I earned my administrator’s license 15 years ago. I announced to my colleagues, friends, and family that I would never actually use it. I had no desire to be an administrator. I was happy teaching and working as case manager to my students with disabilities. Why would I ever want to change jobs? I smugly asked.
Well, here I am, halfway through year 4 as an administrator. I took a new position at a different school as Director of Instructional Technology and in that role, I sit on the administrator’s council. When I started this new position, 19 years into my career in education, I was given a mandate by my principal at the time. He told me that for the first year in my new job, he was not going to ask me about how the staff is coming along with integrating technology or how our new 1:1 chrome book rollout was impacting student learning. He said that my number one priority was to establish relationships with the staff. Relieved, I slowly began to get to know my new colleagues. We shared stories about our families, vacations we had taken, swapped restaurant recommendations, and met up for happy hour on Fridays after school. I was confident in my ability to connect with my colleagues. However, I knew that if I was ever going to actually move the needle in regards to our understanding of how to utilize technology effectively for learning, I needed to be in the classroom. I didn’t just need to be in my classroom, which I was thankfully for one period per day, I needed to be in everyone’s classroom. I work in a high school with about 2000 students and 150 staff divided into roughly 9 departments.
How was I going to get into all of those classrooms?
I had a couple of logistical issues to tackle:
First, although I don’t actually evaluate anyone, I am an administrator and some teachers might be hesitant to have me in their classes. Next, I didn’t know everyone and they certainly didn’t know me.Also, my position was new and the staff didn’t quite understand what my purpose was. Finally, how was I going to find the time to navigate so many classes while still actually doing my job?
After consulting with my supervisor and mentor, Dr. Eileen McMahon (@EileenMcM70), who also was looking for a way to get to better understand our curriculum, students, and teachers, we decided to put ourselves in residence in each department.
Essentially, I would “live” in each department for a week.
“Home is where our story begins”
I created a schedule so that each department had a dedicated week and I blocked off time in each day that was designated as residency time. I spoke to the department chairs and sent a message to the staff in each department explaining that my residency was a chance for me to learn more about the curriculum, different teaching styles, and see the students in action. I also made a point of saying that if there was something in particular that a teacher wanted me to see or do, that they should let me know. I was more than happy to offer up an extra set of hands or co-teach. I also included in my message that if they preferred that I did not visit their classroom, they just needed to send me a note and I would honor their request.
Nervous but excited, I started my first residency. My first department was physical education. They are a fun, welcoming group of teachers who made a point of clearing an extra desk in their office for me. Instead of using my office as my home base, I spent the week in the PE office. I dressed the part and participated in PE activities. I played pickle-ball, ran on the track, meditated with the yoga class, attempted to walk on stilts, and was the victim in need of rescue from the pool in the lifeguarding class. I got to talk to the teachers about the joys and frustrations of their day to day responsibilities. I got to interact with the kids and ask them their favorite or least favorite parts of their PE classes. The week was hectic and busy but it went by so fast. I found myself feeling sad to say goodbye on Friday but also was buzzing with ideas for how the PE teachers could be integrating technology in order to help their students achieve their goals.
On to the next department!
The following week I was in the English department, which has an entirely different dynamic, as you would expect. They too were welcoming and made space for me in the office. I popped in and out of classes at every level and saw a staggering number of teachers and students. I read out loud in one class that was reading a play and needed an additional person to take a part. I sat in on writers’ workshops, listened to students debate various topics, saw student-led presentations, chatted with teachers about books they were reading, and saw the students coming in and out of the office so they could meet with their teachers.
The weeks continued. In each department I made a point of walking into classes with nothing, both physical and emotional. I wasn’t there to take notes or check email. I was also careful to leave any preconceived notions of what the class might be like at the door. In most of the departments, the teachers took full advantage of my being there. In between classes they asked questions and we began to plan together. There was another interesting discovery that I made as the weeks progressed; I was beginning to connect teachers across disciplines. Terminology that I heard in geometry was also being used in PE and art. Writing skills that were being taught in English were being reinforced in science and social studies. I spoke to the teachers about what I saw and heard in other classes and they were interested in working together.
During the weeks of my residencies I often came home exhausted and with tons of work to do because I couldn’t get much else done during the day, but it was entirely worth it. Students started to recognize me and the kids who I had played pickle-ball with were now happy to have me take a look at their chemistry experiment. Teachers who initially thought my job was entirely technology focused were beginning to understand that I wanted to be more than just someone who could show them where to click and I was starting to be invited to course team meetings.
From having this residency experience, I feel as if I have an understanding of my school and a perspective that few if any other staff members have. I know what the flavor of each department is and that helps me immensely in my work with them.
As a teacher, one of my biggest complaints about administrators was that they were out of touch with what it is like to be in the classroom. I still teach one class of my own, but the residency plan has continued past my first year. What I thought was a solution to an issue in my first year, has become standard practice for me. I even have staff asking me when I’m going to come back. At this point in the year, when my residency schedule is over, I am still all over the building working with our staff. But there is something special about living in each part of my school, even if it is just for a short period of time.
As I speak to other administrators now I always say- if you really want to know your school you have to live there!