School Roles: Definition and Impact

I've spent a lot of time this summer in hospitals--it's just been one of those summers where the family's events have led to visits to doctors and hospitals.  The visits have ranged from critical to minor and they've all been educational.  As a passionate educator I have found myself comparing the medical model to the education model during each and every one of these visits and while there is considerable overlap, there is also considerable difference.

One aspect of the medical model that has impressed me is role definition.  I've noticed a significant shift in the efficiency and targeted response in medical care now compared to years past.  It seems like everyone knows what their role is and they all are good at doing it with the patient or client's needs as the focus.  This role definition means lots of jobs get done well with someone who repeatedly completes the task which lends a sense of confidence to both the caretaker and the patient. The job of synthesizing all these tasks and managing the patient's overall care seems to still be a work in progress in many hospitals.

One issue I believe we face in schools today is outdated role definitions that really don't describe well what a specific person's duty is.

Let's start with the principal.  The principal in many respects takes on a "father or mother like" model in a school--he/she is the leader of the pack and is pulled in many, many directions, perhaps too many directions.  I'm wondering if a better title for principal would be program manager because the school is a collaborative of educational programs, and the principal is in charge of making sure that all those programs are focused, supported and successful.  I realize that the principal takes on other roles too, but I'm wondering if those roles would be better led by others in the school leaving the principal to most importantly manage and direct the programs that support optimal student learning.

Curriculum directors seem to have a title that partially explains their important task--they direct the decision making with regard to essential learning, but they also direct the decision making with regard to collaborative and individual instructional choices and delivery, so I believe their titles would be more comprehensive if they were changed to Curriculum and Instructional Directors.

Guidance departments are another area of schools that are mired in many, diverse tasks.  I do not work in this department, but I believe that these departments deal mainly with students social and emotional health and needs.  This department connects closely to the areas of physical health i.e. nurses and physical education teachers and social services (if any exist, but they should exist in all schools).  Better role definition of these departments would help teachers, parents and students access the help they need for social, emotional and physical health while not asking one or two counselors to "do it all."

Special needs educators, therapists, classroom teachers, specialists and coaches all overlap with respect to their roles helping every child learn.  New information related to learning responsibilities, actions and response lead me to believe that the collaboration within and between these areas needs to be analyzed and reviewed so that the lion's share of the time is spent in collaboration, time-on-task with students and providing motivating, informative feedback.  It seems like in many schools the responsibility factors related to teacher-student responsibility and accountability differ widely among these roles.  Looking carefully at these roles and responsibilities will end up providing students with more individual and small group attention, feedback, analysis and targeted, professional response.  It seems like the changes in education, in a large part, have landed on the classroom teacher's lap (yes, I am a classroom teacher) and I think greater delineation and collaboration of this responsibility will lead to better effect for all students.

Then as we head up the ladder of responsibility in a school system we have many roles such as superintendent, assistant superintendent, business managers, student services and many, many more.  Similar to the principal role, the superintendent title seems to be an outdated title leading one to think of one person as the "super" in the system. I think that role would be better defined as the system director--the one who directs the action in a school system and like a conductor, harmonizes, manages and motivates the system's efforts for best effect. Then as we move into other leadership roles, it's important to consider those role titles and the job that they are responsible for, whenever possible matching title specifically to responsibility thus lending greater transparency and understanding of the roles and responsibilities.

Medical models are changing and so are educational models.  All the changes are not optimal, and all the changes are not negative. When roles and responsibilities are analyzed, reviewed and changed to better serve clients whether they be patients or students, the change is optimal.

As a classroom teacher, I've been clamoring for better definition of my role.  If you read my blog, you know I've posted about this many times (see below).  Reading Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie is finally answering my questions and affirming my intuition in this regard.  It is an excellent researched-base book that will help teachers, schools and school systems to better define roles, responsibilities, schedules, time-on-task with students and expectations for professional staff and responsibilities with regard to teaching children well.  I recommend this book and the weekly Wednesday night #educoach chat at 10EST led by Shira Leibowitz and Kathy Perret.  Tonight's chat will focus on chapters 4 and 5.

Related Posts

What's Your Place at the Education Table?
What's My Role as a Classroom Teacher?
Rethinking Schools: Role Focus
Restructuring Schools for Student Success

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