficiencies your lessons can help fortify. Set up a protocol on how and what they should observe during the lesson(s). The goal of your model lesson is to assist, not diss. Additionally, keep in mind that the power dynamic of the class is not the same. You are the principal and wield a lot more power than the teacher. Students know this. Teachers know this. You must be constantly cognizant of this. Make sure this factors into your assessment in how you deal with student behavior and other classroom interactions.
Reward: The Relief Teacher
Why: Why not reward a teacher a period or two or even a whole day off? The warrior principal can help reward a teacher’s excellence or need to relax through sharing a portion of the workload. This is a different way of showing love and appreciation for their hard work.
How: Let a teacher know in advance that you will replace them. You will have to plan this out with the teacher to make sure that there is continuity in the lessons. Just be prepared to help with the flow of the class’s progress.
Caveat: The warrior principal must make sure that s/he does not seem to show favoritism with this reward of substitution. You may want to have a schedule and record of whose classes you have covered to make sure you are fair. Moreover, the class may not be in your intellectual field. The warrior principal must find a way to make a positive and powerful impact on the class and allow the teacher s/he is replacing to rest at ease.
Respect: Working on Hearts and Minds
Why: The principal cannot exist in isolation. Making supervising rounds around the lunchroom and hallways are good but expected. Peeking your head into a classroom once in a while is also expected. But doing something out of the ordinary, like teaching a whole class? This will gain the respect of students and teachers alike because, like the warrior king, you are putting yourself on the frontlines. You scorned your office of comfort, safety, and detachment to stand shoulder to shoulder with those deep in the trenches. You are there to maintain connections with those who work with you (teachers) and those dear ones who you work for (students).
How: Respect yourself and fulfill your warrior principal role with the intent to achieve something bigger than you.
Caveat: In your quest for respect, haters will arise. Be prepared.
The warrior kings of old gained the respect and admiration of their troops because of their bravery and ability to exemplify greatness on the battlefield. The same with the warrior principal, taking his/her time to teach in the classroom. This action will increase their respect among educators and students while giving teachers the ability to take mental time off and observe best practices. Speaking with a colleague from South Africa, he stated that this idea is nothing new in his country. In fact, it is mandatory in many school districts that the principal has his/her class. In our American schools, we should encourage administrators to take on a class here and there to stay sharp and stay connected to the school’s mainstream.