Most principals would agree that we should empower teachers. But what does teacher empowerment really mean? Furthermore, why should we empower teachers? And how do we do it? Below we’ve taken a shot at answering these three questions.
What does teacher empowerment mean?
While educational gurus like Bolin (1989), Lucas, Brown & Makus (1991) and Lee (1991) all use different language to describe teacher empowerment, their definitions all share common tenants:
- Rejecting hierarchy built upon control and fear
- Enabling teachers to have a voice
- Encouraging teachers to use their professional judgment to make major decisions about the curriculum and how it is presented
- Providing teachers with a means to make decisions that have, in traditional systems, been made for them
Why should we empower teachers?
- Teachers are already making decisions
Research suggests that teachers make 30 non-trivial work related decisions every hour in a classroom context where an estimated 1,500 interactions may take place between teacher and pupils each day (Burke, 1992). Not only are teachers making big decisions—and making them often—their decisions are impacting a huge network of people including students, parents, colleagues and administrators.
If teachers are already making high-impact decisions, it only seems logical that we equip them with the tools, freedom and support to make the best decisions they can.
- Empowering teachers will make them more receptive to growth
Teaching is complex for a variety of reasons, but a major one has to do with the fact that, as B.S.V. Dutt suggests, “Knowledge is always incomplete, subject to change, and always open to improvement.”
Should we find that a teacher’s knowledge base is incomplete or in need of improvement, we will have a much easier time helping them grow if we have already established meaningful, trusting relationships with them.
- Empowered teachers are more likely to respond well to the demands of the profession
Teachers have an overwhelming set of demands placed on them. But these demands become far more manageable when teachers know we see them as competent and reliable professionals.
The list of reasons for why we should empower teachers could continue, but let’s move on to how administrators can empower teachers.
How can we empower teachers?
- Listen and react to feedback
Teachers need to know their voice matters. One way to prove that it does is by soliciting their feedback and collaborating with them to solve issues. Collaboration is not always easy, nor is it always “efficient” in the short term—but the results usually speak for themselves.
- Create a unified vision
Most businesses have a slogan or a vision statement that sums up—for both customers and employees—who the company is and the values they stand for.
Although the message of a school might seem straightforward, your community will benefit from taking a critical look at what makes your school unique. One of the best ways to ensure that you and your teachers share a common goal is by collaborating on a vision statement. Of course, you can do this on your own, but your teachers are more likely to buy-in if they are involved in the creative process.
- Empower teachers to think differently
It is important to establish a set of clear goals and responsibilities, but always remember that common goals can be achieved—and surpassed—when teachers are empowered to think differently, bring forward new ideas and even take a different approach that fails. When we fail, we (hopefully) learn. When we learn, we grow.
- Look for quiet leaders
Think back to the time you spent in the classroom. If your experience was anything like mine, I noticed that it was often the quiet students who were the best leaders.
While many students had a tendency to speak impulsively during heated in-class discussions, some of the quiet ones hung back, reflected and waited until they had fully developed their thoughts before sharing. With a little encouragement, I found that these students would open up and completely change the trajectory of the discussion.
Reach out to the quiet teachers. They are often some of the best leaders—they just need a little encouragement.
- Bolin, F.S. (1989). Empowering Leadership. Teacher College Record.
- Lucas, S., Brown, G.C., & Markus, F.W. (1991) Principals’ Perceptions of Site-Based Management and Teacher Empowerment. NAASSP Bulletin, 75. (357)
- Lee, W. (1991). Empowering Music Teachers: A Catalyst for Change. Music Educators Journal. 78 (1).
Over the weekend, a former student asked me to write letters of recommendation for three separate university applications. Two of the recommendation forms were editable PDF files, meaning all I had to do was click on each field and type in the requested information. The third form was also a PDF, but it was not set up so that I could fill it out electronically. After several botched attempts at copying, pasting and reformatting in Microsoft Word, I gave up, printed out the form and handwrote my responses.
