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Teacher, Principal, and Superintendent Core Dilemmas That Need to Be Managed

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I have used the word “dilemma” in earlier posts since superintendents, principals, teachers, and, yes, students face situations that call for difficult choices among conflicting values. So for this post, I delve into the two persistent dilemmas at the core of the work teachers and administrators do daily.

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By dilemmas, I mean situations where you have to choose between two or more competing and prized values. The choice is often hard because in choosing you end up sacrificing something to gain a bit of satisfaction. That is the compromise that all of us construct to reduce the tension.

2007-01-26 Compromise

There are two core dilemmas that educators face in the classroom, school site, and district office that won’t go away. They are in the air we breathe, the water we drink: the multiple roles we have to perform daily and the personal/professional conflict.

Multiple Roles Dilemmas

Teachers, principals, and superintendents have to perform three different roles in their classrooms and offices.

Instructional role. For teachers, that is obvious. For principals and superintendents, the pressure on these administrators to assume responsibility for instructionally guiding teachers has grown dramatically in the past three decades.

Since the 1980s, mainstream thinking about principals has shifted markedly from managing school-site decisions to re-asserting the importance of  being instructional leaders. Now, principals and superintendents are expected to help teachers in meeting state academic standards, aligning curriculum, textbooks, and tests to those state standards, evaluating teachers, and producing higher student test scores.

Managerial role. Principals and superintendents have always been hired to administer schools. Superintendents expect their principals to set priorities consistent with district goals, use data for decision making, plan and schedule work of the school, oversee the budget and many other managerial tasks—including punctual submission of reports to the central office. School boards also expect their superintendents to discharge the managerial role. Currently, efforts by reformers to call superintendents and principals  CEOs elevates the managerial role. And teachers, well, controlling a crowd of students to pay attention to a lesson, complete classroom tasks, and parcel out help to individual students requires sharply acute administrative skills.

Political role. A century ago, progressive reformers divorced partisan politics from schooling. The norm of political neutrality held that superintendents, principals, and teachers hide their political party preferences.

So most principals, superintendents, and teachers have avoided partisan politics in the workplace but they do act politically within the school community and classrooms. For example, to advance their school agenda, principals and superintendents negotiate with parents, individual teachers, student groups, central office administrators, and even city officials. They figure out ways to build political coalitions for their schools at budget time or to put a positive spin on bad news during crises. Such politics aim to improve a school’s image, implement an innovation, or secure new resources. Most principals and superintendents see this as going about their daily business, not politics. But it is acting politically.

And, yes, teachers also act politically when they figure out which students in their classes are the leaders, which students need to be cajoled into compliance or  helpfulness, which students can help advance the teacher’s goals. Astute teachers build a coalition of support among their students for reaching the goals the teacher has set for the class. Experienced teachers often carry out that political analysis the first few weeks of the school year. Teachers are also political in dealing with their principal and district office in helping or hindering their school site leader achieve school goals.

Dilemmas inevitably arise when educators come to see that they are stronger at some roles than others, prefer some roles over the other but realize that often times they have to perform roles that they are less strong at and hardly prefer doing. This is the persistent dilemma of multiple core roles.

Personal/Professional Bind

You value highly your work and you value highly your family and friends. Both are highly prized. But your time and energy are limited. So you have to calculate the trade-offs between doing more of one and less of the other. You have to make choices.

Teachers, principals, and superintendents map out options: Put in fewer hours at work and more time at home. Or the reverse. Take more vacations and give up thoughts of career advancement. These and other options, each with its particular trade-offs, become candidates for a compromise that includes both satisfaction and sacrifice. If  nothing is done–another option–risks rise for hurting family and friends or the job.

This is not a problem that one neatly solves and moves on to the next one. It is a dilemma that won’t go away. It is literally built into daily routines. There is no tidy solution; it has to be managed because the compromises worked out may unravel and  again, teachers, principals, and superintendents would face unattractive choices.

Keep in mind  also that the personal/professional dilemma bind. The new teacher or principal who is single and is passionate about becoming a first-rate educator will come in early, go home late and think constantly about students and teachers. The job is her life.  But once a partner and children enter her life, the personal/professional dilemma shifts and a new compromise between work and home has to be worked out. Compromises to dilemmas don’t stand still.

These two persistent dilemmas are at the core of the work teachers and administrators do daily.

 


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ruthherrin
1065 days ago
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Personal/Professional Bind and our everyday dilemmas.
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Business as Usual in Corporations and Schools

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In the heart of Silicon Valley where start-ups are a way of life, open space offices and teams rule the landscape. Even at the biggest of the big companies such as Google and Facebook, power struggles among and between bureaucrats are a thing of the past. ”Move fast and break things” is a Facebook’s slogan. Flat organizations, no elaborate hierarchies, and constant change dominate. Or so, everyone seems to say. See here, here, and here.

