Contributed by Shelly Arneson
Honk! Honk! Whoosh! These were the sounds I heard multiplied by ten as I drove from La Guardia airport out to my next training venue along the Long Island Expressway. Not being a stranger to driving in big city traffic, I didn’t worry about renting a car to drive to the school district at which I would be doing a teacher training this week. But hearing the honk-honk and the zoom-whoosh as cars zipped past me was a bit intimidating. “Maybe I shouldn’t have driven myself,” “Maybe I should have just taken a taxi,” “Maybe I’m not cut out for this,” were all thoughts that ran through my head as I tried to pay attention to my GPS telling me directions like “Get in the left hand right exit then stay in the left hand lane to turn on….” What? “Too many things to think about…” I lamented as I felt a bit of panic rise up. “What if I mess up?” What if I don’t do it right the first time?”
All of a sudden, I laughed out loud, and not in a maniacal way. I suddenly realized, on this day before many of my dear friends returned to school, that these thoughts are precisely what teachers must be going through. Getting ready to go back to school for seasoned teachers, not to mention getting ready for the first class of students ever for new teachers is daunting at best. “What if they don’t take me seriously?” “What if I mess up?” are all natural thoughts for teachers returning to school.
As a former school principal, I am acutely aware of the role administrators play in the feelings of teachers. Having researched which actions and characteristics of school leaders are trusted the most by teachers, I found that teachers value communication, honesty, and support. Every one of these actions and characteristics are particularly crucial for the first days of school. With new evaluation systems based on teaching performance weighing heavily on the minds and hearts of teachers, school leaders can do their part by ensuring that teacher evaluation is done with teachers, not to teachers.
Teachers all over the country share with me statements like, “I want to get feedback from my administrator on how I’m doing in the classroom. I just prefer it when it’s done with respect and based on objective evidence of my teaching practice.” Isn’t this precisely what we all want in our jobs? Communicate honestly and with support and no one will feel the panic of driving on an unfamiliar highway with cars racing past us. Quality principals know how to communicate in such an honest and supportive way that allows teachers to reflect on their own practice. These supportive school leaders know how to share feedback in such a way that invites the teacher to ask for support should they need it, much like the GPS system does for me in my vehicle. As we begin another school year, let’s support teachers in every way possible to allay fears, encourage growth, and build a culture of idea sharing throughout our schools.
As long as we work together, we can withstand all the honk-honking the traffic of the new school year brings to us.
Besides being a lifelong educator, Shelly is an author and consultant. She taught Special Education for several years in Texas and New Mexico before becoming a guidance counselor in elementary and middle schools. Her last seven years in public schools were spent as a school principal. Shelly graduated with her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from University of West Florida in August of 2012. Her dissertation was entitled: Character and Competence: A Mixed Methods Study on Teacher Trust in Mid-Sized School District in Northwest Florida. Shelly and her husband, Dave, have three yellow Labs and currently live in Tucson, Arizona. Shelly is a trainer/consultant with the Danielson Group. She enjoys traveling and reading, in addition to writing and learning. She is the author of the Corwin book Building Trust in Teacher Evaluations.