Luke, I am your father...
The Science Goddess, who listened to Darth Vader's plea, is one of my favorite bloggers. She has a good post about The Dark Side.
The Central Office is one of those terms that encompass a wide variety of offices, people, and tasks. Similar to the meaning of Education. It is something different to everyone. The truth still exists, though, that the Central Office is often seen as a hinderance to individual schools, especially in the larger districts. The bigger the district, the bigger the bureaurcracy.
For most of us, we aren't aiming our displeasure at the secretaries, although I'd be a liar if I didn't excuse some of them. I've had the displeasure of being shafted by secretaries who couldn't keep track of important documents or give me the correct information. The application process tells a potential employee everything they need to know about a district's Central Office sectretarial staff. That is not to say that there are not some wonderful and amazing people who are competent and beyond informative.
What tends to put a teacher off about a Central Office is the disconnect between it and the classroom. While The Science Goddess, as a former teacher, offers a great deal of insight to the Central Office's "suits" (read her blog on a regular basis and you will understand), the reality for many is that it doesn't matter.
If we are all really about the same goal, educating students, then why are Central Office "suits" often condescending towards teachers. This often appears when teachers are hesitant over new policies or new curriculum. The Central Office "suits" are the ones attending the latest fad seminars, bringing their research based instructional models to save the schools. Unfortunately, these "suits" fail to accept our research based opinions that come in the form of actually teaching.
The world of education has changed dramatically in the last ten years. The truth is that for so many years, the classroom teacher had autonomy, so long as he or she was abiding within the law. Today's demands require teachers to know the changes that are happening. Unfortunately, too many "suits" don't have the classroom experience or the leadership ability to bring teachers along. Teachers will respond to Cental Office staff that are able to listen to, and understand the teachers.
It is important to note that teachers, ultimately, pay the price for every decision the Curriculum Specialist or Assessment Specialist or Instruction Specialist make. When a school fails in its mission to educate students to standards, it is the principal and the teachers who take the heat. The people looking at the data and learning theories often stay protected--and at a nice salary.
So for the Science Goddess, who might be concerned about perception of going to the "dark side," I offer this advice:
1. Remember who you serve first--the students. If what you are asking the teachers to do will serve the students best, the truly good teachers will recognize it.
2. Remember your roots--the classroom. You've been in our shoes, and you know how out of touch with classroom reality some changes can be. Don't allow yourself to accept these changes for the sake of your career and image. No one likes a sell-out.
3. Earn the respect. Teachers are hungry for a Central Office "suit" we can really buy into. We don't dislike the Central Office because the old crazy guy down the hall told us to. It's because we haven't been treated as part of the program. Instead, too many "suits" have simply dictated their theories to us and expected us to fall in line. We aren't the military. Education is best served by the teacher who is allowed to be individuals within the great company of educators.
4. Trust us. Yes, some will fight it because it is new. Some will fight it because it won't work. Learn to tell the difference. And don't judge a critic for dissenting. Some of us do our best thinking, and will ultimately help your new idea, by challenging what you present. It may take time, but trust us; the truly good teachers will make it work.
5. Don't take yourself too seriously. The Central Office serves a purpose, but not one greater than the work going on in the classroom. The best run districts will have an appropriate balance between the "suits" and the teachers. If you make us look good, we'll make you look good. If you take care of us, we'll take care of you. That is a principle I learned in the service industry. So long as I took care of the customers, my boss was happy. If I took care of him, by doing my job well, he took care of me.