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Posts Tagged ‘administrative

Experienced teachers who become managers and leaders need to learn how to be administratively savvy. They need to learn how to deal with policy and red tape so that these do not become barriers to the central business of schooling and educating.

Administrative processes (like filling in permission and procurement forms) and products (like said forms and documents) are sometimes a necessary evil. They slow some people down enough to think before they act rashly, they help implement new measures by providing guidelines, and they keep process above board as much as possible.

That said, such administrative necessity and lethargy slow change initiatives. Some non-educators excel in administration and seem to take joy in sapping the enthusiasm of their school and education counterparts. Perhaps this is one reason why teachers that rise to become leaders and managers dislike administrative work.

However, administrative work is a fact of life, just like death and taxes. There are many things for school managers and leaders to do. How administratively savvy they are is revealed in how timely they are in planning, communication, and implementation.

I wonder if middle managers and school leaders are formally taught some skills to help them be better administrators. For example, they might learn how to use Gaant chart and calendar tools to plan, and with them learn how much leeway to add when including administrative processes.

Take the two groups I am working with now and how I provide advice on timelines prior to implementation. Representatives from both groups assumed they had long runways because they only looked at the programme or implementation phase.

I got them to include meetings, design work, drafting proposals, submitting formal documents, complying with system processes and timelines, etc. When they expanded their radar range, they realised that their runways were shortened by months.

When you realise how much preparatory work precedes planning and implementation, you also learn the need to communicate clearly and early. You learn to create milestones and to establish expectations. You learn that administration can be a way to make you a more organised and disciplined person.

Yesterday I recounted two examples of how administration disables when it should enable instead. Today I outline a recent incident and suggest how administrators can change for the benefit of all.

Recently one of the projects I had started working on stopped because administrative issues. Long story short: Old school rules were applied to new and uncertain efforts, and both my client and I have to start from the beginning.

After this happened, I had a chat with one of the administrators involved in the process. Her concerns were no different from the ones I have met before in my current line of work (education consultant) and former work (professor and head of department).

I made a few recommendations and I pick three of the best looking fruit.

  1. Change mindsets of your staff.
  2. Always ask why.
  3. Document meaningfully.

The mindset that needs to go away is the single-minded pursuit of efficiency and productivity, and living only by the letter of the law. It is the mindset of administration that disables by getting in the way. The old mindset needs to be replaced with one that enables by doing what is ethical and logical.

One way to change mindsets is to always ask why an existing policy exists and why someone the administrators are serving is frustrated or wants something done differently. Perhaps the old rules do not apply or the context has changed. Asking why first and taking a stakeholder’s perspective will help reveal the need for change.

Administrative offices are not immune to people that come and go. When people leave, they take their implicit knowledge and good practices with them. One way to prevent this is practising knowledge management, e.g., meaningful documentation.

This means turning what is internal to external forms, e.g., Google Doc records, departmental wikis, video interviews, etc. These references are not just useful for the induction of newbies, they help in the clarification of existing tasks by current staff.

If administrators do these, they might just turn the overused reset or panic button into a power button instead.

When the stone dropped in the once placid waters of teaching, its ripples started spreading. One result of enforced mergers of some mainstream Singapore schools was how some teachers had to look for teaching opportunities elsewhere.

This is a classic case of a problem defined largely through an administrative lens, being patched by an administrative solution, only to create another problem.

The original problem was falling enrolments due to falling birthrates. Logically, fewer children means smaller intakes mean fewer classes. Administratively, this also means too many teachers.

The administrative solution was to maintain established teacher:student ratios above all else. Never mind other possibilities like centralised efforts, team teaching, or more boutique efforts.

This created the previously non-existent problem of teacher surplus. As a result other schools now have to take in teachers who have no where else to go.

The silver lining in this dark cloud has been that teachers who interact in tight circles within their own schools now are forced to fraternise with teachers elsewhere.

Interactions take the form of phone calls, job interviews, job initiation, mentoring and guidance, and daily interaction. Unlike the induction of beginning teachers, these interactions are with intermediates or veterans.

Staff at all levels — school leaders, middle managers, on-the-ground teachers — can more clearly see the differences in school culture and teacher quality when new old teachers join their ranks.

This is like going on a vacation and experiencing a new culture for the first time. Unlike a vacation, they cannot return home to what they are used to. They have to live with the consequence of administrative decision-making.

Administrative tasks should support learning, not the other way around. That is the theory anyway.

We have administrative forms to fill largely because we have people we are accountable to. Hardly anything happens before real or electronic paperwork is completed first. There are big things like proposals, MOUs, and partnerships, and smaller things like permission slips, survey forms, and report cards.

But people whose job is to administer often lose sight of, or worse, are blind to what is important. The administration is meant to enable learning possibilities. Unfortunately, red tape often does the opposite.

Educators experience how IT infrastructure and policy dictate or limit use educational technology instead of enabling it. This could mean locking out devices, blocking websites, or otherwise preventing timely access.

As I do work in the background to make teacher education workshops to happen, I experience an assortment of administrative practices.

Some administrative tasks are easy to rationalize. I work with different agencies and need to get paid. So I jump through the hoops to make sure that happens in whatever system I am working with.

Some administrative tasks seem to be designed to confuse, delay, or obstruct. Others are blatantly childish, churlish, or calculative.

Like a child using a parent as a shield, some people hide behind policy or bureaucracy instead of focusing on needed change. Others ignore communication or fail to respond in a timely manner.

Still others try to get most bang for the buck to the detriment of their learners. For example, a potential partner might want to reduce the number of workshops needed or increase the number of attendees. These actions make sense if you only play the numbers game and ignore things like instructional design, modelled pedagogies, and learning experiences.

There are reasons for why there are six sessions and not four or why a workshop is for a classroom of learners instead of a lecture hall. I create experiences and I want participants; I do not do gatherings of attending zombies. I design time, space, and opportunities to optimize learning; I do not focus on a pay cheque.

Administrators is another group of people I need to educate. I can see why the administrative tasks need to be done. They must see why is it important to focus on the learner and learning.

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