If you knew what my handwriting looks like, you’d understand why I couldn’t bring myself to submit such an important document covered in my chicken scratch. So I started looking for free PDF converters.
While there are plenty of file converters out there, most charge a monthly fee. One exception is called, of all things, PDF Converter. This allowed me to upload the PDF form and convert it to a downloadable Word document for free.
There are two caveats: One, you can only convert two pages for free. Two, as far as I can tell, you can only convert one file every 24 hours. It’s not a cure-all solution, but it certainly came in handy when I was in a pinch.
If you need to convert more than two pages, or have several PDFs to convert, head over to Nitro Cloud. Like the PDF converter above, Nitro Cloud will convert your document for free, but you are limited to five conversions a month—or you can pay five dollars a month for unlimited conversions.
I can think of several instances where both of these applications would have come in handy. Often I would find articles online or a colleague would share a lesson plan or assignment sheet that was only available in PDF format. If I didn’t want to use the entire article, or if I needed to make changes to the lesson plans, I’d have to copy and paste the text into a word document and spend time reformatting all of the unnecessary spaces and strange formatting issues. As you probably know, this can be irritating and time consuming!
We’ve long been fans of using Twitter in the classroom. Not only is it a useful tool for sending our students shout-outs and quick reminders, parents have started following our Twitter feeds to find out what’s going on in class, what’s due and when.
While we’ve found at least a half dozen ways to use Twitter in the classroom, we’re always looking for new ideas. Thanks to one of our Internet buddies, we’re able to share 35 more ways you can use Twitter to enhance your classroom activities.
To download the PDF file, click on the image below.
There are several reasons principals should regularly conduct classroom walkthroughs.
- First, they make it clear to teachers that teaching and learning are a priority to us.
- Second, the more we know about the instructional decisions of our instructors, the more we know about the health of our schools.
- Third, the more frequent the observations are, the more comfortable our teachers and students will be with the process.
Keep in mind that classroom walkthroughs do not need to be long, invasive or formal for them to be meaningful. If you simplify the observation process and stick to the five steps outlined in Countdown to the Principalship, your observation should really only take about three minutes.
The 3-Minute Classroom Walkthrough in 5 Steps
Observe student engagement
It only takes a split second to observe whether or not students are engaged in their work. Are they listening, writing, interacting with the teacher or other students, or working alone?
Observe the lesson and learning objectives
Assessing what is being taught and determining whether or not the objective of the lesson is aligned with curriculum and ethical standards is where you should spend most of the next couple of minutes.
Observe teachers’ instructional strategies
Now that you understand the curricular focus, you are ready to look at the teacher’s instructional strategies. Is s/he using Socratic questioning or giving feedback? Are students working alone or in groups, are they taking notes, problem solving, etc.?
Always complete the first three steps and do your best to withhold judgment; you are simply gathering data and looking for patterns in classroom instruction.
If time permits, conclude your walkthrough with the following two steps:
Does the lesson connect?
During this step, you should be looking to see if you can make any connections between this lesson and previous learning objectives. Ideally, every lesson should build upon the preceding lesson.
Observe safety and health Issues
Are there any noticeable safety or health issues that need to be addressed?
If you decide to make brief classroom walkthroughs a regular part of your routine, you’ll want to inform your staff first. Here are five things you might mention to your teachers:
- How often you will be stopping by their classrooms and how long you will be there.
- What the visits are not: Explain that three-minute walkthroughs are not a part of the formal evaluation process, nor will they be used to judge or critique teachers.
- What the visits are: Teaching and learning are the two most important things that happen in schools—walkthroughs are simply a way to honor their importance.
Many of us have taught at schools where there were months, maybe even years, when the principal did not step foot into the classroom. What this suggests to many teachers is that what they do is not important to the principal. Explain to your teachers that this is not the message you wish to send.
- That you have a lot to learn from teachers: One of the best ways to learn about learning in schools is for you to be in classrooms regularly. You may be in charge, but that doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
- What teachers should expect from the walkthrough: Explain to teachers that when you stop in, you will only be there for three minutes—unless the teacher indicates that s/he would like you to stay longer. During this time, explain that you will be observing three things: student engagement, content and the methods used to teach the content.
