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March 1, 1993
Vol. 50
No. 6

Voices: The Assistant Principal / Superstar Teachers Need Attention, Too

Instructional Strategies
Every principal knows that working with —al or ineffective teachers takes an inordinate amount of time. Too often this time is obtained by sacrificing observation and supervision of excellent teachers. Even though principals may feel they are sending their superstars messages of personal and professional trust by not visiting their classrooms as often, ignoring strong teachers to work with weak ones is an extremely ineffective supervisory strategy.
Most districts have two types of evaluation plans. The standard plan calls for several observations, conferences, and, if necessary, intensive assistance. The second type, a personal growth plan, empowers excellent teachers to design their own strategies for self-improvement. Personal growth plans are useful to indicate trust and to affirm teachers' excellence, but they should never be used to free up time for administrators to work with weaker teachers.
A busy principal who does not visit an excellent teacher's classroom sends a message of, “I take you for granted.” Being ignored is not a payoff for excellence. Good teachers must be heralded and applauded, and principals must personally spend time in their classrooms.
Even when principals spend time with excellent teachers, they often give them almost punitive attention by asking them to serve as department chairperson or participate on a committee. After all, superior teachers are capable and competent, and they can always be counted on to come through. Some may argue that teachers are paid small stipends for such assignments, but the money is usually insultingly compensatory, certainly not enough to reward a super teacher.
Also, many fine teachers are given the most recalcitrant students and most rigorous preparations. They handle their own classroom discipline and willingly learn new instructional techniques for the same pay and benefits as the laziest, most incompetent teachers.
Principals are not empowered to give their best teachers meaningful monetary recognition or other extrinsic rewards. We can, however, bolster their intrinsic rewards and motivation through attentive recognition, and we must do this if we expect our finest teachers to continue to grow and change. “So attention must be paid.... Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.”
Outstanding performers need an audience and applause for affirmation. Principals must visit excellent teachers' classrooms, celebrating their winning methods of eliciting student learning and offering them support and respect. Principals also must give great teachers the autonomy to be voyagers, experimenters, and chroniclers of their discoveries.
If districts truly value instructional leadership, they must help principals find the time necessary for both remediation of ineffectiveness and affirmation of excellence. Districts can help by providing extra support services such as lunchroom aides or more assistant principals. The whole issue of principals serving on or chairing district committees needs reexamination.
Perhaps the best support for my ideas came this year from two of my best teachers. I offered them personal growth plans, but before I could explain that I would still visit their classes, they resisted my offer. Essentially they said, “No, we wouldn't see you as much.” Somehow I think they're telling me they desire my continued attention, and I intend to continue providing it.
End Notes

1 A. Miller, (1949), Death of a Salesman, (New York: Viking Press).

Joan K. Hue has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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