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Principals: Advocate for Your Teachers

Ayla Gavins

When I interviewed for the principal position at Mission Hill School in 2005 there were so many questions from faculty about how I would respond to the staff-run structure, climate, and culture of the school that I thought I was supposed to work myself out of the job I was applying for. The faculty wanted two things—to strengthen as a team of leaders and to have a supporter and advocate that could take them to the next step in a variety of directions. Now, eight years into the job, clarification of my role as principal and the roles of other faculty still need revisiting as complex new situations arise that require the development of new processes to address them. 

I've learned quite a bit about how administrators can be helpful to teachers that are accustomed to (or wanting to start) decisionmaking, curriculum design, and handling all sorts of school wide issues that come up. Administrators can counter the traditional image of the principal, secretary, and teacher roles depicted in children's media and from our own experiences. Principals can be visibly and audibly in support of teachers. One way they can do this is by deferring to teachers when students, families, or central office staff ask questions that are best answered by teachers. When responding to students and families about issues, ask if they have shared the concern with the teacher. Give credit for ideas to teachers. Also, publicly add teacher support to the principal job description.

Administrators are often in a position to provide a platform for teacher voice. As a principal, I find myself in different circles of influence than I did when I was teacher. The people I encounter now need to hear from teachers, so I serve as a connector of voices. I invite teachers to meetings, presentations, and events as much as I can.

Administrators can broaden the definition of "teacher" and clarify the difference between levels of responsibility and levels of hierarchy. Shared and shifting responsibilities can blur or erase levels of hierarchy. A more democratic approach to decisionmaking, taking on tasks, and hearing each other out increases the investment each person makes in the community and the feeling of being a valued member of the community.

Ayla Gavins joined Boston Public Schools in 1998, where she taught ages 7-14 at Mission Hill School.  Under the guidance of Deborah Meier, she received her school administrative license from the Principal Residency Network. Gavins is currently the principal of Mission Hill School.

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