Then along comes a Stanford professor who says: “Sorry Kids, Corporate Power Hasn’t Changed.” Jeffrey Pfeffer at the Graduate School of Business since 1979 has studied organizations for decades. According to Pfeffer, Silicon Valley firms–big and small–recruit engineers and programmers to become managers by saying:

We’re not political here. We’re young, cool, socially networked, hip, high-technology people focused on building and selling great products. We’re family-friendly, have fewer management levels and less hierarchy, and make decisions collegially.

It just ain’t so, according to Pfeffer. He points out that hierarchies exists in all organizations and power, acquiring status, and control over ideas and practices are in play unceasingly. He points to the power struggles that occurred at the birth of Twitter and the frequent turnover of CEOs as Hewlett-Packard. And hierarchy is alive and well at Facebook and Google where dual classes of stock “allow the founders to retain the lion’s share of control.” An infographic on hierarchy at both firms would have strengthened his argument even further.

Pfeffer concludes his article with the flat-out statement:

Competition for status and advancement exists not only over time and across countries but also in virtually all species. In short, whether we like it or not, the rules of power abide largely unchanged. People who ignore these principles do so at their peril.

I was struck by Pfeffer’s points that amid all of the talk about change, flat organizations, and team-work, the constancy of competition within companies for power and status remains. Even in Silicon Valley.

Power, Status, and Hierarchy in Public Schools

A similar rhetoric pervades the quest for effective schooling. Reformers, both on the political left and right, say say, teachers need to collaborate, network, and build strong school cultures where instruction and learning are primary goals. See here, here, and here. But talk is cheap. Beyond the words, what are the organizational realities (i.e., tall or flat, hierarchical or teams) in public schools?

Most U.S. elementary schools are already “flat” organizationally. There is a principal, a few administrative and instructional aides, building staff, and the largest group of all, the teachers who report to the principal. That’s it. In larger secondary schools there are more administrators, staff, and rules but few hierarchical strata separate teachers from their principals. The largest number of staff in middle and high schools are teachers. But rules also come from district and state offices.

Regulations abound in schools because districts are creatures of the state which, in turn, makes educational policy for everyone. So district administrators try to make sure that local and state policies are followed in schools. School-site principals do the same with teachers. In short, even with a flat school-site organization, bureaucratic levels exist in school districts and the state which means that elbowing for higher status and getting more clout occur in schools, districts, and state departments of education. Here’s the catch, however.

With all of the rules and hierarchical levels from classroom through the state superintendent of education, teachers have one things in their power to do: close the classroom door. They are (and have been) gatekeepers for student content, skills, and attitudes.

What about charter schools that have autonomy and are free from most district and state regulations? KIPP, Aspire, and other groups of charter schools have state and national organizations that make rules for individual schools to follow. As in public schools, however, charter school teachers can close their doors.

Teachers as gatekeepers exist because the organizational reality of both regular and charter schools is that they are age-graded and each teacher has a self-contained classroom with a door to close. Teachers have power within their classroom but little outside of it unless they develop a support network, a culture within the school. And, from time to time, that has occurred in both charter and regular schools.

Consider all the talk of moving to project-based learning and shifting the teacher’s role from the sage-on-stage to guide-on-the-side. Periodically, school reformers for more than a century have coerced, urged, and pleaded with teachers to change their dominant teacher-centered forms of instruction into more student-centered ones along the lines mentioned above.

On occasion, some of the reforms have stuck in some schools where teachers weathered criticism and supported one another through cascades of hype and criticism. In these scattered instances, teachers kept their doors open and built a stable school culture supporting such instructional reforms as teaching in small groups regularly, sustaining open classrooms, using project-based learning, and creating rich student-centered activities (seehere and here). But not most teachers who returned time and again to practices that worked better for them than the “new” reform simply because they could close their classroom doors.

These are (and have been) abiding features of public schools and companies that no amount of talk and hype about doing business differently has changed. Even in Silicon Valley.


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troutwine
1229 days ago
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Yes indeed, thank you Ruth.
Berkeley, CA
ruthherrin
1229 days ago
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Brian, I think you might like this.
Cuidad de México
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ruthherrin
1233 days ago
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The Utility of Erlang Records: Where They Should and Probably Shouldn't be Replaced by Maps

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There are two kinds of associations common in software:

  1. A fixed mapping from a set of pre-defined names to values.
  2. A dynamic mapping from a type domain to another.

As an example of the first, consider C structs or Haskell data declarations with named fields. You have a finite set of names–known at compile time–which map–at runtime–to some values. Languages like Haskell with their fancy Hindley–Milner type systems can make more compile-time guarantees about the types of values but all the languages I’m aware of which have this sort of static association at least disallow–at compile-time–referencing a name which doesn’t exist in the mapping. In Erlang, this sort of static association is called a ‘record’.

