Bringing Together Teachers and Principals
When a principal at a school visits a teacher's classroom, it's easy for those visits to carry an aura of suspicion and anxiety, particularly for the teacher. The principal may be there to gather information for an evaluation of the teacher's work, or simply to check up on what's occurring in the classroom.
In an essay published online this month, Henry Kepner, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, calls for principals and teachers to forge a more cooperative relationship, which he predicts will result in better math instruction. Principals can, in a "nonthreatening" way, encourage teachers to come up with more focused, and better math lessons, which adhere to state and local standards and offer smooth transitions in the content covered from grade to grade, Kepner says. It's not an easy task. Many math experts say teachers face pressure to rush through long lists of math topics, without drawing proper connections to them or encouraging students to master them. NCTM has placed a big focus on creating a more orderly math curriculum in recent years. Principals, according to Kepner, can play an important role in this area:
"The hectic daily routine of teaching often overtakes the need to step back and ask, "What are the important concepts for my students this year?" For example, a textbook may have in excess of 180 daily lessons for the year. The challenge is to locate and agree on 15 pivotal lessons."
Principals, of course, play an important role in guiding instruction across subjects. Last year, I wrote about efforts to forge stronger ties between principals and science teachers, who sometimes feel like school administrators don't understand science content and are thus more likely to allow it to be squeezed out of the school day.
The question I would pose to math teachers: What input, advice, or support could a principal provide that you would find most valuable?