Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Pressuring Teachers to Leave: Honest Talk about How Principals Use Harassing Supervision: Harassing Supervision Is a Rational Response to an Irrational System-And an Unavoidable Reality until We Address Its Root Causes

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Pressuring Teachers to Leave: Honest Talk about How Principals Use Harassing Supervision: Harassing Supervision Is a Rational Response to an Irrational System-And an Unavoidable Reality until We Address Its Root Causes

Article excerpt

   After 23 years in room 101, across from the main office, Mrs. Albany
   returns to start a new school year to find that she has been assigned
   to room 411, four flights up in a building with an elevator that
   rarely works. Climbing stairs is difficult for Mrs. Albany, and her
   schedule requires that she walk up the stairs several times
   throughout the day.

   Mr. Mitchell, who has been teaching 8th grade for 14 years, is
   informed that he has been assigned to teach 1st grade.

   Mr. Dale, the school's principal, sits in the back of Ms. Elliott's
   room for an impromptu observation of her classroom. He comes several
   times a week for such informal observations.

   Mr. Astor is sitting through his third mandated professional
   development session in a month. His principal told him he must attend
   and put a substitute in his class so that he could do it during
   school hours.

These teachers have something in common: Their principals are using harassing supervision to encourage them to leave. Rather than relying on the district's formal dismissal procedure, the principals used alternative methods to pressure teachers they perceived to be low quality. And it worked. By the end of two years, each of these four teachers had left.

Harassing supervision is a result of a complex web of factors that includes: 1) a teacher evaluation system that doesn't systematically identify low-performing teachers and a teacher removal process that isn't readily understood by principals, 2) principal training programs that generally don't build principal expertise in teacher hiring and professional development, and 3) high rates of principal turnover.

What is striking about harassing supervision is how openly principals talk about it. In a study of Chicago principals conducted in 2008-09, 37 of the 40 principals who were interviewed described engaging in harassing supervision, though no question in the interview protocol focused directly on it. Principals most often talked about these practices in discussions of the most significant roadblocks to school improvement. The management of teachers--recruitment, hiring, evaluation, professional development, and removal--was often the focus of the roadblocks conversation. In this vein, principals described their approaches to pressuring teachers to leave.

Similarly, in a study of the pilot of a new teacher evaluation system in Chicago, 39 principals were interviewed in 2008-09 (with no overlap in the principals from the study described above) (Sartain, Stoelinga, and Brown 2009). In these interviews, more than 75% of principals referenced practices that could be construed as harassing supervision. Principals generally talked about using these practices when they discussed how the new evaluation system compared to the previous approach used in Chicago Public Schools. For example, in the words of one principal, "The [new teacher evaluation system] makes evaluation focused on instruction in a real way, making it possible to identify low performance. That gives me hope that I will no longer have to use the pressures, like repeated observations of teachers, to get them to leave."

Given the prevalence of these practices, examining them is important. Why do principals engage in these behaviors? Are they successful?

CONSIDERING HARASSING SUPERVISION

Harassing supervision practices are characterized by the goal of making teachers uncomfortable in the hope that they will leave voluntarily. Principals use a variety of harassing supervision approaches, from those that might be construed as trying to develop a teacher, such as assignment to professional development or principal observation of practice, to those that would more universally be described as harassment, such as assignment of an overweight teacher to a room that is physically difficult for her to reach.

How do principals think about such practices? …

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