Catch Ya vs Coach Ya – A View on Education Leadership

I rarely write about my work on here, it is not really the purpose of this page – I can site only a few examples of when I have.

I have written about Newtown and my students – I have responded to some concerns with the series 13 reasons why – I have talked about youth and how “grown ups” are ruining them.

So with that said, it makes sense before I dig in, to sort of do the “Here is why I am qualified to speak on this.” bit. I have worked in education for 15 years. 3 years in Higher Education and the rest in the k-12 setting. Here I am for those who are curious or want to connect.

I have a Masters Degree from Seton Hall University in Education Leadership, Management and Policy. 

For the past 2 years I have been the Assistant Director of School Based Programming for the Center For Youth Services in Rochester, NY. This has given me the opportunity to work with administrators in over 15 schools, both Head Principals and Assistant Principals. In other words I have worked with approximately 50 of these administrators and countless teachers in recent years.

From this education and experience I have shaped my leadership style to be one that never includes a “gotcha” moment and have worked towards a coaching model in it’s place.

When I ask if administrators are in the classrooms coaching, they respond that they simply do not have the time for it. A follow up is simple, “Then how do you have the time for all of the discipline meetings and documentation that goes with the gotcha moments you are producing?”

From teachers I have heard countless stories of administrators sitting around a corner listening to a problem and then “springing” it on the teacher in a meeting or worse, in front of the students in a live action discipline. I have personally witnessed that myself with a Principal berating a teacher in front of her peers and class. Simply walking around the corner, and offering assistance and even modeling the proper way to handle a situation would have been effective and created a culture of trust rather than one of fear/retribution. It also would have in the moment, taken the same amount of time, and saved time in the future.

Another example of this “gotcha” work is a Principal who put a required signature and task due date in the staff handbook. The handbook was then given out on welcome back day, and then weeks later in a staff meeting she lambasted staff who did not notice it. Answering a question in a condescending tone “If you had read the handbook you would have known, so what else are you not doing?”

All of this was done without informing staff that 1. It was there 2. Why is was there and 3. When it was needed by. So this administrator had the time to create a “gotcha” moment, set themselves a reminder to “catch” her staff, and wasted energy disciplining for the task in a way that had almost the entire room upset. They would however then say they did not have time to remind them it was coming due? This creates a culture of resentment between admin and teachers in place of an environment in which staff feel valued.

Accountability is a tricky topic in the world of education these days, with standardized tests, state mandates, and constant funding cuts. Gotcha is not equal to accountability though. They live in different worlds.

Gotcha is demoralizing to staff, who will look to move on as soon as they can. We know this is one of the worst things for our youth, yet some administrators openly seek this as a solution. If a Principal operates this way, a teacher may be identified as a candidate to “catch”, and move out of the building early in the year. This means for the remainder of the year that staff member worked in a condition that all but ensured they could not improve. There would be documentation, meetings, anything to provide “proof” they should move on/out. What there isn’t is actual, real, informed coaching. This is disastrous for youth in that classroom, and often is done for personal reasons.

  • According to The Irreplaceables, as many as 74% of high-performing teachers leave their positions as a result of feeling unsupported or unrecognized for their skills and effort.

That is our high performing teachers who are leaving. Imagine how the lower performing ones feel?  Within this, we have not even brought up teacher observations that create a large portion of these gotcha moments and in which teachers report to be stressful, unfair, and ultimately unhelpful.

We do not send someone in to walk around for a day watching what the administrators do, but we do send administrators in to a classroom, with a score sheet/rubric, to sit and judge teacher effectiveness on a 25-30 minute window of the day. In what other industry is this a means of evaluation?

This time could be better spent joining classrooms, sitting in on planning time with teachers, bringing energy to classrooms and hallways. or any number of other coaching opportunities.

Education Leadership should be about the growth of our teachers the same way our classroom lessons should be about the growth of our students.

My advice to school administrators to avoid these gotcha moments is simple:

  1. Develop a real, quality relationship with your staff and teachers. This one should be the first thing you do, doing this will encourage real conversations, not gotcha moments.
  2. Allow your teachers to become a part of your evaluation process. We know people work harder and learn more when involved in the process.
  3. Take ownership over poor teacher performance. After all, we ask teachers to do this when students perform below average, so we should when teachers don’t meet standards. Ask yourself how you can improve their teaching as much as you ask the teachers to.
  4. Lead by example. Come out of your office. Show your teachers the things you want to see from them. Demonstrate the things you need for your building to become successful.
  5. Lead with fairness. Fair is not equal, and equal is not fair, but morality should be a part of your leadership, and revenge or “i’ll show them” attitudes should never be. Staff will know within days where you stand on this, and will resent one style while bending over backwards for the other.
  6. Have your teachers backs in public. If there is an issue, handle it one on one but always lead with a sense of support and improvement. Your teachers will work hard to improve if they believe that you believe in them and will support them in tough moments. If you quit on them, they will likely to quit on your students.
  7. Find a way to turn any situation in to a positive. Can you improve a lesson plan? Can you fix school procedures? Is there room for fixing a scheduling issue? Are you taking teachers request for change personally? There is always a negative way and positive way to handle a situation. Find the positive one and your teachers will begin to do this in classrooms as well.
  8. Never. Stop. Learning. Yes, you were a teacher. Yes you are a leader now. You should always be a student though. Times are constantly changing and so should your style and techniques.  We cannot teach the same way we did 20 years ago, or even 5, so we certainly should not lead the way we did back then either.

Mostly you should know that educational leadership is no different than any other function of leadership but can be vastly more important. We are impacting the lives of the next generation. We can do this with a positive, growth mindset or we can do it the other way. Creating a school climate that teachers are fighting to get in to is the first step in improving our public education system, everything else is will fall in place. I know, because I have seen it.




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