How to Move Teacher-Administrator Relationships Beyond Rivalry

It’s okay to find a way to be on the same team.

Teacher-Administrator Relationship

West Side Story gave us the Jets vs. the Sharks. The NFL divides my neighborhood between Giants fans vs. Eagles fans. In education, we know there is a rivalry that out-rivals them all. No, it’s not block scheduling vs. traditional scheduling or standardized testing vs. creative lessons. Think teachers vs. administrators instead. The teacher-administrator relationship is a tough one to conquer.

Too often teachers and administrators stare at each other from opposite sides of a rift, but if each side thinks a bit about the tasks assigned to the other there really is lots of room for growth.

Your presence can be a disruptive force in a classroom

Walk-throughs, or short informal observations where you stop by a classroom to see what is going on, are a great example. It is wonderful for principals to see inside classrooms. It can also bring the momentum of class to a grinding halt. One way to develop a better teacher-administrator relationship is to simply ask teachers if there are any particular days they should avoid.

It’s okay to let teachers know you have a lot of required tasks, and many of them are not enjoyable either

Evacuation drills are mandatory. Training that reminds veteran teachers not to do things like make racist comments or sleep with students are mandatory. We don’t enjoy doing these things and know full well most teachers don’t need them. Still, there are lots of teachers who complain and fight against what just has to happen. An easy going reminder might help everyone show a bit more empathy, and share a knowing laugh and shake of the head while willingly participating.

Keep reminding yourself what it’s like to be in the classroom

Administrators are under a great deal of pressure and have a ton of different responsibilities. As such, we can get caught up in the environment of the front office and forget the realities of the classroom. Perhaps when making any decision that will impact teachers, we could ask teachers what they think. Rather than sending emails that say this is our new policy, you could say “we are considering this new policy and were wondering down here in the office how that might affect your teaching.”

Accept teacher thank yous generously

When teachers recognize what you’ve done to help, listen to their thank yous and connect. You did calm that parent down over a teacher’s grading techniques. Also, you got that disruptive student out of the classroom before anything terrible happened. Then, you found that money so a teacher could try something new. These are wonderful, and often thankless tasks. So accept the love when it is offered. Then teachers will know you appreciate it (and maybe even need it).

Don’t preach to the choir

When a couple of teachers show up late to hall duty, confront those couple of teachers. Far too often the response is an email that reads like a reprimand of an entire staff, lots of unhappy chatter in the faculty room, and a deepening of the divide. Perhaps corrections could be reserved only for those who need correcting.

You are all doing things to make a difference in kids’ lives

You’re both in school every day to help make kids lives better. Behind kids showing up to class on time and behaving properly is a teacher inviting them in and an administrator who disciplines those who don’t. Behind having the texts needed for class are teachers who help with research and ordering and administrators who fill out purchase orders and bicker with tardy vendors.

The Jets and the Sharks were responsible for killing Tony and ruining Maria’s life. Giants and Eagles fans have ruined many a backyard BBQ. Perhaps we can change the narrative of rivalries as it pertains to teacher-administrator relationships. Perhaps we can see that we are all working to give the best to our students. 

Jeremy Knoll

Posted by Jeremy Knoll

Knoll is a public school English teacher of nearly two decades. Outside of the classroom he spends his time working as a freelance writer or exploring the outdoors with his wife, two boys, and dog. He loves the subject he teaches so much that he named his dog Atticus and got a half-sleeve tattoo depicting a scene from Maurice Sendak's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE to celebrate the birth of his kids.