What? Principals Are In It For The Money?


This post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

“I love our principal.” The first time I uttered those words was thirteen years ago. At the time, I was joking around with my teammates- I had just married my building’s principal (no impropriety here, we were both teachers when we met, dated, and got engaged). But, as I have progressed in my career, I have continued to say the same thing, “I love my principal” as I have been very fortunate to work for some exceptional instructional leaders.

With this bit of personal background, it may come as no surprise to you that two recent EdWeek articles have left me scratching my head.

The first article, “Principals Work 60-Hour Weeks, Study Finds” explains the findings of a recent study of the workload of school principals. As the title suggests, the study found that, nation-wide, principals average 60-hour workweeks. While no two principals account for their 60-hours in the same way (some cite managerial tasks and others cite paperwork or parent meetings as taking up the bulk of their time) the study found that to perform the role of principal in a meaningful way, principals are looking at 20+ hours of “overtime” per week.

Frankly, I found this average to be quite conservative. Thinking back on my days as the wife of a principal (meet my husband, Keith Westman), 60-hours would have been a light week. In addition to the school day, we could consistently count on school-related functions that required the presence of “the principal” several nights each week and on many weekends.

With this first-hand experience, I was shocked when I read Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers blog post Teachers’ Views of Leaders: Feedback From Our Readers in EdWeek which was a follow-up post on their post “Boss and Buddy: Can A Leader Be Both?” Jill and Ann had a similar reaction to some of the responses they received as the response from some readers was disheartening.

Many teachers painted their principals as egotistical, money-hungry, micro-managers who couldn’t hack it in the classroom. Reading these comments was like driving a stake through my heart. On one hand, I felt terribly that so many teachers have not had the invaluable opportunity to work with inspirational, transformational leaders. Yet, on the other hand, these comments made me angry. Because some of the claims were just plain wrong.

You may not like your principal, but do you really know why?
In any industry, there are professionals that are “good” at their job and others that are lackluster or downright incompetent at their job. Education is not immune to “bad” employees. Fortunately, we have ways to remedy these situations. We have evaluation systems, accountability measures, and if all else fails, we can litigate.

However, a recurring theme in Berkowicz and Myers’ post is that teachers believe their principals went into administration for the money and this financial goal accounts for their leaders’ perceived lack of leadership.

“Few teachers get into education for the pay. But there’s a subset of teachers who go into education not to teach, but to climb the ladder. In my thirty years, I’ve seen one physical education or special education teacher after another teach for five to seven years, go get an M.S. in administration, and then start climbing. One made it as far as regional superintendent. In my experience, that particular subset was never really good at teaching. As a consequence they were mediocre (at best) administrators. The goal was money and a career-climb, not young people.”

As we all know, the vast majority of school administrators- good, bad and otherwise- started their career in education as teachers. And, since we know teachers surely don’t enter into the profession for the money, how can we conclude that money become a significant motivating factor for one to become a principal?

If the goal of teachers who aspire to be administrators is to climb the “lucrative corporate ladder”, as some respondents to Berkowicz and Myers insisted, there are surely industries that allow for much quicker ladder climbs and ones that lead to much more lucrative heights.In addition to the hefty expense of  the additional education to acquire administrative credentials; being a principal simply does not pay a lot when we consider some facts.

After doing the math, the national average salary for a principal breaks down to $34.88 an hour (60 hours a week, 48 weeks a year). (EdWeek, Glassdoor). The average teacher salary breaks down to $26.56 an hour (53 hours a week, 40 weeks a year) (Washington Post). For basis of comparison, equivalent positions to principals (advanced degrees + internships + experience) make an hourly rate that is substantially higher.

So, why, then, do principals Become principals?
In the summer of 2014, ASCD reported the results from a survey of over 20,000 teachers conducted by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In answer to the question, “why did you become a teacher?” 85% of teachers surveyed said they chose teaching “to make a difference in the lives of children.” Only 4% of teachers surveyed said answered, “for the earning potential.”

As stated earlier, most administrators started as teachers. So, if the vast majority of teachers became a teacher to positively impact students, can it be true that those same individuals suddenly changed their professional motivation to swap making a difference with making a buck?

In The Roles and Responsibilities of the Principal as Perceived by Illinois K-8 Principals Who Belong to Generation X, my husband found that the majority of principals do, in fact, become principals to make a positive difference in the lives of students and their staff. After surveying hundreds of principals, he found that 97.6% of principals said their motivation for entering administration was their passion for student learning.  Additionally, almost all of the principals surveyed cited the most rewarding aspects of the principalship that fell into one of two categories, being witness to the growth and development of students and being witness to the growth and development of adults, including parents, teachers, and community members.

In short, administrators choose administration for the same reasons teachers decide to become teachers. Sure, less than 5% of principals may have ulterior motives, but these are likely not financially inspired. If a principal lacks some of the qualities his or her staff deem desirable, perhaps these perceived deficits are due to years of working 60-hours a week and being pulled in many different directions.

New evaluation measures, standardized testing, and a shift in the way teachers instruct and assess have all increased the stress and workload associated with being a teacher in the year 2017. Teachers are not the only educators affected by these changes. Remember, principals feel these demands, too.

Being a principal is not an easy job; neither is being a teacher. But, we (teachers and principals) choose this line of work because of the impact we can make. And, when we make this impact, this is inarguably the best form of compensation.

Questions or comments about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.



Yes, Differentiation is Hard. So, Let’s Get It Right. 

For other posts on differentiation, read these posts:

This post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt‘s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week. 


