The Helicopter Administrator and the Teacup Teacher, part 2

Yesterday I wrote about Helicopter administrators and Teacup teachers.  I guess I could have saved myself (and anyone who reads this) a lot of time by getting to the main point:  Administrators who hover over their teachers, constantly criticizing and micromanaging, create teachers who are not critical thinkers and are afraid to try something new.

In my mind, the next logical question is… why?

What would cause an administrator to act in such a way?  I don’t think there are many (if any) administrators who go into administration because they want to antagonize teachers and take away a teacher’s passion for teaching.  If such a person were to exist, he or she would be a caricature of a movie villain.  Instead, I believe that administrators go into administration because they want to effect change.  They want to be change agents throughout a school and influence the greatest number of students as is possible.  They want what is best for students and they want to empower teachers.

What goes wrong?  How do administrators go from a composite of Mr. Chipps/Jaime Escalante/Joe Clark/Ron Clark/Harry Wong… to a helicopter?

I believe that there are a few mitigating factors:

1–State regulations

The climate of schools is very uneasy at this moment due to changing standards, changing views of standards, and a general distrust of educators.  As a result, some administrators may find themselves clinging rigidly to state regulations as a way to cope with the stress of the current situation.  It is much easier to micromanage teachers based upon a list on a piece of paper than it is to attempt to know what direction education is heading based upon the whim of the electorate.  As a matter of convenience, administrators fall back to this position.

2–Standardized Testing

Where there are state regulations, there are standardized tests.  Parents and educators alike bemoan standardized testing, yet it is the one true statistical measure of student (and, by extension, teacher, school, and district) success for failure.  For that reason, some districts (including in the state of Indiana, where I teach) have begun to tie teacher pay to test scores.  Instead of addressing the issue of high-stakes testing, some administrators find it far more utilitarian to “play the hand you are dealt” and simply stress the importance of the test.

3–No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind has been with us for a while now, but that program can be used as justification for administrator’s micromanaging even the individual lessons within a classroom.  If state regulations call for each child to pass a standardized test due to perceptions of No Child Left Behind legislation, then it is only natural for administrators to stress that every child must master a concept before moving on to the next.  In fact, in the state of Indiana, schools are graded (“A” to “F”) based upon test score results and student growth.  Imagine that for a moment:  An entire school is graded based upon ONE test, given at a specific time, with a small number of questions.  And questions persist about the validity of the program in the wake of computer glitches and weather delays.  In the end, how “standardized” are “standardized” tests?

4–Social Media

Facebook and other social media platforms have educational counterparts in GreatSchools and other education-based, “yelp-like” review sites.  Thirty years ago, a school issue–no matter how major–could be controlled by the administration, who could stay ahead of the message.  Today, a school issue–no matter how minor–can be blown completely out of proportion and taken out of context due to the social media.  The school no longer controls the message; the school is now on defense and left playing damage control in many instances.  This reality, coupled with the increasing phenomenon of school-hopping, causes administrators to overly-cater to parents and teachers are often left holding the bag.

What does this all lead to?

Teachers experience more stress as administrators micromanage their classrooms.

Teachers lose their own passion for teaching and learning.

We lose the culture of inquiry as teachers focus on teaching to the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Teachers feel that they cannot go deeper in lessons because they must be sure to cover as much material as possible prior to the standardized test.  To paraphrase a quote I saw many years ago, “The ocean that was a mile wide turned out to be an inch deep.”

Of course, the ones that are hurt the most by all of this are the students.  Administrators and teachers will burn out in a helicopter administrator/teacup teacher environment.  Students, however, are stunted.  They learn that the only important thing in life is to pass a test.  They never develop or learn how to ask questions, how to think critically, and how to solve problems.

And all of this because of fear.

Helicopter Administrators create schools in which there is a fear of failure.  The administrator’s fear of failure in the eyes of the state or community gets passed on to the teacher.  The teacher is then afraid to try new things and explore depth in lessons.  This fear gets passed on to students who become terrified of tests and projects–which are often graded based upon increasingly easier standards of achievement that are modified based upon parent and student fears.  So, you see, this is fear is cyclical.

Administrators, it is up to you.  Be brave; be bold.  Encourage “calculated curricular” risks by teachers.  Help them through those new lessons.  And when they fail, as some are bound to do, be mindful of your reaction.  Rejoice and celebrate as “failures” only truly result if the teacher and students do not learn from the experience.

Have faith in your teachers.  You will not be disappointed.

(Final note:  I have been blessed to work with some outstanding teachers and administrators over the years.  THANK YOU for all that you do for your students and their families.  As I observe classrooms, I am constantly amazed by the intricate lessons our teachers develop.  You are a blessing to all those around you.  Keep up the FANTASTIC work!)

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