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Perception Gap Between Teachers and Principals?

It’s not unusual for individual teachers and administrators to disagree regarding school discipline or school climate, but survey results released last week by Education Week reveal serious gaps between teachers and administrators as groups of people.  In fact, the discrepancies are large enough to make one wonder whether there is a problem with the survey design or whether administrators and teachers ever talk to one another.

Questions on the survey had to do with school climate, discipline, and safety.  The survey was conducted online, and respondents, some 1,300 teachers and administrators, were registered users of edweek.org.  While the group of respondents was diverse, the publication notes that it was not statistically representative of all public school educators.  Of course, the fact that respondents had to be registered users of edweek.org already indicates that it was not a random sample.  Still, the results are so divergent that one has to wonder what, if anything, they mean.

Both teachers and administrators agreed that teaching quality was far and away the most important factor in student achievement.  In fact, 98 % of administrators chose teacher quality compared with 90% of teachers (I do wonder what the other 10% of teachers picked as most important).  School climate was Survey_1second in influencing student achievement, with 83% of administrators and 72% of teachers agreeing.  Teachers and administrators were closest in their perception of the importance of school safety – 61% of administrators and 64% of teachers.    But here’s where a difference of opinion can become a point of potential conflict between the two groups:  Only 22% of administrators believe that family background is a factor in student achievement while 42% of teachers believe it is.  Perceptions diverge even more strongly after that.

In terms of school climate, 81% of administrators say students and staff feel safe; 62% of teachers agree.  Sixty percent of administrators say kids are well behaved; 28% of teachers agree.  Administrators say they support teachers (74%); teachers say they aren’t supported (29%).   Only about half of each group thinks teachers support one another.  And when it comes to parents – 28% of administrators say parents are supportive versus 12% of teachers.

Edweek says these results offer “important insights into the attitudes and opinions of the educators providing responses to the survey.”  I’m not so sure.   Like anyone with years of experience in education, I’ve known principals who were clueless.  I’ve also known teachers who always thought discipline should be swift and harsh.  Those folks were a very small minority.  The problem with this survey, I think, is that it compares apples and oranges.  Respondents come from all over; teachers and administrators are not sharing their perceptions of the same school.  If they were, we would have something to think about (which is why every year I checked perceptions by asking teachers in my building to fill out an anonymous survey about school climate, discipline, and safety).

So, yes, the survey shows that there are gaps between teachers and administrators who responded to the survey, but the information isn’t really useful in coming to any general conclusions.  Interesting, but not particularly informative.

 

 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.