January 23, 2020

A Principal’s Principle: Realign Your Devotion

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The first time I heard the phrase, I was somewhat taken aback by the teacher’s comment.

She referred to her students as “my babies”. It seemed to me like a professional overreach, somehow beyond the bounds of teacher-student relationships. Later, here in Belize, I heard a few other female teachers use the same expression: “my babies”.

Obviously, they all meant it figuratively—their students in their classrooms were like a flock of fledglings snuggled together in their nurturing nests. These “baby birds” would be mothered and smothered with love, lessons and learning. Their “babies” mattered. With fierce determination, they supplied their students’ needs: food, school supplies, infinite patience, and huge hugs. It took a while for me to understand the rich and loving context of what they were saying.  It was a phrase that flowed up from a place of deep dedication and love.

Rather impressive, don’t you think? Quite admirable.

So, what has all this deep devotion have to do with the Presbyterian Schools of Belize principals’ conference on required teacher appraisals to the Belize Ministry of Education?  

Allow me to make the connection.

Appraising teachers of their work is one of the major priorities of being a principal. It involves assessing teachers on their continual growth in the dimensions of planning and preparation, classroom community, instruction and professional responsibilities within a biblical framework. Christian principals must assess Christian teachers christianly.

Assessment in usually a two-step process: formative and summative.

Formative is foremost. It is the on-going, day-to-day process of learning to teach so you can teach to learn. Teachers are encouraged to take ownership of their “learning to teach”. And they are actively supported by their principals. Together, using a variety of activities and constant feedback, both principals and teachers are pursuing professional growth and development.   Some Christian principals have found Good Teaching Comes from the Inside[1]to be a good supporting resource.

Summative is secondary. It’s about reporting externally (after a period of time) to others who want to know if the teaching is flourishing or floundering. In Belize, the Ministry of Education requires two summative teacher assessments every school year. Given that the Ministry provides the yearly salaries and increments to every teacher in the country, requesting periodic summative assessments reflects an obvious accountability on their part. Such evaluations should segue out from constant formative reflection.

It’s been said that “You can’t fatten a pig by weighing it.” If all principals do is summative weighing and fail to feed their teachers with a robust formative appraisal process, learning for both teachers and students will be lean.

Just as teachers have their classroom of students; principals have their “classroom” of teachers. For beginning principals, who, as teachers, used to be devoted to their students, realignment is difficult but required.

So what a delight it was to hear a principal’s epiphany at our conference: “My teachers are my babies now!”

Those teachers will be well-fed. 

Bill de Jager

[1] Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia, 2001


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