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Bridging the Admin-Teacher Gap

Responsibilities across all levels of a school - admin, teachers, and students alike - quickly add up and compound throughout a school year.


Before the first day of an academic school year, a school's curricula and resources are distributed and facilities and needed resources prepared for incoming staff. Classrooms are neatly organized and resources prepared for incoming students. Administrators work through logistics and school-wide expectations for their staff. Teachers work through curricula and classroom expectations for their students. When teachers request resources or clarification, administration does everything they can to fulfill the request in a timely manner. When admin needs staff to abide by a request to complete a task, staff abide so everyone can move forward in preparing for that first day of school. Responsibilities are clearly defined and understood - admin provide for teachers while teachers prepare to provide for students.


Then students arrive.


Some students arrive knowing their own general role and responsibilities as a student - some don't. Some students arrive with necessary resources - some don't. Some students arrive with every intention of abiding by the requests of teachers for the sake of all moving forward in learning throughout the school year - some don't. Complications begin to take shape as students begin to recognize the differences in their teacher's expectations toward teacher-student roles and responsibilities may or may not overlap with their own. Relationships begin to form as teachers and students work through these complications.


While the admin-teacher roles and responsibilities were clear and understood before the first day of school, those same roles and relationships may becomes strained and misconstrued as

the teacher-student relationships begin to form. These developing teacher-student relationships can quickly put into question the roles, responsibilities, and availability for resource distribution that administrators and teachers understood prior to the first day of school.


In this article, I first look at how the state of California defines teacher and administrator expectations. This is followed by looking at how admin and teachers juggle so many responsibilities with limited time and a variety of energy levels. Finally, I look at how responsibility and trust relate before finally looking at how admin and teacher expectations overlap in ways that may build a better basis for communication of roles and responsibilities.


State Expectations for Teachers & Admin

In California, there are Teacher Performance Expectations (TPEs). These standards "establish additional expectations that are of greatest importance in teaching students at distinct stages of child and adolescent development" (source). It is common for teachers in California to be evaluated based on the expectations; ongoing discussion and feedback regarding teacher performance are often based on these standards which are organized into six domains:


TPE A: Making Subject Matter Comprehensible to Students

TPE B: Assessing Student Learning

TPE C: Engaging and Supporting Students in Learning

TPE D: Planning instruction and Designing Learning Experiences for Students

TPE E: Creating and Maintaining Effective Environments for Student Learning

TPE F: Developing as a Professional Educator


There are also California Administrator Performance Expectations (CAPEs) that "embed expectations that improve school climate through the knowledge and understanding of culturally responsive, research-based, student centered, non punitive classroom management practices including restorative justice and school-wide positive intervention and prevention strategies that address the social-emotional and mental health needs of the child with the goal of keeping all students in school and on course toward graduation" (source). These expectations are also organized into six domains:


CAPE 1: Development & Implementation of a Shared Vision

CAPE 2: Instructional Leadership

CAPE 3: Management and Learning Enviornment

CAPE 4: Family and Community Engagement

CAPE 5: Ethics and Integrity

CAPE 6: External Context and Policy


Limited Resources: Time and Energy

As a classroom teacher, I have always found myself out of time and energy at the end of every school day. How much I accomplished each day was a variable that depended on many factors both internal and external. Somehow, the time and energy required of me daily to cultivate a student-centered learning environment typically left me without much of either resource once all of the students left my classroom at the end of the day.


Although I've never been an administrator, I've spent many hours informally discussing with administrators how they spend their days, their biggest obstacles, and their vision for a successful school day. It turns out that administrators often find themselves feeling as exhausted as the teachers at the end of their workdays.


I've heard teachers say they don't have enough time to do all of the things expected of them. This statement often involves the mention of needs from students, parents, department teams, extracurricular teams and clubs, and participation in various committees as part of a larger professional learning community. I also hear administrators talk about all of the responsibilities they have dealing with the many stakeholders at the various levels of their school's community. This often involves the mention of needs from district officials, interest groups, other organizations and schools, parents, parent groups, teachers, department teams, students, student groups, etc.


Time. Of the 24 hours in a day, presuming 8 hours of sleep a night and a contractual obligation to commit 8 of those hours to their school, teachers have 8 hours to commute and take care of all other responsibilities in their lives. For administration, the contractual obligation is different, and both administrator and teacher can often be found working on work-related tasks long after their contractual 8-hour daily obligation. Time is clearly a limited resource.


Energy. We can't define a person's daily limit of energy like we can with time - it isn't only about the physical energy burning joules or calories - it is also about the emotional energy exerted by the amount of empathy teachers and administrators reserve and distribute between their personal lives and their lives as educators. We have all felt that point at which we've run out of energy near the end of each day. Individual people store and burn through both physical and emotional energy differently. We need to accept that energy is somewhat of a variable to be considered when working alongside each other. This becomes especially true when discussing the weight and quantity of our roles and responsibilities.


Both teachers and administrators often find themselves constantly juggling a variety of responsibilities - often too many to keep from dropping a few now and then. There just doesn't seem to be enough time for everybody to complete all tasks from all those for which we are all responsible.


So what can be done?


Responsibility builds Trust

When it comes to responsibility and trust, the following adage comes to mind:


It's better to GIVE than to RECEIVE.

Responsibility is what you have to give. Trust is what you receive in return.