Erlang records are defined ahead of use so the compiler can enforce constraints. To whit:

-record(topic, {subscribers = [] :: pid(), msg_backlog = [] :: [term()], created = erlang:now() :: os:timestamp()}).

Here we have an association–called topic–of the names subscribers, msg_backlog and created to process IDs, a list of arbitrary Erlang terms and a timestamp, respectively. The Erlang compiler can ensure that the programmer never references a, say, does_not_exist element of the topic record and all code which touches this record may be written to assume these three fields or crash, failing this.

The second sort is the classic “associative array” which many languages provide as a built-in type. Ruby, for instance:

topic = { :subscribers => [], :msg_backlog => [], :created => Time.now() }

This looks, superficially at least, very similar. The Erlang record definition has some type information–via typespecs–but it’s the same sort of data in a similar name to value pairing. The key difference here is that the keys present in the initial declaration may be destroyed and new ones can be added. The associative array is a container for and is in itself data, rather than being merely a container.

Up until R17, Erlang, like C, didn’t have a first-class associative array. The language had implementations–dict and gb_trees for example–but these didn’t admit pattern matching (a big deal) and they weren’t particularly fast or space efficient (less of a big deal, but still). With R17, though, a new “maps” type has been introduced and now we can do things like:

Topics = #{subscribers => [], msg_backlog => [], created => erlang:now()}.

This has similar semantics to the Ruby code above: dynamic keys in the structure and no ahead-of-time pedantry about non-existent names being referenced.

The primary distinction between the two varieties of associations is the static nature of the fixed mapping. Being fixed, both the compiler and the programmer can make stronger assumptions about the shape of data being passed around in a program. The associative array might–just maybe–have had a key removed or snuck in due to a bug. Sometimes this matters, sometimes it doesn’t but you’ll have to check to find out.

In many languages we’re living without these stronger assumptions, quite happily. Python’s dictionary is not paired with a C-style struct–struct not withstanding–and there’s no immutable object in the base language that would be a superset of a fixed mapping. Erlang’s focus on reliability and fail-fast philosophy make this problematic. If history were backward and maps had been introduced first we would see a fair bit of pattern matching used to assert the existence, rather than the values, of fields because you can’t be sure if they’re there or not. This is already a problem after hot-updates. Record definitions change and old record data, not updated to the newer format, cause crashes through the updated, running system. Dynamic associations allow every code path to sneak this in on you.

Joe’s piece, referenced above, says:

Records are dead - long live maps !

I tend to think this is somewhat tongue in cheek. (I could be wrong.) In those instances where you, the programmer, known that your structure will always have the same named fields and never any more, then the record remains the correct structure to use (though, I agree, some actual runtime inspection would be lovely). In those instances where your structure will have varying keys then the map is your new best friend.

I expect, in practice, eventually, to see many fewer instances of proplists, replaced by maps once the initial “replace all the records!” euphoria dies down a bit. I know I am going to be passing a number of options arguments as maps once R17 is widely used enough in production. I further expect to see many large, unwieldy records hidden behind accessor modules converted to maps as these modules are already take care of the integrity of the data. Intra-application, I expect records will remain largely untouched. (Inter-application records are a form of wicked tight coupling, but that’s another post.)

In short:

  • Static, known static fields? Use a record.
  • Dynamic, potentially unknown fields? Use a map.
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ruthherrin
1235 days ago
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Cuidad de México
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ruthherrin
1240 days ago
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Wardrobe Staples Series: Styling a Sheath Dress

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how to style a sheath dress

I started this blog several years ago to document my journey of building up a wardrobe. There was plenty of trial and error along the way, but I've ended up with a fairly robust collection of items. Although I continuously update and "edit" this wardrobe, there are certain things I reach My closet is now pretty robust, but there’s certain items I keep reaching for time after time. These pieces aren’t exactly exciting, but are functional, versatile, and especially great for packing lightly on trips. I’ve been meaning to do a series spotlighting my closet staples, and how each piece can serve as a foundation for all sorts of outfits. Naturally I wanted to start with my most often-worn frequently-worn garment type – the sheath dress!


tweed dress standaloneWhat to look for

Style: Sleeveless dress with classic neckline, fitted waist, tapered skirt shape and back vent. If you work in a professional environment, a concealed zipper is best and length should hit no higher than 2” above the knees. A lightly-textured neutral fabric makes for a great starter piece, and there's so many fun colors to expand into.

