COVID-19 rocked our school the first week of our opening this school year. We started the year with three staff members out due to the COVID-19 protocol. Unsure of what to do, I decided to do something that I do not think many in my position would have done. I stepped up — and I stepped in. I filled the place of one of my teachers and I started teaching English.
I want to be clear that I did not cover the class; I taught the class. For the first six days of the school year, I was the English teacher for two hours each day. I was using the book “Wonder” to teach the standards. We had other staff members who could have filled in. We had instructional assistants who could have filled in. But we did not just need a warm body. Our children deserved better than six days worth of sub plans. After a year and a half of pandemic school, we needed to kick the 2021-2022 school year off in high gear. I preached all summer about us being in a state of emergency. During a state of emergency, you need all hands on deck. Those hands included mine.
I learned a lot during those six days in the classroom. I left my balcony view and got on the dance floor and I saw many of our systems from a different perspective. I began to understand a lot more about our curriculum and the load that was on teachers. And my leadership began to change and adjust as well.
This experience in the classroom was precisely what I needed to lead my building this school year. I believe many principals can learn a lot from teaching in the classrooms. Here are three reasons why principals should teach a class periodically in their building.
Improve Instructional Leadership. Schools need an instructional leader as the principal. The best way to be an instructional leader is to become familiar with instruction. You do not just become familiar with it by observing classrooms. It would be best if you genuinely dive into it. During my day of teaching English, I spent time preparing and internalizing the lesson plans, using the same lesson internalization protocol rolled out to teachers. And, as a result, I became a better instructional leader.
Gain Credibility. Too often, principals sit in their office on their high horse and push down feedback and initiatives on teachers without truly understanding its impact on the classroom. We usually do not know how these ideas will translate to the classroom and in front of students. When we give these demands and deadlines, we do not always understand how it fits into a teacher’s day. But when you step into the classroom and walk in the shoes of a teacher, they see you in a different light. They gain a little more respect because they see that, even as the principal, you are not afraid to roll your sleeves up and get your hands a little dirty at a moment’s notice.
Stay Sharp. If you do not use a knife after so long, it becomes dull and does not cut the same. If you do not periodically work on your footwork, then it gets a little sloppy. If you have a gift or a talent and do not use it, you lose a little of what made it a gift and a talent. Teaching is no different. I have always felt teaching was an art and a science — the art of it you have to do to continue to be good at it. The science of teaching is continuously changing with time. It changes with the landscape; for example, teaching pre-COVID-19 is completely different post-COVID-19. The best way to stay on top of the changing trends is to get back in the game. The first day I was teaching, I was a little rusty. Even though I had prepared and internalized my lesson, my instincts were a little slow. By the second and third day, they were coming back. By day four, five, and six, I was back into my groove. That experience over those six days is exactly why I plan on periodically getting back in the classroom to teach to stay sharp.
Principals, get out of your office. Do not just go in the classroom to give feedback; go in there to lend a hand by taking on the load of teaching. You won't regret it.
David McGuire serves as principal of
Tindley Summit Academy located in Indianapolis, Indiana. He has served as the principal for the past five years. David has taught high school and middle school in Indianapolis, in both the charter and traditional district settings. He is currently a fellow of the Indiana Principal Leadership Institute. David is a ...