I spoke with a friend that decided to go back to the classroom after two years as a school administrator. I asked my friend, "when you go back to teaching, what are some of the things you feel you'll need to start doing as a teacher to make sure administration is not dropping the balls you now know they are juggling?" The response was fascinating.


My friend expressed a desire for an increased focus on teachers needing to mediate student miscommunication and misunderstandings, handling student conflicts in the classroom, instead of sending individual students out of the classroom for mediation. Within the same response was a desire for administrative support in reassigning the value of exercising practices in restorative justice during class instructional time. Cultivating a meaningful learning environment for students was the biggest aspect of returning to the classroom after two years in an administrative role.


When I asked if these things were happening in her classroom before becoming an administrator, it was clear that the level of restorative justice was not nearly enough and that the primary objective of her future classroom will be split between academic progress and social justice practices. Her big takeaway from the roles and responsibilities of administration versus teachers is that, as a teacher, the academic success will result from cultivating student motivation, resiliency, and building a positive learning environment.


One of the last things I asked my friend was what she thought administration will be able to do if teachers ran their room in the way she described. If administration was not helping with "student misbehavior", what will she expect administrators do with all their time? She excitedly responded with a list of things she often had to put on the back-burner or delegate into an abyss of forgotten tasks: managing systems, providing teacher guidance, designing and orchestrating meaningful functions that connect with the community, communicating with the community and teachers to develop more meaningful programming across the school and in classrooms, and, most importantly, providing positive oversight and accountability for staff expectations.


As teachers, my friend and I both agreed that there is already pressure for academic success and student compliance to ensure the curriculum is taught and students provided opportunities for learning. Adding all of these other responsibilities, we agreed, seems like so much more that we couldn't possible have enough time or energy. However, we also agreed that school-wide systemic problems not being addressed were because so many people spend so much time dealing with so many student behaviors that the school's vision could never fully come into focus.


It is difficult for teachers to gain the trust that their administrators are doing everything possible to support them in ways that benefit their daily and weekly challenges. It is equally as difficult for administrators to trust that teachers are able and willing to cultivate classroom learning environments that minimize the amount of administrative intervention in student behaviors.


Be clear what roles and responsibilities are most difficult in order to delegate the strengths of each administrator and teacher such that all roles and responsibilities are being addressed.


The responsibilities of both the teachers and the administrators must be put on the table to ensure that those responsibilities are shared, oversight provided from both sides, and accountability incorporating incentives in which all those involved can place their belief and trust that one's own work is being matched by the rest of the team.


Overlapping Expectations


The graphic below highlights three areas of focus: - CAPEs (purple) - administrators have clear expectations.

- TPEs (orange) - teachers have clear expectations.

- student education standards and goals (blue) - students have clear expectations.



Administrators have expectations to develop, monitor, and guide the vision, culture, and accountability of a school's campus. Teachers have expectations to intentionally instruct according to pedagogy that fits within the admin's vision and culture, and learn about their students in order to design learning experiences that meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of their students. Students have clear academic standards that may require coaching in order for students to master those standards in ways that benefit the vision and culture of the school. All of these things connect in ways that overlap.


Comparing CAPE 1 and 2 and TPE A and D...


California Administrator Performance Expectations

1: Development & Implementation of a Shared Vision

2: Instructional Leadership

Teacher Performance Expectations

A: Making Subject Matter Comprehensible to Students

D: Planning instruction and Designing Learning Experiences for Students


It is important for administrators to stay in touch with what teachers are learning about their students and how student trauma and social conflicts may be eroding a school's shared vision from within classrooms. Administration's efforts for instructional leadership will need to adjust to the insight provided by teachers and provide meaningful guidance and resources.


It is important for teachers to acquire insight into the lives of students and their relationships to their community in order to design learning experiences for students (TPE: D). Teachers' efforts toward planning instruction will likely need to account for what teachers learn from their students throughout the year and how students learn to cope with emotional and social changes in the classroom.


This comparison hopefully highlights how cultivating a healthy student learning environment requires clearly defined roles and responsibilities between administration and teachers. This not only include the words detailing roles and responsibilities but also the intent of the detailed roles and responsibilities. Recognizing how these roles and responsibilities connect and overlap is critical for ensuring the overwhelming number of balls being juggled are openly discussed in the context of developing a clear vision. Only then can distinct skill sets be identified as needed, training assigned, action plans designed, resources allocated, and incentives orchestrated to promote intrinsically-motivated outcomes.


The Big Takeaway


This article address only 1/3 of California's teacher and administrator expectations. Although other states may differ in their expectations or not feel the need for such state expectations, it's important to recognize the value of open communication of shared responsibilities. Administrators and teachers must address this overlap of shared responsibilities and build the trust towards delegating with purpose and intent in ways that utilize strengths of all involved.


If your goal as a school is to promote a clear vision that focuses more on Motivation and Growth over Compliance and Completion, then that vision must connect to a system of oversight and accountability for responsibilities that will build trust over time.


Oversight and accountability looks at what happens when someone inevitably drops a ball. How you assess the weight of that ball and its affect on all other balls being juggled must be an open and accepted conversation between teachers and administration. It is this sharing and communicating priorities over time that must be celebrated in ways that promotes growth and progress in relation to desired completion. Sharing and communicating growth and progress must look toward motivation for innovative problem-solving and celebrate solutions in order for teams to meet and adapt to measures of compliance.

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