Should Principals Teach – Reflections of a First Year Principal

Reflections of a First Year Principal – Should Principals Teach

Should principals be required to teach? When I made the decision to go into administration I told myself I would always teach at least one class (even if I didn’t have to) and I envisioned it would be an academic class. I remembered reading a post by Chris Wejr Principals ARE Teachers where he talked about this exact topic. After three years of being an assistant principal, and now into my first year as a principal I sit back and reflect upon this question I am not sure if my original position still holds true.

What do I love the most about my job? The answer is easy, I get the most enjoyment out of spending time working with students. The second aspect of my job that I love the most is working with all teachers, teachers new to the profession or a hardened veteran learning how to integrate new technology into his/her lessons. It definitely is NOT the meetings, district responsibilities, paperwork, discipline or any of the many other tasks administrators are asked to perform.

Why do more principals not teach? Why don’t unions demand principals teach one class? I recently posed these questions to the speaker at conference I was at and he got rather upset and defensive right away.  His arguments were that principals can still be educational leaders without being in a classroom, that they still understand good educational pedagogy, and can recognize the difference between quality and inadequate educational practices. The fact that just because they are no longer in a classroom doesn’t mean they are somehow diminished as educational leaders. While I tend to agree with his arguments I am left with questions:

  • How do you help a teacher with technology integration when the last time you were in a classroom there were no Smartboards, 1:1 classrooms did not exist, never mind paperless classrooms, GAFE (Google Apps for Education) hadn’t been implemented and marks were still kept on in a mark book not online for parents to access 24/7?
  • Will you really understand the challenges teachers face when implementing new division, state or provincials mandates if you do not experience them yourself?

If my number 1 job is to be the instructional leader, and not a building manager, should I not be in the trenches with the staff, experiencing what they are going through?

I believed whole heartedly principals need to teach, but as I get immersed in the job I am finding my time pulled in numerous directions to the point my teaching is falling behind. As I am away for various meetings or professional development, the instruction that my classes receive is not the same as it would be had I been present to teach it myself. Is this enough to change my opinion? No. Perhaps my opinion on this topic will change in the future but  there are many variables that need to be taken into consideration. Presently I still believe principals need to teach. My previous reflection piece talked about principals supporting their teachers and I feel I am better able to support my teachers if I experience part of what they experience day to day.
Terry Hoganson

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2 thoughts on “Should Principals Teach – Reflections of a First Year Principal

  1. I like your points. I am teacher librarian in a K-8 public school. I have my principals evaluate Grades 4-8 student Heritage Fair projects so they see what students are doing with personal inquiry, research, and presenting. The principal and vice principal evaluate the top projects in the respective grades. They can infer what teachers are doing with students in their classes. While, it’s not teaching, the admin do provide students with timely feedback – very useful for the final group that moves on to the Regional Heritage Fair.

    Over time, my admin see the progress we are making as students and teachers. I think it makes it easier for admin to support teacher directed/requested professional development because they are very aware of what we are doing.

    My best principals always worked with students in my classes whenever they were invited in our just had time to stay. They may not have had Union rights to instruct a class or two; they did show they knew they had to keep their hands in the classroom. Sadly, my worst admin did not connect to students in our classrooms. What a shame.

  2. I’m working through this question right now as a VP. I think the answer has to consider what’s best for kids. I only teach 1 class, but I’ve been absent from it surely more than 25 days this year due to other administrative responsibilities, during which time they’ve had various substitute teachers. Also, there are times when situations could benefit from my attention, but I’m unavailable because I’m teaching.
    When it comes to classroom supervision, you will never get to see the classes taking place while you’re teaching.
    Will teaching 1 section of phys. ed. really keep you in touch with what a grade 3 homeroom teacher experiences around report card time? Or a grade 6 teacher around PATs?
    As far as understanding the implementation of new mandates, you can’t experience all of them unless you’re teaching all grades.
    The key to it is in one of the questions you pose “How can you…. when the last time you were in a classroom there were no Smartboards etc…” The last time you were in a classroom should always be yesterday (or 10 minutes ago). If you are doing adequate supervision, you should be seeing all the challenges and experiencing them first hand along with the teacher. When you’re supervising, there’s nothing saying you can’t help out while you’re in there.
    I will agree with you on one thing for sure – the best part of the job is working with students. The problem is that we can’t just do what we like best. Scoring goals might be what you like best about playing hockey, but if you’re a coach, or a goalie, that’s not really your job. Even Wayne Gretzky’s main job wasn’t scoring goals – it was setting things up so his teammates could score.

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