Thursday, June 17, 2021

BRYANT HIGH SCHOOL CHAPTER LEADER GEORGIA LIGNOU GUEST BLOGS ON ABUSIVE PRINCIPALS

Schools with abusive principals cannot be the friendly and healthy environment students need.

In a school ruled by fear, the priority is not the students, it is always the principal. What dominates the mind of the teachers is what the principal will see, what the principal will think, and what the principal will say. When the Principal, surrounded by the AP’s, patrols the hallways as a lord would a fiefdom, the teachers who hear the walkie talkies before the administration turns the corner, change their demeanor, and adjust their lesson, because at that moment, the priority is not the students, it is the principal.

In a school ruled by fear, classroom visits by the administration become traumatizing experiences for the teachers and for the students. Students know the teachers are nervous, awkward, and just not themselves. What message does this send to students? What examples do we become for them? What adulthood do we model? What abuse do we teach them to tolerate?

In a school ruled by fear, new ideas do not blossom. The frames within which new ideas can exist have been limited and predetermined. So, what is discussed and attempted is only to reaffirm preexisting notions. Processes like Professional Development and inquiry often become tedious Orwellian exercises in futility, as participants keep repeating and searching for what they are expected to find. The use of the correct bureaucratic jargon makes the outcome sound impressive, but this does not mean that it has any positive impact on the students.

In a school ruled by fear, teachers design their lessons according to what the principal demands. The technicalities of the lesson are valued more than the essence. Teachers hesitate to use direct instruction and explain what students do not understand because the lesson will be deemed teacher- centered. They are afraid to redirect the lesson based on unanticipated student response because they will deviate from the carefully crafted lesson plan. Even when they see a deficit in content knowledge, they will skip it and move on to the student-to-student discussion part, because without that type of discussion, no lesson can ever be rated effective. The instructional expectation of the school focuses on skills across all levels and subject areas, so even the most basic lack of content knowledge can go unnoticed. Teachers will use the protocols and they will carefully choreograph their lessons, always keeping in mind not what they think is best for their students, but what they know the principal wants to see.

In a school ruled by fear, controlling the process of teaching is an administrative priority. The administration does not want to accept diverse ways of teaching even if there is clear evidence that diverse approaches produce results. The belief that certain strategies must work interferes with the ability to see that other strategies can work. A dogmatic approach to instruction does not allow the school to do honest evaluation of their own data. They are more willing to accept and to reference unspecified studies than to evaluate the results of the student population they serve. In this environment, the Danielson Rubric is a tool of conformity and uniformity. By design, the Danielson is artificial and subjective, as it focuses on random snippets of teacher practice, and it fails to recognize and account for the most important part of teaching: the Deeper relationship teachers develop with their students. However, in the hands of an abusive and unsupervised administration, the Danielson can be absurd, retaliatory, and dangerous. The Danielson framework can destroy careers and harm students because when the Danielson framework is the priority, the students are not. In a school ruled by fear, teachers plan with the administration as their audience, not the students we are called to serve.

In a school ruled by fear, there are no democratic processes. All the mechanisms put in place after years of negotiations between the DOE and the UFT are obsolete. Department Meetings, Faculty Meetings, the School Leadership Team Meetings, the PD Committee Meetings, the Consultation Meetings take place, but they do not give birth to ideas. Even the Student Government is closely monitored. Teachers barely talk and when they do, they do not question the basic premises of the principal’s design. If anybody dares to disagree, the discussion is quickly refocused, and the person is chastised or dismissed, while in remote meetings, the chat is disabled. Instead of modeling for students what democracy and free speech look like, how messy but how fruitful and creative it can be, we are teaching them to accept the pretense of democracy, participating in meetings that always end in total agreement. If the emperor has no clothes, one wonders, would anybody dare say?

In a school ruled by fear, the agency and the authority of teachers are carefully undermined. Students are questioned about their teachers, and simple misunderstandings become cases of misconduct. The school is divided, as some teachers and some students are allowed to walk in and out of the principal’s office at will, while others must try their luck in setting an appointment through the secretary. Seniority and merit do not factor in as certain people are kept away from activities and positions. Not everybody is evaluated with the same scrutiny. Teachers and even students become informants, hoping for something in return. Favoritism and retaliation keep the school deeply divided. The presence of teachers sometimes is not acknowledged, not even with a simple greeting or a smile. In this environment, students come to understand the rewards of loyalty, not the fairness of merit or the blessings of equality.

In a school ruled by fear, good educators many times go unappreciated. What makes an educator fit for the school is loyalty and compliance. There is a high turnover as many good educators leave, and at times they are even encouraged to leave. Students are left looking for their teachers from one year to the other, and courses are taught out of license. At the end it is that fear that also decides how students get promoted undermining and bypassing academic standards and expectations.

