Education in Mind: Support staff essential to effective schools – Fairfield Daily Republic | Team Cansler

The vast majority of books, articles, and research studies in the deep reservoir of literature on effective schools examine the behavior and decisions of teachers, principals, and other administrators. However, there is one group of education professionals who are critical to the school’s effectiveness but are often overlooked – staff without qualifications. In particular, I am referring to para-professionals and support staff such as secretaries, clerks, teaching assistants, maintenance workers, janitors and groundsmen.

According to Stanford professor James March, comparing the multitude of professionals who fulfill the diverse duties and responsibilities required to run a school effectively is akin to comparing poets and plumbers. Like “poets,” school leaders provide vision and inspiration. They are also the school’s ‘learning leaders’, endowed with the competence, spirit and wisdom necessary to harness the energies and purposeful activities of all school stakeholders.

On the other hand are support staff like “plumbers” who ensure that the school’s technologies and systems are well maintained and operational. Plumbers are rarely the center of attention. Rather, they frequently work behind the scenes, mostly without acknowledgment or fanfare. They are also often the “first responders” in various school crises, offering comfort, guidance and security to students, teachers and parents.

Among the many invaluable auxiliaries, none eclipses the importance of the headmaster’s secretary.

There’s an old saying among school administrators: if someone really wants to know what’s going on in a school, ask the principal’s secretary. Like a trusted sidekick, the Principal’s Secretary cleans up the proverbial playing field by tackling distractions and allowing principals to focus on their primary purpose—supporting effective teaching and learning for all children. Without the secretary, most directors would be hopelessly caught up in front office hearths and flare-ups that can divert their attention from the instructional program. Imagine Sherlock Holmes without Dr. Watson or Hamlet without Horatio.

I fondly remember the first day of my new job as principal of a large suburban high school. As I walked through the doors of the main office, I was greeted by a tall, well-dressed woman in her late 50s who introduced herself as Lorraine. With a warm smile and a firm handshake, Lorraine explained that she was the Headmaster’s secretary and was keen to learn more about me, my experiences, my leadership style and my expectations (I assumed she also wanted to know if her new boss was a idiot be ).

Fortunately, we understood each other immediately.

Lorraine exuded authority combined with great dignity. Also, she was incredibly nice. I can’t count the times Lorraine “interrupted” for me with disgruntled parents and teachers who came to the front office unannounced and demanded to see the principal. Lorraine mitigated nine out of ten such encounters by listening calmly and carefully, asking thoughtful questions that allowed people to fully express their concerns, providing clear and accurate explanations (where she could), and suggesting possible solutions or resources that might help . “Common sense” was Lorraine’s middle name. She just knew what to do.

Every day Lorraine “juggled” beanbags. Almost simultaneously, she was able to keep me on schedule, manage front office communications, support other school staff, direct two teenagers who were sent into the office over arguments, lend a listening ear to a girl whose boyfriend had just broken up with her, and the various technologies that have been kept to monitor the buzz of the office (and much more).

One of Lorraine’s most impressive qualities was her deep knowledge of the school’s history, mission, vision, operating systems and protocols. In every way she was the executive officer of the school while I was the CEO. Much like the venerable character Radar in the 1970s TV series M*A*S*H, Lorraine has done it all. She was respected by students, teachers and parents as someone they could trust and talk to.

Too often, school employees like Lorraine and other support staff are woefully underestimated—yet they are essential. Without them the schools just couldn’t run.

Stephen Davis is a career educator who writes a column that is published in the Daily Republic every other Wednesday. You can reach him by email at [email protected].

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