- That teachers are welcome to talk to you after the visit if they want specific feedback.
There’s a lot to love about contemporary American culture: It’s brimming with life, moving, changing and, ostensibly, always improving. But we’ve noticed something else about our culture: More often, its motion tends to be directed outward rather than inward.
Instead of mulling over our thoughts privately, we declare them to the world through open platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Popular culture and self-help gurus encourage us to “think on our feet,” join in and be gregarious risk-takers—but who is urging us to be quiet, contemplative, and introspective?
We live in an extroverted world and while we do believe that leaders must, by the very nature of the role, distinguish themselves if they want to influence others, we question the idea that leaders must lead through extroversion.
If you are a principal—and an extroverted one at that—here are a few reasons to consider the merits of quiet leadership.
The Power of Being a Quiet Principal
- Principals have the power to influence a school’s success, but rarely do they ride in on a white horse, bark a few orders and lead the institution to victory. No, they must first gain the trust of their colleagues, students, faculty and parents.
Influence comes with trust—and trust comes when we listen, give respect and build stable relationships.
A commonplace belief is that influence is an event, the result of first impressions, the clothes we have on, our demeanor and magnetism. We would argue that it’s actually the inverse: Influence is a process. If we think we’ll win over others by commanding the room, chances are that we’re not only going to alienate our colleagues, we’re also going to miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn from them.
- Our schools are diverse and so are the students, teachers and parents that are part of them. While many of us are accustomed to the dominant culture—one that moves and expresses itself outwardly— many cultures find this abrasive. Those with a quiet confidence are more likely to win over cultures that are less aggressive and prefer a reflective, low-key approach to leadership.
- Thanks to burgeoning technology, our culture has become accustomed to immediacy. And while we love and cannot deny the benefits of having it at our fingertips, we find that technology is not always conducive to that careful thought required of principals.
Here’s an example: On a daily basis, we receive dozens of emails from parents, teachers and staff. Some responses require only a short sentence, but others aren’t so simple and take time for us to quietly reflect before responding. When this happens, many of us feel like we have to make a snap judgment and dash off quick responses, but quiet leadership values reflection over quick action—and often the results speak for themselves.
Over the years Hollywood has done a nice job of showing us what super teachers look like. Consider movies like Dead Poet’s Society, The Mona Lisa Smile, Sister Act and the list goes on and on. The teachers we find here all have something in common: They’re miracle workers, freedom fighters and martyrs who not only shake up the system, but manage to pluck the heart strings of every student they encounter—and by gosh, they’ll do it even if it costs them their sanity, health and job!
These films may inspire, but nearly all of them demand the suspension of disbelief, especially for those of us who know what it’s like to stand in front of a classroom. This is precisely what author, educator and lecturer Roxanna Elden talks about in this fascinating TED-Style talk at the Education Writers Association conference.
This video will especially resonate with first-year teachers, but veterans will enjoy chuckling and nodding their heads in agreement with what Elden has to say.
If you lacked attention to detail, couldn’t follow instructions or deliver on your word, you probably wouldn’t be a language translator. We pride ourselves on this skillset, which is why it can be ego shattering when we make mistakes or let down clients.
Keep in mind, even the best of us mess up! And the good news is that there are several simple ways to minimize this damage and still make clients happy.
The Art of Apology: 5 Tips for Language Translators
Many of us panic when faced with conflict and instead of taking it head on, we delay. This will only exacerbate the situation. Always respond as quickly as possible, preferably by phone so that you can avoid further miscommunication.
Listen, empathize, and ask open questions
Clients usually understand, but they may still need you to be a good listener. If necessary, allow your client to vent, ask open-ended questions and offer convincing evidence that suggests you empathize with their position.
Artful apologies can be powerful, but when they are disingenuous or clichéd, they can actually fan the flame. Let’s be more specific about the wrong kind of apology.
