Sunday, January 15, 2012

Professionally Oriented Educators

Megan Tschannen-Moran has published about the influence that professionally oriented principals can have on the success of teachers, students, and schools (Google Scholar her name for several sources). She writes that principals who lead from this professional orientation value the work and effort that teachers do and put forth on a daily basis to get their students to learn. In turn, this professional orientation improves levels of trust within schools, improves teachers' sense of efficacy regarding their teaching and their students' learning, and creates or improves upon a school culture that is focused on academics. I find it interesting that simply leading a school from this perspective is related with many school organizational level variables that researchers have found to improve student achievement. Yet, this work suggests that there are principals who don't treat their people in such a professional manner. I can't help but ask, "why not?"

No matter an educators role, I believe it is imperative that we behave as professionals and establish this expectation among our students, colleagues, superiors, and subordinates. Whether you're an assistant superintendent, principal, or teacher, I challenge you to think about your professional orientation with mindful reflection on the following questions.

  1. Are you open to collaborative problem solving, or do you prefer to mandate and direct?
  2. Does your leadership cultivate open discussion, or are you quick to silence those who ask questions or offer an alternative approach?
  3. Is your district, school, or classroom truly a democratic one, or do you simply talk the talk about U.S. public education being a democratic institution?

I'm interested in your thoughts about each of the above questions, so please post a comment to join the discussion.


  1. Nicely done Sam- your posts always lead me to reflect on my own professional practice. This post reminds me of a tweet I sent out recently challenging leaders to ask themselves what type of leader they were-one whose followers follow them because "he/she (the leader) says so", or one whose followers follow him/her because "they (the followers) say so?" The only true way to find this out is to ask the followers.

    My gut tells me people would like to follow someone based on trust and respect, not because they are mandated or directed. Your post focuses on the on the former, encouraging leaders to lead through collaboration and respect. Let's follow leaders because we say so, and lead so that our people follow us on their terms.

    1. Bill, Thanks for commenting. The importance of leading with collaboration and respect is sometimes lost when we consider the hierarchy of public education. Alhough I don't subscribe to the "No Excuses" mantra that many school leaders espouse when talking about student achievement, there is simply no excuse for any educator treating a colleague, superior, subordinate, or student in an unprofessional manner. As you so succintly point out, trust, respect, and collaboration go a long way in making schools great organizations.

  2. Great post, Sam! This sounds simple and impactful. It goes without saying that we should value the work our teachers do but I get the sense that this also entails promoting/celebrating the good work teachers do, creating the collaborative culture and embedding it in the school and cherishing open dialogue. Sounds like what you read is something we need to hear regularly.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Derek.
      Absolutely, we need to continue to celebrate all successes, no matter how small. I believe this keeps everyone motivated to continue working hard, as well as to cultivate the professional culture.

    2. Well said Sam. I think you have asked the perfect question in "why not?" There is certainly enough research out there acknowledging the positive impacts of professionally orientated educators. And we need only to rely on common sense to know that people are intrinsically more inclined to work harder and do a better job for someone who treats them like a professional.
      Why is this a tough concept for some to understand? I think Bill hit the nail on the head in speaking about reflection and the willingness to listen to those you lead. Such reflection is only possible when one is truly committed to opening lines of communication, hearing points from differing perspectives, and confident enough to change directions in order to reach the common goal. That is how we get leaders of the instructional and transformational brand. I believe that until educational leaders can forego their egos to faciliate what is best for students, staff, and school communities, we will still be stuck asking ourselves your initial question.

    3. Thanks for joining the discussion, Joe. You hit on many points that can make schools great when people are allowed, and encouraged, to behave as professionals. I don't think it's a challenge for true leaders to forego their egos. It's the rest who need to get off the bus, because their "leadership" is ultimately not helping students to learn.