Today’s guest post is written by Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

I must admit, I love a good challenge. I love the learning that comes from trial and error. I love hitting roadblocks and finding detours. This probably explains why I also I love differentiating instruction. I equate differentiation to a giant jigsaw puzzle with student needs being the pieces. Once I fit the first pieces together, the next few pieces fall into place. There are moments of frustration as mistakes I inevitably make mistakes and completing the puzzle may take a while, but the result is always worth the effort.

Like puzzles, differentiating instruction can be a complicated endeavor. In fact, a 2008 report by the Fordham Institute found that 83% of teachers nationwide believe that differentiation is “somewhat” or “very” difficult to implement. Subsequent differentiation statistics support the 2008 finding; educators continue to consider differentiating instruction as strenuous. These results are not surprising. As one of differentiation’s foremost experts, Carol Ann Tomlinson explains,”I absolutely understand that differentiating instruction well is not easy. But then, I’ve never felt that teaching should be easy.”

Teaching is not easy. Teaching is a career that requires a physical, emotional, and mental commitment. Teachers are used to things being “hard”. So, why should differentiating instruction be the exception? This leads me to wonder: “Is watching students struggle because their needs are not being met easier than differentiating?”

In January of 2015, educational expert Rick Wormeli tweeted, “far from being a detriment to student learning [differentiated instruction] is the only way we can teach all students, not just the easy ones.”

Wormeli’s tweet is a call to action. Differentiation is our puzzle and as dedicated educators, we certainly can solve it…one piece at a time. We just need the right pieces. Ironically, I have found this is precisely the issue with many educators’ perception of differentiation. They have the wrong pieces of information. Teachers operating under a set a fallacies will often disregard differentiation entirely or ineffectively implement with no clear benefit to students.

To avoid exerting coveted time, energy, and resources for naught, I would like to clarify some common misinterpretations of differentiation.

#1: “Differentiation means I have to plan something different for every student.”

Clarification: Differentiation means that your students are engaged in learning that is appropriate for their readiness level, and they can learn at their pace. Differentiation also considers student interest and preferred learning style. These criteria can be addressed without planning for each student individually.

Now, what?  Pre-assess students. Look for patterns of performance to initially group students. Then, formatively assess students and regroup them as their needs change. To incorporate student interest, look at The Common Core Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and the C3 framework as a gift. The majority of these standards are concept or skills-based rather than rooted in specific content. Use standards as a springboard for planning relevant, skills-based learning experiences. Allow students to have an influence on the content by asking them targeted questions to determine their interests relative to standards being assessed.

#2: “I differentiate by grouping students by reading ability and giving them leveled readings.”

Clarification: This may seem like differentiation, but in actuality this is tracking within the classroom setting. Leveled texts don’t necessarily address the specific needs of students which are often unrelated to reading ability. All students deserve access to challenging and interesting material. Differentiation comes into play with how students interact with the text.

Now, what? Differentiate the process (task) and product (how learning is demonstrated) for students. Consider the level at which students will engage with the text and how they can best show their understanding. The same text can be used by most students by compacting the curriculum for high-achievers and scaffolding for students who need more support. Refer to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and Bloom’s Taxonomy in conjunction with student conferencing to co-evaluate student progress and co-design their learning process. Not only is conferencing a type of formative assessment, but it is an opportunity to model effective questioning, gain insight into students’ thought processes, and offer students ownership of their learning.

#3: “I can differentiate effectively using one data point.”

Clarification: Impossible. First of all, there is quantitative data (think numbers) and qualitative data (think observations). To differentiate most effectively a combination of data types should be used. Additionally, multiple formative assessment results need to be examined to allow for flexible pacing and grouping which are the hallmarks of differentiation.

Now, what? Think about the data you are currently using. Is this data giving you information about the whole child on a day-day basis? What does this information tell you? What other information do you need? Work to eliminate meaningless data points, offer a multitude of formative assessment types, and use academic data as well as affective data to get a clear picture of each student.

#4: “Differentiation is easy, just give the high students more and the low students less.”

Clarification: Differentiation is not more or less. Differentiation is challenging a student just enough so that it neither impedes learning if too hard or causes apathy if too easy or redundant. (Cash, Richard).

Now, what?  Think quality over quantity. It is quite possible that one high-level question is more challenging than twenty low-level questions. Plus, being asked to show mastery of a concept or skill twenty times builds frustration for high-achieving students because they don’t need the practice and similarly produces frustration for struggling students because they are practicing the skill incorrectly 20 times.

#5: “I don’t need to change anything about my instructional practices to effectively differentiate.”

Clarification: Frankly, the factory model of teaching is not appropriate for today’s learners. If at any point while reading this blog post you thought, “Well, I can’t do that because what would the rest of the students be doing…?” this misinterpretation may be subconsciously preventing you from truly differentiating for your students.

Now, what? Don’t beat yourself up; you are not alone. The first step in change is recognizing the issue. Take small steps and allow yourself time to learn and practice. If your district employs instructional coaches, partner a coach in an authentic coaching cycle.  If your school district does not have instructional coaches, partner with a colleague. Engage in a book study and try something together. Lastly, I encourage everyone to build a global PLN (professional learning network) by connecting with other educators on social media.

As you begin the school year, try to reconcile these misconceptions by attempting to implement one of the clarifications. Be patient and if a piece isn’t fitting, reflect and try another piece. Differentiation may never be easy, but it will always be worth the effort.

Questions about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter @lisa_westman.