Tom Whitby

College/University Professor

Sayville, NY

Interests: 21st century learning,...

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What’s an Accomplished Administrator?

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I have been very fortunate to travel both nationally and internationally to attend education conferences. A primary benefit of this is having great conversations with various types of educators. With so many of these conversations taking place on a regular basis, I find myself often depending on an opening question that resides on a short list of questions in my head. I have teacher questions, principal questions, and superintendent questions. Most of these questions are geared to being connected. Unfortunately, too often I need to first define what being connected means.

Since I have become so immersed in the concept of connectedness through social media, I too often forget that not every educator gets it yet. It has only taken me a decade to understand that. I have trouble understanding why so many educators are still clueless about the need for collaboration and its link to social media and technology? Of course, as a former teacher, I, rightly or wrongly, hold administrators to a higher standard, believing leaders should lead. My need to hold admins more accountable led me to ask (out of ignorance) in a recent Edchat, ” Why are there no standards for administrators?” Someone immediately provided: Accomplished Principal Standards from the National Board Certification for Educational Leaders First Edition National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 1525 Wilson Boulevard l Arlington, VA 22209 USA www.nbpts.org. I finally had an official document to tell me what is truly expected of school principals in order to be considered “Accomplished”. Of course that is not to say that all principals are accomplished, but it is at the very least a goal.

As I perused the extensive document, I came to the section IX. Reflection and Growth. It was an affirmation of my doubts about principals who are not connected being, or at the very least becoming increasingly irrelevant in the 21st Century model of education. Extending this out in my own head, if it applied to principals, it surely applied to superintendents as well. Here is the passage that most caught my attention:

Accomplished principals use technology as a powerful learning tool. They may participate in digital networks for communication among professional colleagues, use social networking tools for informal learning, or take part with professional colleagues in online learning communities. These principals use such learning opportunities to consistently reflect on ways to improve their practice of leadership.

This now provided a much better and focused set of questions that I could expect administrators to have an understanding.

Here is my new list of admin questions:

1 Do you consider yourself an accomplished administrator?

2 What digital networks do you use for your communication with professional colleagues?

3 What social networking tools do you employ for your informal learning?

4 In what ways are you using these connected opportunities to reflect and improve your practice?

5 How has technology impacted your learning?

Of course I am a retired teacher, author, and Blogger, so I can ask these questions with impunity. I risk nothing posing these questions to administrators. Working educators do not have that luxury. There could be grave consequences if they posed these same questions to their administrators. How do we hold administrators responsible for meeting standards posed by their own professional organizations to maintain what should be expected of any 21st Century administrator? Are these standards only for good public relations, or are they really what should be expected or better yet demanded of every administrator?

I have always said that to better educate our kids we need to first better educate their educators. I think I should also now say that, if we are to hold our teachers to higher standards as 21st Century educators, we need to first align their leaders to those same standards. Feel free to print this out and place it in an administrator’s mailbox if they are not an administrator who would view this online as their standards suggest.

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Robert Lem

30 Oct 16, 07:50 PM

While I found your blog to be an interesting read, I could not help reflecting on my own observations during my 33-year career as a public school teacher and administrator in California. My doctoral studies on effective schools coupled and personal work experience with at least 15 different K-12 principals have left me with a somewhat cynical perspective on the subject of Accomplished Principal Standards. The official document that you cite from a national certification board is just one more list that if placed in every school administrator's mailbox, as you suggest, would most certainly be added to the circular file. We are led to believe that accomplished principals use technology as a powerful learning tool by participating in digital networks to communicate with professional colleagues and engaging in learning opportunities to improve their practice. By this standard, most of the unqualified and ineffective principals that I have worked under are "accomplished principals". They regularly communicated with teachers and district personnel using digital networks and frequently attended multi-day conferences in places such as Las Vegas for their professional development. I'm sure if you were to give them a questionnaire with your "new list of administrator questions", they would overwhelmingly give themselves outstanding marks in all areas (just as they already do now). It is easy for one to get swept up with the evaluation of both teachers and administrators and their use of digital technology. However, I believe that an individual can be an outstanding principal even if his/her use of technology is limited to their use of district email. In my opinion, one's familiarity with technology should be a given and not be part of any list of questions. Instead, the "old list" of administrator questions that relate to their possession of effective interpersonal skills and leadership competencies should be of foremost importance. Unfortunately, these critical traits were sorely lacking among the administrators that I had the pleasure of working with. While the desire to impose high expectations and demands on 21st century educators is laudable, to do so in the public sector is virtually impossible.
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