Mistake #1 Policy is Always the AnswerWhy allow policy to take precedence over student learning? Often, educational ideology and policy initiatives take precedence over doing what schools should be doing — teaching children. Sometimes, policy arises from what should work, instead of what has been proven to work to benefit the school and its students. As one science teacher from London remarked, “I am instructed to put into place educational initiatives for which there is no educational evidence whatsoever.” It is time to build policy around the students and know when to prioritize their needs over unfounded initiatives.
This concept also applies to faculty management. Instead of managing your school by the book alone, you try to support your staff in any way you can, marshal the needed resources, say “Yes” or “We’ll find a way” or “Let me work on that” to good ideas that support student learning and the development of the community. School leaders who go by the “Assume the Answer is Yes” motto tend to encourage creativity in projects that will ultimately benefit the school. This positive stance can still have the condition of, “I may have lots of questions.” However, “How will this help students/community?” must take priority.
The goal of school policies should be student mastery of the subjects and growth of their potential. There is no room in a school that is committed to student learning for policies that are punitive, alienate students, or subvert their confidence. Policy should not triumph an important standard that every school must establish: Everyone grows every year.
Solution — Besides the obvious solution of using research-based evidence that supports student learning in policy-making, try something alongside that practice — allow students to participate in policy decisions. Students value the opportunity to shape the rules by which they live. In fact, they are more likely to understand the reason behind policy when they are a part of the process, thus complying with it more willingly. In addition, the inclusion of students provides valuable perspective to the school. Rules and procedures are made stronger if students help create them, than they would be if mandated by teachers and administrators alone.
Mistake #2 Fear of Building Personal Relationships with Students
There is often a dated standard in all professional fields: “Don’t get too close or personal, keep your distance.” That’s why many teachers and administrators tend to guard their private lives. This may not sound like such a bad thing. What’s wrong with treating everyone the same and maintaining a clinical distance in student-superior interactions? While this practice tends to lead to an atmosphere of fairness and even consistency, it often leads to sterile school environment and issues in the morale.
In fact, building personal relationships with students is one of the most effective way for teachers and administrators to avoid issues in the classroom. This serves as a vast improvement in classroom management, as students are less likely to act out when they have a relationship with the teacher and staff. That’s why it's important to get to know your students. Building relationships with students can go a long way toward creating a classroom that truly creates a supportive and nurturing community.
School leaders should prioritize building meaningful relationships not only with students, but with faculty, staff and the overall community. Significant relationships within the school may lead to better leadership from all parties, as they create an opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility in others. Much of the research on school improvement is centered on developing leadership from within the school. A school leader can’t do it alone — a successful school is built by all the members of the community.
Significant relationships are different from overfamiliarization.
Another frequent mistake regarding relationships within the school is school personnel becoming too familiar in communicating with students and parents. While the staff feel like it makes them appear more approachable, the fact is, it only makes them appear out of bounds. Where is the line between a significant relationship and overfamiliarization? The line ends at feigning intimacy, assuming a friendship or closeness that doesn’t exist, or becoming flirtatious. These factors remove the chance of a genuine human connection. They undermine the trust necessary for effective communication. Your students and parents don’t need a pal or a buddy — they need an open, fair, and supportive leader, who stays within the social bounds while providing mentorship and support.
Solution — Research shows that three main factors allow for meaningful relationships within the school:1. Get To Know Your Students: “It is our responsibility to get to know our students at different levels, not only academically, but personally and socially as well,” says retired New Mexico teacher Eloy Gonzales. “You may have the content knowledge, but if you don't build the rapport with students, you won't get anywhere.” Talk with your students and provide academic and emotional support by being accessible and meeting with them one-on-one. This builds the students’ self-worth and makes them feel like the school and staff care about their success.
2. Individualize: Paula Denton, author of The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn, believes building relationships with students fosters an environment that supports learning. “The more we know about the child the more we can build learning environments and curricula that are going to work for them,” Denton says. Understanding how the student thinks and learns allows the teacher to individualize the curriculum and use creativity to help the student grasp the material.
3. Protect the Student’s Self-Esteem: It is vital to manage classroom discipline without taking away the dignity of (often sensitive and puberty-fueled) students. Avoid an audience when handling disciplinary issues. Try to discuss the problem to the student on the side, like at his or her desk or after the end of class, instead of carrying out a confrontation in front of the class. Research shows that this practice creates room for genuine communication and a more effective resolution.
Mistake #3 Mishandling Bullying
Many schools still struggle to address bullying, despite the advances in education research and training that have been practiced in the industry in the last few years. As a result, schools sometimes fail to address bullying in a hasty manner, or worse, do not address it at all. The way your school handles bullying has the power to erode the meaningful relationships you have built with your students. Moreover, the problem can escalate beyond destroyed relationships and a breaking of trust. The end result can significantly harm the learning environment, create an undesirable school climate, and lead to serious destructive behaviors in students.
Research found three features that define aggressive behavior as bullying: repetition, intention and an imbalance of power. Given these characteristics, bullying is often defined as systematic abuse of power by peers. By not addressing this behavior early, the school not only hurts the victim further, but reinforces and empowers the bullying behavior. Bullying may lead to detrimental effects, including poor school achievement, higher loneliness and poorer health, greater levels of anxiety and depression, and even suicidal ideation in the victims.