Fit: Should be close to the body throughout but not tight, nipping in at your natural waist. For a staple piece that can be worn for years to come, consider spending a little more for good quality and any alterations needed for a perfect fit.

The dress in this post is from Banana Republic Factory and has been hemmed + tapered in at the bottom opening. They carried this dress 2 years in a row so perhaps will bring it back for a third!


How to style it

For quick packing as well as getting dressed in a hurry, I follow this very basic formula:

1) Know the occasion: Will you be in a business formal, business casual, or just plain casual setting? Business formal often means a blazer plus closed-toe shoes no higher than 3.5," but could be more conservative or laid back depending on the setting. Will you be walking around lots (flats needed) or mostly sitting down? Will there be drastic temperature changes (layering therefore a must) or wet weather?

2) Plan the palette: Weekday dressing for me is mostly about whipping together a safe, work-appropriate outfit and less about creating revolutionary pairings. I start with a neutral base, then add up to 2 different colors (more may be fine if in a similar color family) plus something of interest. "Interest" could mean a pop of color or print, a mix of textures, or a statement accessory.

3) Layer (if necessary): Some pieces look great as-is, but layering may be necessary to meet certain dress codes or to stay warm. If that’s the case, choose a combination of 1-2 layers from the "under” and “over” categories below.

4) Accessorize: Finish your look with shoes, bag, and 1-2 other items from the accessorize category below.

staple series tweed dress chart

staple series tweed dress chart

Pairing Ideas

Now for some examples following these four steps! First up, a casual weekend or touristy outfit. If I were rolling out of bed on a Sunday morning at home, I would most likely not be reaching for a sheath dress. However, if I were packing for a work trip that involved some downtime for exploring, this would be a very welcome pairing. I've frequently worn sheath dresses with just this long-sleeved turtleneck underneath and some colorful pumps for the office. Adding cropped denim, tall flat boots (or booties!), and a hands-free bag transitions a more formal look into a comfy, casual ensemble.
Staple series tweed dress9 resized
H&M turtleneck and kids denim jacket, Clare Vivier bag (giveaway soon!), Stuart Weitzman boots

The next two outfits are for a less conservative business formal dress code. Remove the jackets on either of these looks and they'd be everyday business casual. Please note that as much as I love bright colors like neon yellow, I'd refrain from breaking them out at conservative offices or formal meetings.
Staple series tweed dress1 resized
Ann Taylor striped tee (similar), Banana Republic jacket, thrifted Talbots belt, Louboutin simple 85 heels

Instead of a blouse layered underneath, the below outfit would look great with a lightweight floral print scarf.
Staple series tweed dress6 resized
H&M blazer (similar in other colors), thrifted silk blouse, Ann Taylor patent heels (similar)

The next two are examples of business casual pairings I'd wear on regular rotation at the office. A simple change in the color palette can switch up the seasonal feel. When layering a blouse over, use an opaque one so the color or print of the dress won't show through.
Staple series tweed dress 2 resized
Gap button-up shirt (similar), Talbots necklace c/o, Louboutin heels (similar in a pretty d'orsay style)

This look below works well with blouses that have a defined waist and aren't too tight. If the dress and blouse necklines don't match up completely, an easy way to conceal that is with a well-placed necklace. I also don't experiment much with colored tights (except for the tried and true navy), but keeping the hosiery color in the same family as your shoes makes them less jarring.
Staple series tweed dress8 resized
Ann Taylor peplum top (similar fun ones here or here), H&M tights, Manolo Blahnik bow heels (similar for less)

I wouldn't wear this particular dress "as a top" since that trick is usually reserved for showing off pieces with interesting torso details. detail up top. It is an option, though, if you have limited items in your closet and really want to stretch out the number of wears for each piece. Make sure to choose skirts with fuller, flared bottoms long enough to conceal your dress hem with ease.
Staple series tweed dress3 resized
H&M pleated skirt (similar), Talbots necklace, Valentino heels

And lastly, for drinks or a night out, to transition for after-work drinks, this monochromatic example uses a mix of textures and fun prints to keep the outfit from looking too austere.
Staple series tweed dress5 resized

Staple series tweed dress5 resized

AA crop turtleneck tank (size up), Blank NYC faux leather jacket, AT belt, Adrienne Vittadini boots



Hope you enjoyed the first post of this series!
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ruthherrin
1240 days ago
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Cuidad de México
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