Invest in Teacher Growth
One of the highlights of the last school year was receiving a detailed email from one of our teachers proposing a schoolwide learning activity. It included suggestions for staff correspondence, a choice of topics, and a description of a culminating writing project. After reading it, I marveled at how much this teacher had grown in one year. A classroom-focused teacher who once needed a nudge to join a committee had now become a source of an innovative instructional activity for all of our scholars. What growth!
This vignette is just one example of what ensues when assistant principals (APs) commit to cultivating a climate of teacher growth. Developing your teaching staff, whether through instructional improvement or leadership development, is an essential way for APs to contribute to improving student achievement and school culture.
Get to Know Their Strengths
To build teachers’ capacity, school leaders must know their strengths and potential growth areas. APs have a unique vantage point; they get a bird’s-eye view of teachers’ skills and pedagogical practices. By regularly conducting classroom walk-throughs with formal and informal observations, APs can get firsthand information about instruction, how the curriculum is used, and its impact on student outcomes.
Less obvious access points for a window into teachers’ abilities can be found in a review of lesson plans, teacher assessment data, student work, report card comments, and referrals. Even student disciplinary encounters can provide insights into the behavior management techniques used in the classroom.
Help Teachers Learn From Each Other
Post-pandemic classrooms are confronted with new educational demands involving instructional technology, foundational literacy and math competencies, social-emotional learning (SEL), and artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT. As a result, new and seasoned teachers alike can benefit by refining their instructional practices. APs can serve as a bridge to reduce gaps between what teachers know and what they need to learn.
As an AP, I view my teachers as the resident experts in their respective grade levels or content areas. During my walk-throughs, my goal is often to “catch teachers being good” at using high-quality instructional strategies. Having an instructional focus during walk-throughs or a checklist of look-fors also helps identify effective instructional practices and determine areas in need of growth.
The next critical step is to engage in earnest reflection about teachers’ instructional practices, followed by offering specific, evidence-based feedback and regular check-ins to ensure that the improvement strategies are being implemented in the classroom. APs can also leverage the strengths of their teachers to develop staff by:
- Sharing effective teacher practices at the start of meetings and allowing time for collective dialogue regarding how the practices improve student outcomes;
- Scheduling intervisitations so teachers can observe colleagues’ instruction and learn from one another;
- Developing research-based professional development (PD) courses that target common areas in need of instructional improvement; and
- Ensuring that teachers have regular opportunities to plan lessons and analyze student work together.
Embrace Opportunities to Distribute Leadership
One of my missions as a school administrator is to build leaders not just among students but also among teachers. As daily demands on administrators’ time and resources grow, there is a greater impetus for APs to empower teachers to take initiative and effect positive change in schools.
Empowering teachers to lead begins with relationships. Myriad opportunities arise daily for APs to build trusting relationships with their staff; they might be cultivated during evaluation, through casual conversations during morning arrivals or bus duty, or in the hallways. All of these interactions are valuable; they shed light on staff’s interests, passions, and hopes, revealing untapped resources in your building. APs can then align teachers with roles or delegate responsibilities with their strengths and interests in mind, providing support, direction, and guidance along the way.
Leadership roles can range from serving on a data team to presenting a portion of PD, or—as the teacher in the above vignette did—participating in a schoolwide committee. In your schools, that might mean asking a grade-level teacher to suggest a topic for staff PD, or it might mean asking members of your SEL team to develop a service learning project for students based on a cause they are passionate about.
Say yes to the expertise of the teachers in your building and invest in their pedagogical development. It’s a win-win for the entire school community.
Natalie Nelson is an assistant principal at Clara H. Carlson Elementary School in Elmont, New York.