We expect a lot more from our teachers today than we did in years past, so today’s teachers need to be expert managers of expectations.
It wasn’t so long ago that a teacher’s world consisted primarily of refining their classroom performance, working with children and clearing the hurdle of yearly evaluations. Over the past two decades, however, a variety of federal and state initiatives (No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top) have accompanied changes in accessibility and communication that have made the lives of public school teachers truly “public.” These forces have radically reshaped the expectations of everybody in the school community.
In this two-part series, I’ll explore the evolving expectations of the key groups teachers encounter every day — fellow teachers, administrators, students, parents and the wider school community. I’ll start today by exploring how to manage the expectations of those who have the most direct impact on your career success — your colleagues and supervisors.
The complexities of managing the expectations of students, parents and the wider community are worthy of a separate post, so I’ll cover all three in the second part of this series.
Managing expectations of teaching colleagues: helping them helps you
Teachers need clear lines of communication with their colleagues to develop successful classrooms. By letting your co-workers know exactly the kind of teacher you are, you can, in effect, manage their expectations of what it will be like to work with you. Here are some great ways to make that happen.
Set a positive tone from the start
If you are just starting out in a new school, it’s essential that you send the overt and subtle message that you are a hardworking and “head-down” colleague wholly dedicated to the children.
A co-worker once gave me golden advice the day that I arrived in a new district: “It is far better, when you are new, to ask questions than to make statements.” It’s best to come across as a positive and listening colleague. Your knowledge of teaching strategies, curriculum and child development may be outstanding, but if you come across as arrogant or a know-it-all, you’ll burn through any goodwill that you may have fostered.
Get social with professional development
It used to be that professional development consisted of a day dedicated to lectures (usually from people who didn’t work in the district) about various topics. Teachers would sit quietly, perhaps even take some notes, and then return to their classroom without having changed a thing.
Today’s social media technology enables the idea of professional development to grow far beyond the old model. With sites like Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, teachers can always be working together on their professional growth. And if you use these sites to become a better teacher, you’re encouraging your colleagues to do the same.
Stay in learning mode
In his famous scene from the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross,” actor Alec Baldwin arrives from the real estate company’s central office to deliver a powerful soliloquy to drum up sales. He implores his salespeople to “Always. Be. Closing.” The most important sale is the next one and no one can afford to rest on their laurels.
I think of this often and would implore all teachers to “Always. Be. Learning.” Yes, the core of teaching is the same — being good to children, providing order and structure in the classroom, developing worthwhile learning experiences and knowing your curriculum — but today’s faster and faster world requires everyone (superintendents included!) to be continuously focused on developing better practices.
Find colleagues next door, next state, next country
Today your colleagues can be found as close as your school and as far as the other side of the globe. Skype, Google Classroom and FaceTime can all work to bring a “meeting” to your classroom. Along with your own research, many state and nationwide organizations help to connect grade level and subject matter topics and items of interest.
Keep in mind that your most talented co-workers may live thousands of miles away.
Value the experience of veterans
I’m fond of the notion that all people are the average of their five best friends. Several good questions to ask yourself are: Who are your five best friends at your school? What do your lunchtime conversations sound like? Is there unhealthy complaining or healthy discussion about the students?
Along with these reflective questions, consider your relationship with your long-serving veteran colleagues. From time to time I’ve seen a kneejerk dismissing of the veteran. Don’t do that. Instead, see their age as wisdom and their experience as helping you avoid their mistakes. My favorite teacher-colleague was one who retired at age 73 after over 50 years of service to children. She was as kind, loving and compassionate her last day as she was her first. Don’t let the “fog of age” get in the way of tapping incredible learning on your part.
Managing expectations of administrators: nurturing your career
For many years, teachers worked in isolation and might have been observed by their supervisors three times a year. With new teacher evaluation systems, state-mandated testing and increasing pressure on school administrators to improve school performance, this relationship has evolved to the point where teachers and their superiors have become highly dependent upon each other. This, in turn, requires you to make a strong connection with your supervisor and establish healthy lines of communications.
Administrators expect teachers to help them address these changes — here’s how you can manage those expectations:
Learn the playing field
If you’re new to a district, you should have been introduced to the expectations outlined in the district’s formal teaching evaluation system. This current shift to a more formal, rubric-based system represents a significant change in measuring teacher performance. It is essential that you know and understand the system your district uses.
This knowledge will let you focus on your students’ performance in the context of how the district expects you to perform. If for any reason you are unclear on this information, be sure to speak to your administrator about it. Showing your willingness to go above and beyond when it comes to performance expectations sends a strong message regarding your desire to do well.
Find a balance on standardized tests
Standardized tests previously were used only to assess a school’s overall performance. Today they play a key role in judging a teacher’s performance.
Your principal expects you to understand this. That’s why it’s so important to spend time reviewing the curriculum, strategies and preparation you’ll need to have your students succeed. Try not to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the test; the key here is finding a balance between your students’ needs and the standardized tests.
Be a team player
In the past, if a teacher shut his door, taught his students and went home at the end of the day, most people thought his job expectations had been met. While this may be true in some districts, today’s administrators typically expect teachers to play a larger role in the life of the school.
Most districts encourage their staff members to become involved in building-based committees involving encouraging student reading, fostering parent participation and helping develop positive morale in the building. Jump right in if you’re offered the opportunity to participate. You’ll enjoy your work more, the students will benefit, and the principal will appreciate your enthusiasm.
Tilt toward growth
New teachers usually cannot walk into a classroom and hit all expectations immediately. It is essential that you work on a growth mindset and teach with the belief that your high level of performance can be made better through district professional development as well as personal research and exploration.
The very best teachers I know, many of them with decades of experience, have become that way by keeping their professional antennae up and always looking for ways to improve. This plays a role with your administrators, as your increasing performance eases the pressure on them to focus on your overall growth. In short, you make their life easier by always working on improving your performance.
Try to see the other side
A running joke is that a teacher who moves into administration has joined The Dark Side. Understanding that there will always be a healthy tension between teachers and administrators regarding performance and achievement, try your best to see the world through the eyes of your administrator, and to also remember that not every decision or rationale can be made public.
When I moved from the classroom to the main office, I was amazed by the complexity and nuance needed to effectively make seemingly simple decisions. This is helpful to you as a new teacher, because fostering this attitude will help you to stay positive when your work becomes challenging.