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October 1, 2013
Vol. 55
No. 10

Winning Over Veteran Teachers

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Proven Strategies for Removing Roadblocks to Learning, Teaching, and Leading

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Leadership
When a new principal in her mid-30s met her staff for the first time, veteran teachers turned to each other and whispered, "I have been teaching since she was in elementary school. What is she going to teach me?" This is a common scenario faced by young leaders in an industry where tenure is regarded as a status. And the challenge is becoming more prolific with the average age of principals declining.
As a leader under 40, I have not been immune to preconceived notions about age and experience. If you charge too abruptly, you may be perceived as a young, self-serving—and naïve—principal. If you lead too quietly, you risk being perceived as someone who lacks the experience, knowledge, and grit to get the job done. Finding the perfect balance, therefore, is essential.

Try Not to Take it Personally

Often, teachers who are apprehensive about having an eager, young principal are worried that the principal will bring about undesirable changes as a result of inexperience. However, I have met many older principals who are skilled at "shaking the trees" and many younger principals who view change as a slow process. Nonetheless, these assumptions exist, so try not to take it personally. When I was a first-year principal, I had many parents and staff members say, "You look so young to be a principal." I usually replied, "Why, thank you. I've been in education for 12 years, and as a former teacher, I still learn something new every day." What they really wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) is, Do you have enough experience to lead this school?

Recognize Their Strengths

When confronted with the statement, "I am old enough to be your mother," I once responded, "Great! Since you have been here for a while, tell me what you think about. … " Engaging veteran teachers, who are often your school's opinion leaders, shows that you are interested in what they think—and that in and of itself will build respect. It is also important that veteran teachers' expertise is recognized and rewarded. Encourage them to share their knowledge during staff meetings. In private conversations, use a coaching approach to ask questions about their experience.

Involve Them in Changes

When implementing a new change, talk with your veteran teachers about their role in the process. Then, strategically find ways to build their capacity for leadership in implementing the change. If senior teachers are involved in the rollout and presentation, then everyone will be more likely to buy in. However, if they are resistant, have an honest conversation about the data, problem, and rationale for the change. Consider brainstorming tweaks to the proposed strategy. If they still resist, remind them that there is a problem that needs to be addressed and you need their help in solving it.

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Jessica Bohn is passionate about leadership, professional learning, education and science. She has served more than 17 years in education as a professional learning consultant, director, school executive/principal, science curriculum specialist, university administrator, and science teacher.

Currently, Bohn is principal/school executive at Gibsonville Elementary School in Greensboro, North Carolina and adjust professor/master of social-emotional learning at National University La Jolla, California. She provides consulting services to districts, schools, and other education organizations. Her areas of expertise include adult learning and development, leadership, social-emotional learning, rigorous questioning/instruction, instructional alignment, science/STEM education, continuous improvement cycles and engaging pedagogical practices. Her work with ASCD has included several roles: Faculty member; consultant; author; presenter; emerging leader (2012); chair of the ASCD Nominations Committee; and service on other ASCD committees, such as the Principal Leadership Development Committee. She has been a panelist on the Whole Child Podcast and has authored articles in numerous publications.

 

 

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