Micromanage: verb mi·cro·man·age \ˌmī-krō-ˈma-nij\: to try to control or manage all the small parts of (something, such as an activity) in a way that is usually not wanted or that causes problems (Merriam-Webster.com)
The business of a school should be teaching and learning, and it is the business of every individual who walks into a school. Growth is the end goal, and growth is not achieved by management and compliance but instead by support and guidance. That idea may seem to be common sense, but it’s not much of a common practice when it comes to happenings in public schools.
Students are much like teachers: They want to be supported and valued, not talked down to and given rigid expectations for their behavior. Teachers who work to build relationships with students know the importance of understanding the idea of supporting their students in their needs as well as their challenges and successes. It would make sense that supervisors and evaluators of teachers would understand this as well.
Let’s look at it this way:
Teacher A stands at her classroom door and watches students walk in. No greetings are exchanged, and only exasperation ensues when a student asks to go to the restroom or a locker. Once class begins students are expected to sit quietly in neat rows and listen to the expert deliver content. There is pacing from the expert at the front of the room and very little interaction from those whose butts are in the seats. Students are given a task, asked to comply, and not prompted for feedback or any original thinking. When the bell rings, students grab their materials and practically run out of the room in relief.
Teacher B stands at her classroom door and greets students as they walk by in the hallway and as they walk into the room. Students mill around the room collecting materials and greeting peers until the bell rings when the teacher walks in and greets the entire room. Throughout class, students are encouraged to share their thinking with their peers and the teacher, and diverse thinking is celebrated and examined as a group. The room bustles with activity and conversation as tasks are completed. One student asks a question the teacher can’t answer, and a group conversation ensues as everyone works to make sense of a possible answer. Mid-conversation the bell rings, and students pack up their materials and visit with their peers while thanking their teacher as they walk out of the classroom.
Which room sounds more like a community of learners?
Building relationships is important in any business, but it is absolutely necessary in a profession that is driven by human connections like teaching. If we know students will experience more growth when there are positive relationships, why would we assume different for teachers?
Attention Administrator: Management is not support. Compliance does not equal success.
Since school has begun, too much of my teaching time has been dedicated to minutia. It is a necessary evil, but it takes energy away from my purpose as a teacher: to teach and interact with students! Part of the minutia has included a few emails and mandates that have made it clear on which side of the management-support line my principal and the other administrators in my district stand.
I know this isn’t a unique concern; teachers everywhere complain about the amount of extras heaped on. However, one critical piece is missing from the way teachers are asked to do things: professional consideration. In any other profession, consideration is given to those involved, and they are treated in an adult manner. That’s not always the case when it comes to teachers.
There are certain things teachers need in order to be successful—for instance, classroom supplies. Many teachers spend their own money on the consumables they use in their rooms, but occasionally some things are needed from the building “supply person.” As a new teacher, you learn quickly to make friends with the secretaries, the custodians, and the person who holds the key to the supply closet. For it to be a supporting environment, all these people, including the faculty, work together to help students and get needed resources to the teachers who are on the front lines…
When it’s about management, teachers are asked to jump through hoops to acquire simple supplies and are shamed for the number of copies they make for their students. Is it unreasonable to walk by the supply person and ask for white board makers or colored paper for a student project? Is it necessary to shame people in a school-wide email who may have forgotten to pick up their pile of copies from the office workroom?
Are teachers who are managed allowed room to maneuver? Room to misstep? Is this management effective? Or is it just patronizing?
Another example of management vs. support: Teachers must ask permission from an administrator to leave the building during their planning time and must swipe in and out of the building every time they arrive and leave, so time can be accounted for. As grown adults with professional degrees, is it necessary to track their movements during the day?
School safety is definitely a consideration in today’s world, so it’s not unreasonable to ask teachers to have credentials visible or to have modern building locks that track who is entering the building during all times of the day. It is also true that there is always a small handful of people who take advantage and abuse their responsibilities. These considerations shouldn’t overshadow the professional judgement and actions of people who have been entrusted to teach children.
Management also controls physical space around their employees while support enables people to make their spaces their own and use their unique capabilities to the advantage of the entire team.
Here are some examples of control issues around physical space that I have either experienced or been told about by colleagues:
- being reprimanded by the bulletin board committee because a display wasn’t properly channeled through the bulletin board police before posting;
- receiving a “suggestion” to take down alternative lighting in a classroom because it may be endangering students (This alternative lighting is mostly furnished from lamps and light strands rather than overhead florescent lights.);
- the disappearance of comfy student seating in the name of being proactive about student fornication or mouse infestation (You can find the link to that triviality here.);
- clearing out a previously welcoming space that had been used for the benefit of both teachers and students.
My point isn’t to bitch about the building where I work. It’s much bigger than that. The point is, if we trust teachers to grow students then why do we insist on compliance and acquiescence? If we know people—students and teachers alike—respond to encouragement and support, then when will we start giving individuals what they need?
Don’t we have more important things to talk about than lighting and bulletin boards?