Supporting Teachers by Including Them in Decision-Making

Clayton Scarborough
Clayton Scarborough
High school principal; M.A. in Education, principal certification
A group of professionals still around a table in a library, having a discussion.

As a teacher for ten years, I remember every year there seemed to be something ‘new’ or something that was the next initiative at school each year when we returned to school in August. As an administrator for ten years, I understand much more about many things, including decision-making and how to support teachers.

Each year there might a better way of doing something or something that needs to a point if emphasis to restore some good behaviors. Those programs where key teachers (the ones on the frontline) had been brought in on the process and the purpose were wildly more successful than the programs done in compliance or by order the district or principal.

The reason for this is clear, in those initiatives or plans that teachers did not vet seemed either to die off quickly for a lack of compliance or were completed only half-heartedly for the reason of compliance.

But those initiatives or plans where teachers served on the committee, decided on curriculum, or how to enforce dress code, where the plans that were much more successful because of two primary reasons:

1.) Ownership

2.) The ones who were carrying out the plan, created the plan

Author Todd Whitaker talks about this in his book What Great Principals Do Differently. The idea is to vet anything major (and sometimes minor) with your best and lead teachers because if they are on board, you probably are headed in the right direction or at least doing something they can support.

This approach also increases ownership in making decisions and increases the voice from the people that will likely be working with the new decision everyday alongside students; this makes teachers feel appreciated.

Secondly, an amazing thing happens for school effectiveness when you talk to people who have been in the classroom for many years. For example, my current department chair team has over a 100 years of teaching experience around the table when we sit down to meet. Don’t get me wrong, new things come up every day, but there is rarely an event or situation that has not been or addressed around that table.

A good viable plan from one of your teachers on your campus to grow ownership and buy-in is worth its weight in gold.

Remember, a good leader never takes the credit anyway and take the brunt of the blame, thus giving the opportunity for one of your teachers to shine and grow is worth its weight in gold.

Ways to Include Your Teachers in Decision-Making as a School Administrator

What is the best way to get your teachers involved in the school decision-making process? The answers or options are easy to come up with.  However, the trick is coming up with the best situation for your school.

Thus, we discuss some different systems that might work based on different school settings.

Department Heads

In ten years of administration and five as a high school principal, my favorite approach has been through having department heads. You do need to be a big school for this and one place I worked with 2,400 students and over 120 staff members, that was the way to go. We could filter information through our department chairs to our staff and they could bring questions to us. We had a flow of information from administration to department chairs to our staff.

I continued this practice at the smaller schools (730 students and 630 students) with department chairs. Our departments were smaller (five to six each versus 12 and 15 each) but allowed a good percentage of teachers to be included in the decision-making model and increase teacher voice where there was not much voice before.

At lower grades, many elementary schools use grade-level leaders. This works like department chairs.

Principal’s Council

There are some schools where department chairs are not used. Some of these schools are so small that communication from the administrator to the teacher may be as easy as walking down their one or two hallways. However, at larger schools with no department chairs, a principal may choose or the teachers may choose a “principal’s council” of teachers. No department chair status, but simple who the teachers they want to represent them.

Campus Improvement Team Committee

These department chairs can help with interviews in selecting staff, bouncing ideas around with the principal and sometimes will serve as the Campus Improvement Team Committee. Some larger schools will have department chairs and a campus improvement team to increase the number of staff voices.

There is one major drawback to this however, collaborative decision-making and inclusion in decision-making takes time. It will, at times, slow down the decision-making process. But what you lose in time, you gain in staff ownership and inclusion.

There perhaps is no greater school culture boost than including your teachers in the decisions of the school. Having your staff feel like they have a voice and value through teacher support will help your school go places it has not before.

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