Sunday, August 2, 2015

Seasoned Sages Sundays: Setting Yourself Up for Success: The Questions (and Whom) to Ask Now

On a Facebook group page for upper elementary teachers, a new teacher asked, very intelligently, 'What questions should I be asking my principal or my team leader right now?'  There's so much that you'll have to manage, you want to know how it all rolls before you plan a room and a day.

Before we begin though, let me toss in this thought: listen a lot more than you talk over the next few months. People-watch. Keep an eye on interactions and how they flow. Who are the power players? (They may not be the people you think!) They'll be your go-to people. The first week, full-staff meetings are good for starting this.

What should I be asking my principal?
As little as possible. He/she runs a building. Your job is to run your classroom. A young teacher I once worked with, having trouble managing a class went, often, to admin for help. Then, hurt and confused, she found herself on the wrong side of the principal and labeled as a poor teacher. Afterwards, she came to the veteran teachers on our staff saying, "But she said that if I needed help, I should go to her!" to which each of us answered, "And you believed her?!"
My boss is a great guy. He's affable and easy to work with. I leave him alone unless something needs his express approval (like an overnight field trip) is going to cause a phone call downtown he'll have to deal with (a particular child's crazy mama's on the warpath, wanting things she can't have. Again.) something that will affect several teachers (a schedule change) or is way over my head (a child in a criminally abusive situation). As a reward, he's always glad to see me, and on the rare occasion I need action, I get it.

Great. So, whom do I ask?
A not very well kept secret is that it's the secretaries who actually make everything work. (Ours aren't actually called 'secretaries', they're a bookkeeper and an attendance officer. Some can be a little touchy about it. Mine aren't, but the ones at my son's school are. Find out.) Most day-to-day questions or issues should be run by them first. From them, you need to find out:
*How is attendance done?
*How do I handle (Powerschool, or whatever platform's being used for grades, attendance, etc.) What if I get locked out of it?
*How do I get classroom supplies?
*How is money handled?
*What if a kid's hurling? Lousy? Bleeding?
*What if my kid's school/sitter calls and he or she is hurling/lousy/bleeding?
*How do I get a sub?

Your grade/department chair is the person to whom to direct most of your questions. These should be things like:
*Do we plan together or on our own? Will we turn in lesson plans? If so, when and how?
*What are the expectations for the literacy block? Other areas?
*How does our grade/department collect data? What's it used for? Who will see it?
* What's the daily schedule? How religiously does it have to be followed?
* What are the procedures for: beginning the day, using the bathroom (not just the kids - you too.   Welcome to the world of the steel bladder.) getting through the cafeteria, playground, dismissal? Get your lead to walk you through a day.
* How do you handle homework? Word study?
* How do papers go home to parents?
* What if a kid's doing horribly? What are the procedures for getting those kids help?
*What do teachers actually wear? Are there jeans Fridays? How does that work?
*What sends the boss over the edge?What quirks does he or she have that I should know about?

Assistant Principals sit an odd fence. I've loved most of mine and had my tail saved by a few. They live in the admin world, but still keep a toe in the classroom. Rarely, you'll run into one that's ambitious to the point of putting him/herself above what's good for teachers, in which case, principal rules apply, but as long as you lean sparingly, they can be a great resource. Specifically, you'll need to know:
*How and how often will I be evaluated?
*Who is my mentor? Are there particular times that teacher and I meet? Is documentation required?
*What do I do if there's a transportation issue?
* What's the procedure if a kid's totally out of control?

Finally, a few last bits of this and that:
Be nice to the lunch ladies. Make your kids behave in line and don't let them talk trash about the pizza until they're out of earshot. Clean up your tables; keep to the schedule.

Be even nicer to the custodians, unless you never want anything moved or dusted again. Don't leave the room trashed. I once had one say, "I know everything I need to know about a teacher just by looking at her floor at the end of the day." Think about it; she was telling the truth. My current hall custodian is awesome. I left a small bookcase in its box on my floor one afternoon in May, planning to put it together the next morning. When I came in, it was already built. While I never go to the office to tattle, I totally will to brag. Mr. Larry's the man!

If you have security staff and/or a CRO (Campus Resource Officer) get to know them. They're your guardian angels and can do a lot with your kids as an alternative for kicking them to the office.

I know this was lengthy, and if you stuck with it to the end, good job! Believe it or not, there's no way I've covered it all, so continue on to the other Sages' sites to learn more!

Before you go, be sure to pin this for your teacher friends!


  1. Yes. This is just the stuff that needs to be shared. Thank you.

  2. Lizzie, perfectly said, as usual. I wish I knew you when I first started would have been my go-to. Always love the cut to the chase advice. I have never actually had much experience with Vice Principals, as I do not have one in my school. It is interesting how you mention they have one foot in the classroom still. I also like that you mention relying on your department head...definitely a good resource.

    The Organized Plan Book