Solution — When it comes to bullying, your school should absolutely not:
Cover it up: Most school administrators know the importance of transparency with parents of bullying victims. However, there is often a fear repercussions from angry parents, which, unfortunately, leads to a cover up of the bullying incident. However, this decision not only unwise, unethical and irresponsible, but it puts the school at a high risk.
Ignore it: We all know that educators in most schools are stretched thin. Endless responsibilities and pressures from the higher-ups take up most of their time. As a result, bullying situations may be unintentionally ignored, particularly if the incident seems minor. However, minor infractions often lead to greater infractions, and, at that point, it may be too late to fix the situation and the pain it has caused. That’s why it is crucial to address all situations early.
Try to Mediate the Situation: This may seem surprising. Mediation sounds like an adult solution to a conflict situation. However, by definition, mediation is a tactic for a disagreement in an equal relationship between peers. It simply does not work in a conflict involving bullying, as it is an occurrence of power-play and victimization. There is nothing equal in such an interaction. The bully holds all the power, reinforces an imbalance by intimidation, harassment, and humiliation. As a result, mediation attempts from the school have no effect in such a situation.
Teachers play a vital role in the level of bullying in their classrooms. According to research, students’ perceptions regarding teacher attitudes towards bullying are associated with the level of bullying problems in a classroom. A study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found that as students started to perceive their teachers’ attitudes as more disapproving of bullying, their bullying behavior was reduced. This is strong evidence for the importance of teachers communicating their disapproval of bullying to students.
Mistake #4 Having an Unreasonably Drawn-Out Teacher Hiring Process
Your teacher talent pipeline may be negatively affected by your hiring process. How so? Think about the standard hiring process — resume screening, phone calls, interviews, background checks, along with an entire lists of things that must occur before you make an offer to the potential hire. The process often takes a number of weeks. With the demand for qualified teachers rising on an international level, it’s safe to assume the candidates you’re interested in are also been sought out by other schools. They’re not likely to stick around for too long waiting for an offer. A protracted hiring process is an almost guaranteed way to lose amazing teacher candidates.
Don’t think that the solution is about cutting out the steps that ensure that the educator you put in front of your students is safe, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and qualified. Most of the steps in the traditional hiring process are essential in guaranteeing the quality of candidates. However, cutting down on some manual labor and paperwork involved may vastly improve your hiring process and increase your teacher retention rate.
Solution — There is a number of steps you may take to ensure that your hiring process is as smooth as possible. To expedite the hiring process without losing out on quality, try to implement the following:
- Ensure that your shortlisted candidates know where they stand in the hiring process. By keeping an open line of communication, you waste less time — both your own and the potential hires’. This includes letting candidates know when they do not get the position. Act quickly, where at all possible — great teachers are not going to wait around for you.
- Use an applicant tracking software that can cut down on some manual processes traditionally involved in hiring. Tools that are purpose-built to improve and augment existing practices can be a tremendous asset during the hiring process.
- Consider both qualitative and quantitative data when assessing candidates. Quickly sorting through a pile of resumes by skimming for certain criteria will not expedite the hiring process. Surprisingly, taking in more data about your top candidates may actually lead to a faster hiring process. When you know what you want and who your students need and use that information effectively, the hiring process becomes more efficient!
Mistake #5 Overlooking the Safety and Security of Technology
The modern classroom is a blend of traditional and digital tools to instruct today’s students. Digital education is crucial to prepare students for the modern workplace. A complicated infrastructure of servers, racks and cords upholds this practice. Unfortunately, many schools are failing to ensure the data centers that uphold the tech are capable and secure.
According to COSN’s 2018 K–12 IT Leadership Survey Report, the use of devices and digital material in the classroom will only continue to grow. In fact, mobile devices and Wi-Fi will get the most spending attention in schools in 2016, according to a DA survey.
It is time to ensure the safety and security of technology in schools. “Schools should assess where the gaps in their infrastructure lie and research by consulting industry experts to find solutions, not try to come up with in-house ‘innovations’ that can be out of line with real industry trends,” advises Mehdi Paryavi, chairman of the International Data Center Authority (IDCA). “Schools should also take care to protect student information as they might healthcare information — student privacy is often an area people neglect.”
Solution — it’s important to take preventative steps to ensure the security of student and staff data.
Safe storage includes backing up data, securing student information, having a backup for the data center’s power source, as well as having hard copies in sight of what to do with the data should disaster strike. Encrypt all data — there is a wide range of encrypted portable solutions such as USB flash and hard drives available today.
Schools need to recognize that their background infrastructure is critical. It is necessary to allocate a budget to train and certify staff who can remain ahead of the technology curve.
Be clear on policies. Make sure that all staff members understand why data security policies are in place and what their role is in the process. Create a sense of accountability by providing clear written guidelines to all staff on their responsibilities.
Know the different data types. For example, personal data is information relating to identity, such as names, birthdays and addresses. Sensitive personal data often relates to deeper details, such as race, political affiliations, religion, trade union membership, health, sexuality, and a criminal record.
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