Here are three obvious, but not-so-obvious things about apologies:
- Apology may begin with a feeling, but ultimately, it should manifest in practice…it should be something you can measure.
- Apology is action-centric. It means that we make a commitment to extend ourselves and resolve the problem.
- Apology is grounded in humility. That doesn’t mean you should think less of yourself; it simply means that you treat the person you are apologizing to as essential to your well-being.
Offer a fair form of compensation
The last thing you want to do is lose a client. It’s always easier to retain than it is to find new customers. In addition to apologizing and fixing the mistake, you might send a handwritten card to the client or offer a discount on this project or subsequent ones.
Don’t let it eat at you
We mentioned it before, but silly mistakes are often a blow to the ego. However, if handled correctly, there’s no reason for you to become timid or bring up the error with the client again. More often than not, the client will remember you for your integrity, for how you resolved a difficult situation with grace and poise, not for the mistake you made.
Most new teachers have spent, at minimum, 17 years inside the classroom as a student. Despite this, it is often shocking to beginning teachers how different and overwhelming it is move from behind the student’s desk to the front of the room.
This initial period of transition is a precarious one; it’s also one that veteran teachers and administrators often forget about experiencing themselves.
We’d like to share 10 insights from real, first-year teachers. It’s our hope that these quotes will not only give principals a look inside the lives of beginning teachers, but also give principals a sense for how they are perceived by others. These quotes come from Barbara Brock and Marilyn Grady’s book, From First-Year to First-Rate: Principals Guiding Beginning Teachers. We highly recommend adding it to your reading list.
10 Things First-Year Teachers Said About Their Principal
- “The most difficult part of [my new job] was the expectations of the principal. I didn’t know what to expect…and how I was to relate. At the beginning, all I saw the principal do was act as a welcomer. Here’s the school. Good luck! I didn’t know what his role would be with me, his expectations for me, and how I could expect him to react. I was left on my own to develop a style of teaching and classroom management. I hoped that it was one that he approved of.”
- “I would like affirmation from my principal that I am doing things OK. If not, I would like to know about it so I can address and correct the situation.”
- “I would like to meet monthly with my principal to discuss things like ‘hidden agendas,’ culture and traditions of the school, expectations, regular events, and what to expect, as well as [have] an opportunity to gripe a bit.”
- “I like the high visibility of my principal. He pops into my room often. I like that because if he sees a problem, he can let me know right away. I like having feedback available like that. One thing that I wish he would have done is introduce me to the staff so that I knew who everyone was and what they did. I would have liked a tour of the building, introductions to the people, and then an explanation of procedures for the main school events before they happen. Walk me through the hurdles, tell me what to expect at conferences and open houses, meet with the first-year teachers throughout the year to see how we’re doing and tell us about events before they happen.”
- “Pre-warning us about parents who are known to have agendas and who can be difficult to deal with would be good. That way, we can anticipate and have strategies in place to prevent problems.”
- “The principal should express the expectations that he has for students in the school. I needed to know about the parameters of the grading system. I needed to know expectations for lesson plans.”
- “Knowing the discipline policies and procedures before school begins is essential. Getting acquainted with the secretaries and knowing their responsibilities are also important. I was always asking them who does what and what the procedure is.”
- “The only time I see my principal is from afar…walking in the hall, but never stopping by to see how I am doing.”
- “It is critical that the first-year teachers…not be left in isolation and expected to be successful.”
- “No one told me that other beginners had these problems. I was planning to quit because I thought that I was a bad teacher.”
When we talk about disability in the workplace, most of us probably think of architecture: Do we have functioning wheel chair lifts, enough handicap spaces? Are the hallway telephones low enough so that someone in a wheel chair can reach them?
Physical accommodation is certainly an important part of the conversation, but as author, attorney and diversity specialist Melissa Marshall suggests, “Disability has at least as much to do with the attitudes and behaviors of the organization and its employees as it does with the person who has the disability.”
