The Helicopter Administrator and The Teacup Teacher, part 1

The helicopter parent.

The teacup child.

You have heard these terms before.  They are not new.  I have referenced these concepts in previous blog posts as well.  (But just in case these terms are new to you, I have provided links of definition.)

Let me first start by saying that I use these pejoratives with no venom.  I am fascinated by the experience and thought process that causes one to become a “helicopter parent.”  Based upon articles I have read and conversations I have had with those who could be called “helicopters,” I have come to the conclusion that these people experienced some sort of traumatic experience that has caused them to over-protect their children.  In many of the experiences I have encountered, I have found a common theme:

  • Parent trusts the school
  • Child comes home and complains (about teachers, classmates, etc.)
  • Parent tells child to listen to the teacher/administration
  • Child dutifully obeys, but situation gets worse
  • Parent finds out that child was not exaggerating

And thus a helicopter is born.

Over time, the helicopter transforms his or her progeny into a teacup.  The child learns that mom or dad will come and save the day.  Over time, this relationship becomes one of co-dependency:  The helicopter parent “needs” a crisis; everything IS a crisis for the teacup that cannot make decisions.

For years, we have seen this phenomenon in education and we have wondered what will happen when these teacup children become adults?  Perhaps we are seeing that today.  Elmore’s point is insightful:  Not only do graduates lack basic skills, but we are now to the point that they do not recognize (1) that they lack those skills and (2) what are basic skills.  This topic alone could serve as inspiration for great deal of analysis and thought.

But I have another reason for writing about this:  What about helicopter administrators and teacup teachers?  We are at the point in which teacup children of helicopter parents are teaching and leading our schools, serving on boards of education, and making legislative decisions that impact education.

As an administrator, I am keenly aware of this problem.  In our school, we value the uniqueness of each of our faculty members.  Each teacher has strengths and we try to put teachers in the best positions for success.  I have always felt that as an administrator is my duty to make sure that teachers have what they need and are put into a position to do their job to the best of their ability.  I usually try to be very “hands off.”  The teacher is a professional, and I respect that–even when a teacher may do things in ways that I wouldn’t.  For example, one teacher I worked with took the table legs off and had students sitting on the floor writing on the table tops.  That is not my style, but it worked in that room with that teacher.  There are times when I have had to step in and offer suggestions or even mandate some changes, but, overall, I want the teachers I work with to know that I support them and want to help them rather than dictate how they teach.

So, how are you doing?  If you are an administrator, consider your actions.

  • Do you value and seek input from teachers?  Or do you disregard their opinions and refuse to listen?
  • Do you seek ways to empower teachers to make decisions boldly, to teach creatively, and to maintain a classroom in a way that fits their personalities and serves the best interest of students?  Or do you micromanage decision making and rob teachers of autonomy?
  • Do you utilize classroom walkthroughs as a way to encourage and find out the great things that are happening within your school?  Or do you use them to “catch” teachers doing something of which you disapprove?

Consider the cost!  A school in which teachers have no autonomy, no liberty, no “say” is a school that has a helicopter administrator.  And in turn, you rob students of inquiry and expression.  A teacher that is constantly looking over his or her shoulder is a teacher that does not promote those skills to his or her students.  Instead of students, we mold automatons.

This behavior can be difficult to spot.  However, there are signs:

  • Do teachers seek to give their opinions?
  • What do classrooms look like?  Are they all decorated and oriented the same?
  • Are teachers overly concerned with process rather than product?
  • Do teachers lake the ability and initiative to make decisions?

I pray that our Lutheran schools do not have helicopter administrators and teacup teachers.  Such places would be full of fear, not grace.

(Next time, I will look at a source of helicopter administration and teacup teaching.)

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