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What Do Teachers Want in Their Leaders?

The success of any school depends greatly on the quality and effectiveness of its teaching staff and leadership. The positive relationship between teachers and school leaders is an important factor in building a supportive educational community that can best serve its students. A current concern in the educational system is increasing levels of teacher demoralization and the resulting attrition.

Why Are Teachers Leaving?

Recent top-down changes in educational legislation and standardized assessments taking a somewhat antagonistic stance toward teachers could be party responsible. In addition, teachers struggle with a lack of resources while technological necessities in the classroom are more expensive than ever. And, although the move toward the inclusive, differentiated classroom is widely considered a positive progression in educational methodology, many teachers report not receiving adequate training to address the unique needs of diverse populations of students, including special needs students and English Language Learners. Moreover, time is such a precious commodity for teachers that fitting in training and professional development can seem impossible.

What Do Teachers Need?

Interestingly, a survey called Primary Sources, conducted by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, reported that “supportive leadership” is ranked “absolutely essential” by a majority of teachers as keeping them from leaving what can be a difficult occupation. Family involvement and more time for teacher collaboration also ranked highly. As far as what would most help improve student achievement, the highest rankings were given to family involvement, high academic expectations, smaller class size, and, again, positive educational leadership from administrators.

Whether directly referring to school leaders or to factors that are the responsibility of administration, it is clear that a school’s leadership is of utmost importance to the teaching staff in matters of faculty retention and student achievement. So what do teachers want from their leaders? This is an important area for discussion and study in an online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Educational Leadership program, as much of what principals and other building-level leaders do — such as establish strong relationships, and foster a collaborative, supportive community within the school — should be based on what teachers value.

Qualities of the Supportive School Leader

Perhaps foremost in what a teacher values in a school leader is a strong sense of compassion and the related ability to create a motivated, collectively oriented community of teaching staff and administration, united in the purpose of improving student experience, learning and achievement. This involves many qualities, both implicit and explicit, but can be generalized in leaders treating their teachers with respect for their abilities, strengths, time and hard work.

Trust between teacher and leader is also essential. Upon this foundation of trust and respect, leaders can promote collaboration with colleagues, using the strengths of each to educate one another. Creating this desired environment of compassionate collaboration, support and mutual goals can help teachers feel both valued and invested in their school community.

Qualities of the Effective School Leader

In the eyes of teachers, school leaders need to be competent in all areas of school administration and organization in order to maintain an effective, well-trained staff; reach a high level of school achievement; and foster positive family and community engagement, widely thought to be a cornerstone of successful schools. Communication underlies every aspect of effective leadership. Teachers need a clear understanding of the administrator’s vision for their school’s direction, achievement goals, the methods to be used, and the expectations for teachers. The transparency in communication of this vision is essential to a teacher’s understanding of and investment in successfully implementing it. Feedback on both performance strengths and areas for improvement must be similarly clear and respectful. Advice, suggestions and training should also be offered to support needed improvement.

On a tangible level, teachers also desire school leaders to understand the need for appropriate resources in the classroom and effective training in technology use and differentiated instructional techniques. They also ask that school leaders understand the time constraints teachers face every day. Without basic resources and current and functional technology, teachers can hardly be expected to prepare students with the knowledge needed for the achievement expected of them.

Similarly, when various differentiated learning models and adaptive techniques are implemented into a school’s educational pedagogy, teachers need appropriate training. And, when scheduled training and professional development are accounted for, the average teacher works 10 to 12 hours each day. Administrators should be mindful of the teacher’s time constraints when planning staff meetings and training. Administrative communications can be sent electronically instead of requiring extra time commitment from teachers for meetings. Trainings should be designed to efficiently address and prepare teachers for the specific knowledge needed and situations likely to arise within their school.

Given the complex demands placed on teachers, it is understandable why they would want quite a lot from their leaders. Yet the quality of educational leadership in a school and the relationships within that school’s community of teachers and leaders can be the key to its success or failure. Earning an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership can help educators gain the knowledge and skills needed to tackle the difficult yet rewarding job of being an effective school leader.

Learn more about LSU Shreveport’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership Online.


CAPEA Education Leadership and Administration: What Teachers Want in Their Leaders: Voices from the Field

New Leaders: Untapped — Transforming Teacher Leadership to Help Students Succeed

Education Week: What Do Teachers Want?

The Wallace Foundation: The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning

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