Before we continue, we do want to stress that disability education can—and should—come from an expert, someone who can present dynamic material in a way that moves beyond simple facts about the Americans with Disabilities Act. With that said, we also believe that disability education can come from anyone who is self-aware, passionate and committed to diversity in the workplace.
To help increase your organization’s awareness and sensitivity towards people with disabilities, we’d like to share four tips from Marshall’s book, Getting It: Persuading Organizations and Individuals to be More Comfortable with People with Disabilities.
Disability in the Workplace: 4 Simple Ways to Increase Awareness and Sensitivity
Assess the environment
If you are someone without a disability, you’ll have to accept the fact that you can never truly experience the world in the same way as someone with a disability. Even so, it never hurts to try to look at your organization through the eyes of someone with a disability. Here are a couple of questions Marshall suggests organizations consider:
- Do we have employees with disabilities?
- Do we actively seek out employees with disabilities?
- Do we serve customers with disabilities?
- If someone with a disability were to look our organization’s catalogue, advertising or other print materials would they see anyone else with a disability? If not, why?
- Would a TTY number be included in this material?
As we said above, amenities are important, but just as important are affirmations—subtle, but important things like images of people with disabilities in company advertisements—of an organization’s commitment to be inclusive.
Assess your organization’s problem-solving skills
People who don’t know how to solve a problem get scared. And when they get scared, they often act inappropriately. Let’s illustrate the point with one of Marshall’s examples:
There was once a telephone receptionist. One day she received a phone call from someone with a speech impediment. Because the receptionist could not understand this person, she hung up on him. The person called back and was hung up on again. This repeated until the caller finally gave up. So why did this happen? Fear, of course. The receptionist did not know how to handle the situation, became scared, and shut down.
While we cannot expect every staff member to solve every disability-related problem, it is, as Marshall suggests, “reasonable to expect that every staff member knows how to direct someone with a problem to a designated person who can.” Marshall suggests assigning a staff member to problem solve disability issues. This will reduce panic and ensure that the person with a disability is properly assisted.
Have people in the organization learn Disability 101
Folks with a rudimentary understanding of ADA mandates are, unfortunately, under the false impression that people with disabilities are coddled and receive special treatment. Teaching employees the legalities—and making them aware of what most people with disabilities want in terms of treatment—will help diffuse these myths.
Treat people with disabilities like anyone else—all the time
“See the person rather than the disability” is a cliché, but if your organization is committed to a diverse workplace, you must get to a point where you treat people with disabilities exactly like you treat everyone else. This means that, when necessary, you must be willing and comfortable with disciplining and firing people with disabilities.
Employees with disabilities may require special accommodations, but they do not require—nor do they want—special treatment. This includes being hired, promoted and retained when they are not qualified for the position.
Infographics are an awesome way to conjoin technology, visualization, teaching, and learning. But how do those of us who are “artistically challenged” or don’t know HTML create them? Enter "Infographic Generator,” please.
2 More Infographic Generator Apps Every Teacher Should Know About
Within five minutes of logging onto Piktochart, we were able to drag and drop our way to a surprisingly sleek looking infographic.
Here’s what you’ll get with a free account:
- A choice of seven different background themes
- Access to 14 unique chart styles
- The option of uploading 10 of your own images
- The ability to customize colors, fonts and icons
- Useful tools that allow you to rotate objects, alter layers and opacity, and resize icons
- Ability to save your infographic as a PNG image file
- Ability to embed videos you’ve uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo
Infogram is a worthy mention, but it isn’t entirely unique. Beyond the fact that we always love having options, we mention it for another reason: It has an impressive database of charts and graph styles that you won’t find on Piktochart.
In addition to standard chart styles (pie and line graphs) you’ll find elsewhere, Infogram gives you a choice of 25 other styles including word clouds, tree maps, hierarchical and bubble maps.
If you're looking for more infographic generator apps, check out two of our recent blogs, 5 Infographic Generator Apps Every Teacher Should Know About and 20 Infographic Sites to Enhance Your Classroom.