Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Creating animosity not accountability

A good friend of mine, a wonderful music educator, composer and arranger wrote a disturbing post on Facebook the other day where he was attacking the NYS teacher evaluation system, and in so doing made a troubling remark that administrators should be teaching everyday and evaluated the same manner teachers will be evaluated to know what it will feel like to be put under the microscope. He states:
"Poor evaluations could/should/ would result in demotion/ losing an administrative position or being fired from a district."

What my esteemed friend misses the point on is that this very thing is happening to a much greater degree than what he realizes already, but in a different context.

Before addressing this, allow me to explain that many school administrators, including department supervisors, building principals, district administrators come from the ranks of teachers before assuming managerial responsibilities and supervision of children and faculty. On many occasions as a supervisor, principal or superintendent, I found myself teaching kids in a variety of classes by invitation, subbing for a teacher, instructing faculty on myriad numbers of issues, and helping departments and programs whenever it was needed. I had many administrative friends who felt the same way, since there is nothing more rewarding working with kids, and how I wished there were more opportunities to do more of that.

But, back to the issue of accountability. The NYS teacher evaluation system requires teachers to be evaluated on a number of different points, including classroom observations, test scores, professional development and other negotiated items. The administrators of buildings and districts are responsible to complete these evaluations in conjunction with bargaining units creating an appropriate appeals process. The bottom line of suitable accountability means teachers can be removed from their assignment if things are not working out well, but only after an improvement plan process has been established to rehabilitate the teacher's weaknesses. What some people fail to understand is that the administrator is also being evaluated and being held accountable if the building does not show adequate improvement, meaning my friend's assertion that they could be demoted or lose their job could be a reality, as well.

The problem here is that the cry for better accountability is being sounded as an election day tool to rouse public furor over something that appears to be broken, if you really think that is the case. But, as I have stated often in this blog, politicians love to scapegoat education and schools because it is easy to bully an institution that cannot fight back. Furthermore, it masks more important issues that are in need of attention, such as the economy, jobs, the environment. Nonetheless, here we have an example of what politicians love and that is the infighting between teachers that think the administrators are incompetent and unable to fulfill this charge effectively.

The truth is that anyone involved in education is victimized by this approach, and especially the children. There are better ways to prove accountability in education, and I hope that reality will be discovered someday.

"Begin with the end in mind..."

Stephen Covey was a man of incredible integrity and essence. He created a philosophy that so many people followed based on the idea of Principle-Centered Leadership. His dedication to propelling that idea through his highly renowned book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Persons" will always be a mainstay on the bookshelves of extraordinary leaders. But, the amazing thing about this whole approach to leadership is that the philosophy behind the approach is nothing more than common sense.

1. Be proactive
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put first things first
4. Think “win-win.”
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
6. Synergize
7. Sharpen the saw; that is, undergo frequent self-renewal.

Students of many different beliefs recognize the inherent philosophy from these seven guidelines. One can recognize Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic ideas emanating from these precepts that have inspired so many people since Dr. Covey created them for his approach to successful, common-sense leadership.

As the world is still reeling from the Joe Paterno issue at Penn State and the news is caught up in the efficacy of the report that questioned motives and intent, remembering these seven precepts of leadership may place these events in perspective. Potentially, they could guide behaviors of leaders in responsible and ethical directions where another event of the nature could be prevented.

Stephen Covey told people that when practicing the second habit of "begin with the end in mind" to envision your funeral and imagine what you would want people to say about you as they eulogized your life. In his case, the eulogy will be a testament to all the people that his life's work inspired over the years, and the good these people are doing because of it. Instead of a statue, his work and philosophy will be his legacy.