When you and/or your school is seen as doing well by an external agency, it does help limit the subjective and often very harsh internal critiquing that occurs in all ambitious schools that want to be doing the best for its constituents and NOW. To this end, this article is the first of many as to what I personally see as key ingredients for a #coolschool. The first key ingredient I believe is essential for in a #coolschool is that the leaders teach in theory, and in practice.
Despite my official position at Aorere being Deputy Principal (Academic Mentoring, Assessment & Reporting, and Aorere Digital), I am and always will be tied and committed to being the best teacher and learner I can possibly be. Now for the poor impressionable young souls who are in my one class each year, they for better or for worse get all of my teaching commitment and energy whereas for a full-time teacher, these students would get the equivalent of 1/5 of this teacher's energy and resources. But why is it so important and effective that the senior management, leadership are in the classroom? I love the saying "don't talk the talk, walk the talk." It's very difficult for a senior leader to be advocating change in the classroom when they are not consistently in and of this environment. To be in the same learning spaces as fellow teachers enables leaders to guide from the outside from having experience of the inside. What is maybe rather unique about our Senior Leadership Team (SLT) is that all of us teach, including our principal Greg Pierce. Greg is a firm and fervent advocate of principals serving inwards and the local community first and foremost, and indeed walks the talk through supervising our weekly academic catch-up sessions. I alongside our associate principal and a fellow deputy principal have Year 11 mixed-ability English classes while the remaining deputy principal has a Year 10 Business Studies class. In line with us being teachers in this context and not administrators or heaven forbid managers (no teacher should be called a manager outside of co-curricular undertakings, just my opinion) also attend department meetings as teachers, educators.
When a senior leader first meets their students at the beginning of a year, there is obviously in some ways, more ease of control and influence over the students initially due to our positions and visibility in the school's hierarchy. However such control and influence is quickly extinguished if the students sense an administrator is in the classroom with them over a learning facilitator or teacher. I might be going out on a limb here but I'd argue in some ways, our status outside the classroom does make it harder in some ways to be perceived and accepted as a educator in a learning space. What I love about the Aorere students is that very quickly, they come to see and yes judge me on my ability not to teach or as a senior leader but on my ability to create an effective engaging,learning and achieving space for them. In all honesty, I think some students do struggle to understand that this one person does have two roles 1) the serious senior leader and in my portfolios, administrator and 2) the somewhat over-enthusiastic, English teacher that looks the same person but acts shall we say, rather differently in the classroom context. I know the other senior leaders in their learning contexts also find themselves in the same situation. One of them despite their status struggled to get the students focused and on task and to reduce their off-task talking. Despite some initial hesitation, they allowed students to listen to music in the classroom while doing certain work and what happened? The talking stopped, the work-rate and quality of work increased and everyone was happy and learning!
The other major benefit of leaders being teachers is that we are on the receiving end of any major classroom-located or pedagogical decisions. This removes the option of "all care and no responsibility" as we are not in the habit of making things harder or more problematic for ourselves, let alone our teaching peers. If some strategic or learning decision is not working in our learning spaces, we know straight away, learn first-hand and can quick modify, redefine or if need be, dump! I also believe that through us leaders being teachers in the classroom, it also compels us to be aware of the most recent or effective pedagogy that works not from a teaching point of view but from a learning and student perspective.
Finally, what make a #coolschool when learning is facilitated by a senior leader is that we get to have first hand exposure and contact with the most important constituents and stake-holders in our school community, our students. Although I love the strategic influence and partnerships in my administration role, nothing yes nothing beats that utopic moment when students get the spark of learning and turn it into a bonfire. When one has so much learning contact, there is no chance of losing perspective about what is the real purpose of schools and who more importantly are and need to be the perpetual focus. Furthermore, despite me ageing somewhat gracefully but growing old never-the-less, it is is the students who keep me young, energised and believing in our common future.
Although one day I may want to become a principal, my current straddling of the classroom and the office affords me influence in two equally important but distinctly different but linked worlds. I have probably the best job in the world, I lead, I teach and subsequently I too learn. That's not a bad situation to be in in what is truly a #coolschool.