Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Supervision Lesson #4: Authority (1)

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.
The trouble with Mary was grammar—not her use of it but her teaching of it. The setting was a suburban junior high school in the mid-1960s. My role as instructional consultant in the building was to help teachers improve their instruction—but I had no authority to demand change. Whatever change I was able to accomplish had to occur because of my personality and methods of persuasion.

One morning, the principal came storming into my office. He was angry. He had just come from Mary Jones’s English class with seventh graders. She had been teaching, no, drilling, the students in grammar. “What is a noun? What is a verb?” etc. “Ray,” he said, “I haven’t seen teaching like that since I was in grammar school back in the Dark Ages! Some kids actually had their heads down on their desks and were sleeping. Try to show her another way to teach that stuff.” Then he strode out of my office, his job done, my job just beginning.

Mary, of course, was upset at the principal’s negative reaction to her teaching. She was a first-year teacher in the junior high school, and the principal was concerned enough that he had even hinted he might not re-hire her next year if she didn’t change the way she was doing things. The problem was that Mary did not know what was so wrong with drilling when teaching grammar. That was the way she had been taught. She was convinced that the principal did not believe in standards and hard work in learning.

Next Blog: How I Changed Mary’s Thinking.

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