Friday, October 15, 2010

Teach Tony Danza, Episode 2

In the second episode, Tony gives his first quiz which half the class fails. When he hands back the quiz, a clash of expectations occurs. He expects the students to support their answers to opinion questions. They complain that it is unfair for him to mark them off because opinion questions “do not have a right answer.” I do not blame the kids. Many years of lame critical thinking lessons have taught them that there is no wrong opinion, and that variations of the very popular “I think (fill in the blank) because I think (fill in the blank)” formulation is adequate support for an opinion.

Tony is sure they failed the quiz because they did not read the material; they insist they read it “five or six times.” He says out loud he doesn't believe it. Oops. But he knows they did not read because when he was in high school he did not read. One girl cries. Tony approaches her as if there is not another person in the room. If the class was inattentive before, they are all ears now. Tony has a lot to learn.

I am not impressed with Tony's instructional coach. He seems unwilling to give Tony any affirmations, is somewhat argumentative, and chooses to open emotional wounds, “Have you cried yet, Tony?” he asks. I am not impressed with the needlessly nasty assistant principal. I am not impressed with the overly harsh principal. Although they promised to support Tony, clearly their idea of what constitutes administrative support is far different from what teachers expect. The distinction is important because the number one reason teachers leave is lack of administrative support. “Mary,” a teacher quoted in the Chicago Studies, described what administrative support incarnate looked like.

I appreciate his early morning visibility and constant presence in the hallways every class period. He stands during all three lunches while we sit and enjoy our 30-minute meal. He writes personal notes when you do an excellent job on a project; he is open to suggestions that are results-oriented, and he chides negativity for negativity’s sake.

He keeps to the middle of the road and even if he has favorites, his choices are based on performance, not personality. In staff meetings, he does not preach, he shares. He has a sense of humor and attends most after-school functions.

He always greets you, and when he evaluates your instructional delivery, he stays the full 90 minutes. He actually reads over your plans to check for evidence of quality instruction, multiple tracks of learning, and assessment within your plans.

He learns the students’ names and jokes with them on their way to class or at lunch. At the same time he is firm and does not think twice about taking real troublemakers to our nearby town in handcuffs. He allows for flexibility some times in the teaching schedule to let kids display their talents, even in the midst of teachers complaining about instructional time lost. We are in a rural setting, so he realizes that for some students, school is the center of their total existence when it comes to cultural diversity and showcasing talents.

He reads a lot of different research and shares it with staff; he strives to establish some form of professional learning community in a school that knows very little about how it works. He meets with various groups repeatedly and has a 100% attendance rate except when he is at a workshop.

I have a different attitude about working for this principal because he actually notices how hard I work and lets me know that he sees what I do. He meets with every department to ask, what can I do to help you do a better job? What does your department need? How can we accomplish this or that?

In other words, supportive administrators act more like the teachers' servants than their overlords.

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