Teaching Principals do exist, so what are the benefits of inhabiting the dual role?
Some of my earliest memories of the teacher-principal relationship are hinged on the notion that principals just don’t get it anymore. For some, this may be a fair assumption—most principals have not actively been in a teaching role in many years, and in some districts (like mine), you only have to have a few years of teaching under your belt in order to pursue an administrative license. When I became an admin, I made a critical decision—one that not many administrators can feasibly make: I vowed to remain in the classroom.
What are the benefits of maintaining a teaching role as a principal?
You build a real sense of what is going on for your teachers on a daily basis, and this informs your administrative practice. This has been fundamental for my role as an instructional leader. I never ask my teachers to take on a task that I would be unwilling to take on myself. Be it a portfolio, video-taping and sharing instruction, action-research projects, or lesson study—if I ask my staff to do it, I’m doing it with them.
Your struggle is authentic, and it builds camaraderie. My teachers and I are struggling with the work together, in real time. As I collect data on my students, I can share in the productive work I am doing, and also lament the shortcomings that are part of the organic practice of education. We are able to access one another, creatively solving problems as a group of professionals. I don’t always have the answers, but my staff knows that I am trying (and failing and succeeding) just like they are.
Build a community of leadership to make it possible. Being a teaching administrator means I don’t always have time to do principal duties that might pull me from my classroom. While this might seem like a problem, it has actually bred a culture of protecting that educational space. As a result, teachers step in to support one another in ways that might traditionally fall on the principal. Discipline is handled by the teacher to the greatest extent possible until I am done with my teaching day. Parents equally respect the hours that I am teaching, and manage their needs so that there is a reverence for teaching hours—a reverence that all teachers deserve. My staff assist me in supporting operational duties, taking on leadership responsibilities, and managing routines that would hinder my ability to work in the classroom. The reciprocal relationship feeds into an overall trust and appreciation within my staff that would be difficult to replicate.
Although there are many benefits to maintaining a teaching position as a building admin, it is not always possible for the principal to manage both. Time constraints, observation and feedback responsibilities, operational tasks, discipline, and myriad other principal duties easily fill the duty day. If you can’t finagle a teaching block, how else might you be able to bridge the roles of admin and teacher? In middle and high school, it may be possible (and even do wonders for budget and class sizes) to take on one or two sections of teaching. It would be challenging, of course, to reoccupy the space of a teacher—planning, engaging with a PLC, being accountable to grades and parents, etc—but the benefits could be enormous. In the elementary school, it may be possible to offer intervention services to teachers, rather than taking on a traditional gen ed role.
Wherever possible, showing teachers that you are still engaged in the work of teaching will strengthen trust and inform your practice as an instructional leader in the modern school.
Adrianne Lytle is the founding principal of a K-8 magnet school in enchanting New Mexico, and is also a devoted teaching-admin-- that's right, dual role of teaching administrator! Adrianne is proud to lead a funky multi-age, PBL-based & partial-homeschooling program, where community, parental involvement, and service learning are critical for student success. When not running her own class of 4th-8th grade students (it's complicated... but it's really rad), she might be found writing curriculum, leading weekly staff PD, or otherwise trying to pandemic-educate her own spunky 1st grade child. If not in the virtual classroom, Adrianne is an avid Peloton junkie, politics & public radio nerd, and loves engaging in local community theatre. Someday, she hopes to resume her EdD in educational leadership, but for now... we build fun bitmoji classrooms... ammiright?!