Pursuing classroom teaching opportunities gives administrators empathy for the educators they supervise, Miriam Plotinsky, a learning and achievement specialist with Maryland's Montgomery County Public Schools, writes for Edutopia.
It also gives administrators a chance to lead by example when they share their own teaching struggles. And principals can prepare teachers beforehand to share the administrative load in the administrator's absence, which, in turn, helps teachers understand school initiatives and empowers them to take on more responsibility beyond the classroom.
Still, safety, building operations and other tasks must be prioritized over teaching opportunities. If teaching is not possible, administrators can visit classrooms and have regular conversations with teachers to stay connected with them.
Instructional leadership is the idea that principals and administrators should shift away from their managerial roles toward leadership that focuses on building a community of learners, in turn sharing those managerial responsibilities with others. Principals should be visible and accessible, serve as an instructor, have strong communication skills and provide necessary teaching resources.
Teaching helps solidify administrators’ credibility as instructional leaders. Twenty-six states labeled “instructional leadership” as one of the standards for principals, and other states have similar standards that emphasize principal participation in curriculum, instruction and teacher feedback.
Balancing teaching and administration duties may be easier in smaller districts like Garrett County Public Schools in Maryland, where principals have been teaching for decades. There, four of the eight elementary principals are also teachers.
Administrators at Weilenmann School of Discovery, a charter school outside of Salt Lake City, also spend time in the classroom. The practice builds school community, creates a culture of trust and allows for risk-taking.
Principals who teach regularly in the classroom are rare, but nationally about one in 10 principals spend some time teaching in the classroom each year. Mark Shellinger, president of the National SAM Innovation Project, told Education Week that while remaining in the classroom is rewarding, co-teaching or coaching may be a better use of time. The project is a professional development process focused on transforming principals’ emphasis from school management tasks to instructional leadership.