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Keeping Your Pencils Sharp - Advice for Executive Teachers in High Schools

Discussion in 'Australia - Staffroom' started by kellyocs, Dec 19, 2017.

  1. kellyocs

    kellyocs New commenter

    If you stay in teaching long enough you will most likely experience the best and the worst of executive teachers and every shade in between. The following are some hopefully helpful tips on being the very best teacher leader for your junior (not necessarily younger) staff.

    How to (not) Throw Water on the Fire

    The best teaching requires passion. A passion for the subject matter being taught that makes you want to share it with your students and a passion for the general impartation of knowledge and understanding. Passionate teachers will tell you that they live for the moments when they see the light of understanding switch on in the minds of their students. In most schools staffing budgetary and timetabling constraints mean that some staff will be required to teach outside of their areas of expertise or to teach a range of classes that require more patience and perseverance than others.

    The vast majority of teachers are resilient enough to cope with 'hard work' classes if there is a balance between these and the 'aahh' classes. Aahh classes are those breath of fresh air classes that remind you of the reason you got into teaching in the first place. Sadly some school's staffing allocations are done according to 'first in best dressed' principles. New staff, especially those who are transfers from elsewhere, are often shoe horned into positions that don't really fit their experience or expertise. In practical terms in a school that has six years of high school every teacher's load should be spread evenly between junior, middle and senior classes and this should include executive teachers who still have a face to face component of their work load.

    It is easier to maintain confidence in the leadership of an executive teacher whose face to face teaching allocation includes junior or 'difficult' classes and it gives them a broader understanding of the character of students throughout the whole school. At times staffroom morale concerning difficult classes can be a bit like that of comrades under fire. How encouraging it is to have a lieutenant who is constantly going into battle with you.

    The allocation of 'out of expertise' classes should only ever be done according to teacher interest and engagement. The very last thing you want in a classroom is a teacher with less enthusiasm for the subject than their students. Teachers who are passionate about their subject exude an enthusiasm that becomes infectious. There is so much anecdotal evidence from ex students that this is the case. They have gone on to do this because of this particular teacher. Yet another reason to teach. If it is done in due consideration of the teachers interests and leanings, teaching out of subject area can be professionally refreshing and help develop new skills and cross curriculum understandings. In small schools it can also help students to develop a greater understanding of the teacher as a 'real' person with interests outside their normal teaching role.

    Communicating Praise and Motivation

    It has never ceased to amaze me that in educational institutions, with all the great emphasis on principles of consistent positive reinforcement and praise for students, school executives generally fail to recognize the efficacy that these same principles could have if applied to teaching staff. How often do we hear from executive staff genuine and enthusiastic praise for the teachers in their charge? It is most often left to end of year presentation and award nights where it also serves as a marketing tool for the school.

    It goes without saying that the most gratifying praise for a teacher will always be that given by a student or their parent and this usually at the end of a difficult and prolonged struggle. What about the day to day? Apart from those moments of seeing 'the light go on' in their students what encouragement and motivation are classroom teachers given on a daily basis? The best executive teachers will always be those who have a heart to not only encourage the students they deal with on a regular basis but also to encourage their teaching colleagues in like kind. Frequent positive communication, recognition of and praise for achievement, and the allocation of duties, trusting in their completion under minimal supervision, all go a long way towards developing confident and efficient teachers. It has been my experience that most teachers will also welcome visits by executive teachers to their classroom as long as this is done within the true spirit of collegiality and for the purpose of encouraging them in their work and professional development.

    Professional Challenges

    Contrary to popular thinking regarding the rights of students and parents to challenge and have an input in classroom decision making, effective classroom management requires that the teacher have sole authority within the confines of their classroom, and that this authority be fully supported by executive staff. Concerns regarding a teacher's classroom efficiency or practice should never be allowed to be voiced directly at the teacher and they should not be readily accepted as evident proof that requires a defense on the teachers part. In any other arena these things could be considered as accusations of professional incompetence or worse. This is why it is vitally important that executive both know and respect the professionalism of those who come under their leadership and are well equipped with this knowledge and respect to field any questions that may arise.

    Life to Work Ratio

    Getting the most out of your staff requires some knowledge of, and interest in, them as a person rather than just another teacher at your school. So many good teacher's, including executive teachers, burn out early because of excessive workload. The blame for this can usually be equally attributed to workplace demands and the demands that the teacher places on themselves. Good leadership needs to be able to identify the signs of overwork and provide relief by delegation of responsibilities, providing additional time for work to be completed, or even simply ordering staff to 'go home' when they are still at school long after normal working hours. With the advent of the internet and mobile phones it is often the case that even going home will not stop staff working when they should be recreating. Schools that allow senior students to contact their teachers out of hours regarding their work should consider creating a written policy limiting the time and frequency of calls to teachers out of hours and during holiday breaks. We work to live. It should never be the other way around.

    ©2017 Steve Kelly aka kellyocs
    kaylawilson4 likes this.

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