Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Supervision Lesson #4:: Authority (2)

Question: Does Leadership Without Authority Work?

[The following is from Chapter 30 of my book Teaching English, How To…. Xlibris, 2004.]

The joy of supervision is in working with teachers to help resolve problems—without the authority to tell them what to do. The results are real change. Teachers as individuals and in groups will change because they want to, not because they have been ordered to. RayS.

The Mary Jones Incident (continued).
On her own initiative, Mary asked if she could come to my office on her lunch hour to talk about the problems pointed out by the principal. She brought a bag lunch and soda every day for several weeks, and we talked long and hard about effective methods in teaching grammar. By no means did she intend to accept the judgment of the principal, whom she perceived to be an advocate of fun and games, as opposed to rigor in education. She was convinced her approach to teaching grammar was right, and I would have to prove to her that there was a better way—she really didn’t care if she were re-hired or not.

I can’t remember many details of our discussions. I remember that they were intense. She challenged me: “What’s wrong with drill?”I countered that the problem was not so much drill as why students needed to learn the information being drilled. I agreed that drill on the times tables in the fourth grade had been useful to help me add, subtract, divide and multiply quickly, accurately and efficiently, but how would students apply the knowledge of grammatical terms on which she was drilling? I wasn’t saying that no reason existed for drilling on this information, but that the students needed to know what that reason was if they were going to learn and then apply it.

I reviewed with her my own experiences in learning to teach grammar with a clear purpose, admitted that I had had to find out for myself what the purposes were as well as how to teach writing, and had concluded that teaching grammar and writing concurrently enabled me to help students apply what they were learning in grammar to their writing. I also said that the more I taught writing, the less important grammar had become in my teaching.

We challenged each other.
“Why do you need to know about conjunctions?”
“What is so important about indirect objects?”
“What really is the value of diagramming sentences?”

I was not acting as an expert on grammar because, in spite of my long experience with it, I felt that I really did not understand it all that well, and always felt insecure when someone posed a problem in grammar, afraid that I would have to admit that I did not know the answer. What Mary and I did was to explore together just how grammar could take on meaning and be applied. Mary never argued with the suggestion that she also teach writing, which was a new idea for her.

Finally, Mary began to relax when we were together. She no longer felt she had to prove anything to me. Interestingly, she never described to me what she was doing in her classroom. And for some reason, I never asked. After several weeks, she stopped coming to my office on her lunch hour.

When the principal observed Mary’s class the next time, he came into my office beaming. “I just saw one of the best lessons on grammar I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Mary not only taught the grammar in an interesting way, but she showed the students how to use it in their writing. I’m talking to her tomorrow, and I want you to be there, Ray.” I was elated. My discussions with Mary had produced results. I anticipated Mary’s heaping praise on me when I joined her in the principal’s office at 9:00 the next morning.

The principal began by praising Mary’s teaching. He told her that he was most impressed.

I waited for Mary in turn to praise me for my help. She didn’t. Instead, she talked about how she had experimented and had begun to see that the students were becoming actively involved in the lessons. Not once did she look at me, refer to my efforts, or acknowledge that we had even met. I was stunned.

At the conclusion of the conference, the principal stood, shook Mary’s hand, as did I, and she left his office, a very happy teacher. Since I had never said anything to the principal about my work with Mary, he had no idea of the amount of thought and time that had gone into my efforts to transform her approach to teaching grammar.

“Thanks for being here, Ray,” the principal said. “You heard the worst about Mary and I wanted you to be present when I could tell her about her improvement.”

I left the principal’s office, crestfallen and feeling very unappreciated. I had learned the hard way that helping people make changes without the authority to direct them to do so resulted in no credit for my efforts. But it makes sense. I only gave advice. The teacher did the work. The teacher made the effort to change. I was beginning to understand the truth that real leadership empowers other people.

I thought I understood what had happened. Deep down, I think I realized that the change in Mary’s teaching occurred because, without fear of my authority, she was able to talk to me, to say what she really believed and could experiment to see if my advice worked. She changed because she wanted to change, not because I told her she had to.

But I still needed to be convinced that authority was not necessary for successful supervision. RayS.

Next blog: Still Unconvinced: Do Supervisors Need Authority?

No comments:

Post a Comment