In a school ruled by fear, Assistant Principals are not allowed to make independent decisions. They are expected to reiterate and put in effect the principal’s vision. Their judgment in evaluating the teachers is undercut and undermined by the principal who has the final review of the rating reports and asks for changes having not been present during the observation. The personal preferences of the principal will dictate how AP’s program their teachers, sometimes overlooking that effective programming can tap into the strengths of the teachers and bring better results for the students and the school.

In a school ruled by fear, interactions with the principal make people nervous. Though we are careful to teach the students the evils of bullying, we do not consider the possibility that they notice their teachers being bullied every day.

The rules of human contact are simple. Any relationship that involves fear is abusive. Anybody who knowingly instills fear in others who might be in weaker positions and capitalizes on that fear, is a bully. In a healthy work environment, fear has no place and when fear is detected, steps are taken to dispel it.

A school ruled by fear cannot possibly be a healthy place for children. Fearful and victimized teachers cannot provide the social and emotional support students need and deserve. A supportive environment must be based on trust and empathy for everybody. A school must be a place where people walk in with a smile. Students need to be taught by teachers who are happy and confident, not intimidated.

Our students are traumatized by a pandemic that turned their lives upside down. They are dealing with loss, fear, and insecurity and they need strong adults to help them regain their confidence. They need their teachers to be their heroes.

Abusive Principals have no place in the school system, yet they are in place, and they are tolerated, as anybody who recognizes the above description knows well. It is not the norm as many schools have very reasonable principals, but the unwillingness of the DOE to even address the problem when the evidence is loud and clear, makes it systemic. I do not know if allowing abusive principals to operate as they do is by design or a result of negligence. It does not matter. The point is that it is hurting our students and it must stop.

Now as we are trying to re-envision our schools emerging from the pandemic, the DOE and the UFT must come together to put systems in place to identify and deal with administrative abuse. The Danielson rubric must also be revisited because it prohibits the flexibility necessary to meet the academic and the social and emotional needs of the students. Let the teachers teach. We all know the craft of teaching; it is the art that we foster.


Georgia Lignou Bryant HS, UFT Chapter Leader

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

If the school is so bad and the turnover is high, then how can the Principal be able to get new teachers for so long?

Anonymous said...

Lower cost (by finding ways to terminate senior teachers) and 70%+ graduation (by “credit recovery “ and “apex”) are the goals. Gaining trust from staff and students college readiness are inessential. It’s why Principal Dwarka will never gets removed from her school.

Anonymous said...

This should be required reading at DOE headquarters and at the 'leadership' academy.

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT!😊😊😊

Anonymous said...

People do not like to admit this, but the principal is the biggest factor in determining the enjoyment of lack of enjoyment in this job.

The kids will try to burn you, co-workers will try to burn you, but if the boss has your back and creates a culture that is tolerable to be in, then nothing else matters.

At Bryant, this culture needs to change. Hopefully, Georgia can help have Dwarka removed.

Anonymous said...

If anyone received any updates from Reassignment office for ATR today, please update here. I am anxiously waiting and only received the general, standard letter that gets sent out yesterday, without school placement. Thanks for your help.

Anonymous said...

https://ny.chalkbeat.org/2021/6/15/22535798/after-allegedly-posting-offensive-content-on-facebook-bronx-principal-faces-investigation
this guy from Clinton OMG met him once on interview and I ran for the woods. Now my intuition seems correct

Anonymous said...

100 percent correct. Touches all the bases. Good job! This is what you see at most struggling schools.

Anonymous said...

The DOE doesn’t care if they have Ted Bundy running a school as long as Ted Bundy is part of their party’s political machine. That’s why I game their fucked up system to make things cushy for me. Play their game better than they do. They’re really just a bunch of incompetent suckers who can’t tell when you’re using them if you learn to speak their language.

Anonymous said...

WHERE IS MULGREW! WHY IS THIS WOMAN ALLOWED TO ABUSE UFT MEMBERS! DO SOMETHING MULGREW! DO SOMETHING TO HELP THE UFT MEMBERS WHO PAY DUES AND SUPPORT YOU WHO ARE SUFFEREING AND REGRETTING BECOMING A TEACHER AND A UFT MEMBER! DO SOMETHING EXCEPT MAKE USELESS SPEECHES! DO SOMETHING NOW FOR THE RANK AND FILE EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Principals can make or break a school. There is no justification for principals abusing any adult, parent or child in that building. Principals should be school leaders and be the ultimate role model for their entire staff. They should be able put themselves in the shoes of any teacher—and understand their everyday challenges—because they are still really teachers too. I have seen principals invite staff members to lunch and genuinely listen to their concerns—instead of ramming down the ongoing PD with Danielson etc,-down their throats. They should especially support new teachers and struggling teachers. I understand the daily challenging unpredictable items on a principal’s plate—but empathy is a two way street. In any event -in the case of most schools—most administrators appreciate the work of all their entire staff in the building- and thank goodness for that—even though there could be a couple of bad apples on the staff in many schools.

Now, on the other hand, the DOE must listen to the bulk of the school community when it comes to school environment and culture—and act swiftly to remove principals that create a toxic situation—unless the principal as a school,leader—can fix the problem in collaboration with the staff. The DOE can’t keeping protecting the abusive ones. But, keep in mind, that principals—have their own union—and they do have own certain protections—just like teachers.

I often wonder if abusive principals take their lead from abusive superintendents And why is it that it always seems that expediting the removal of teachers is always faster than removing administrators. Or maybe it should like sports where the team owners dismiss the managers and coaching staff after a losing season or due to a toxic relationship with their players—because they can’t fire their entire team.

Anonymous said...

Abusive principals have been around for years. I remember reading about the controversial principal at Lehman HS in the 90’s and the teachers looking for the exit. This mentality seemed to really blossom during the Bloomberg/Klein era with all their pro management style of ‘in your face’’ rhetoric to teachers. Credit also goes to Weingarten for essentially giving up seniority rights and creating the ATR mess.
Also, always thought the purpose of the School Quality Reviews and School Report Cards served a useful purpose in determining at least the status of a school environment. What does the data indicate about this school? Does the DOE look at individual school data?

Georgia Lignou said...

One thing I should have mentioned is the turnover of Guidance Counselors. It takes time for the students to build a relationship with their Guidance Counselor and when coming next year these people are not in the building, these are relationships lost for the students.

johnny said...

Thank you for this. It could not have been said any better. That Dwarka person is not the only one (and I know everyone is well aware of this) but everything you described, and the way you laid it out, fits my school like a glove, and the principal is a poster child for it.

waitingforsupport said...

Not surprised. GCs are mandated to report abuse and neglect. If a GC is doing their job correctly- grade fraud will be reported. If a GC asks a teacher if "there is any way a student can pass?" They are simply advocating for the student. A teacher can and should say no there isn't a way. If the GC is on the up and up, they will keep it moving if the student really shouldn't pass. Why should a teacher get upset with the GC for simply asking?

waitingforsupport said...

So has anyone reached out to the parents in Queens? You need parents involved. Different school. Different borough. Same sh^t. If you want the grade fraud to end, reach out to your troops--NYC parents. They are who the DOE fears

Anonymous said...

As for the first question, on how she gets teachers, keep in mind before you started at the DOE how well versed were you in what was really going on in the doe. Most new teachers don't know about the corruption in the doe. Also, getting a job there is a foot in the door, so she will always get teachers to work there.

Not will to die yet said...

A lot of assistant principals are lazy assholes that have no transferable skill if they lost their jobs.

What can be done about these idiots

James Eterno said...

Georgia requested that we keep comments professional, please. Thanks.

Georgia Lignou said...

These blatant insulting derogatory statements do not honor us and they do not help the cause. There are many good Assistant Principals who support and protect their teachers. This statement is similar to those who say all teachers are..... If we want to get our point across we must be truthful, professional and fair. Abusive Principals have a real effect on the teachers, the students and yes also on the Assistant Principals. You can make the argument that Assistant Principals are not innocent bystanders but because I have seen many of them be in frustrating situations I do not think that these statements do justice.

Anonymous said...

Because it is obvious that incoming employees have NO idea what really goes on. They go in optimistic thinking they would have a different experience. This was my personal experience

Georgia Lignou said...

Something the UFT and the DOE must pay attention is how in these type of environments the contract is violated. The suggestions of an abusive principal are expectations and therefore mandates. So teachers are forced to do things in violation of our contract and against their professional judgment.

Anonymous said...

TEACHER: I work very hard here. Why are my observation reports going downhill?

AP: I know you do. I think you’re great for this Department. I’ve seen you get people interested who were never interested before you came here. But whenever I bring up your name to the principal to say something nice about you, he starts growling at me. The principal asked me to go hard on you this year. He just doesn’t like you. I don’t know what else to tell you.

TEACHER: So what should I do?

AP: Maybe you should buy him a gift.

TEACHER: I see.

TeachNY said...

Great read. The obsession with kids working in groups and receiving no direct instruction is one of the reasons WHY kids aren’t learning anything. I don’t see things changing any time soon. Hopefully the 3foot rule applies next year, lol.

Anonymous said...

Good teachers aren't valued in this school, being a loyal servant is. A teacher could win a national teacher of the year award and if they disagreed with Namita Dwarka in a way she found issue with, she would pressure APs to give them developing and ineffective ratings.

Are there any teachers here who want to plan an effective unit on La Cosa Nostra or a totalitarian regime? Come observe Bryant High school for a few weeks, study the school's recent history and the lesson plans will write themselves.

Anonymous said...

Get rid of Anne Marie Henry Stephens from the Brooklyn Institute of Liberal Arts.

Anonymous said...

A lot of principals love power and nothing else