Interview with Ethel H. Robinson


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Q: Will you tell me how many years you were in education first as a teacher?

robinson audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: As a teacher?

Q: Yes.

A: Ok, lets see, as a teacher it was forty-five to fifty-eight, that was about thirteen years as a teacher.

Q: And as a principal?

A: Oh, as a principal I started my principalship in '71 to '85, what's that fourteen?

Q: Uh, huh, so you've been retired a year?

A: And of course in between I was coordinator and a supervisor, assistant principal, in charge of instruction.

Q: Ok. How long were you at your last school?

A: Ok, 1976-85.

Q: Can you describe your school?

A: Alright, it was a neighborhood school and that meant that the children who attended Park View were, lived in the neighborhood; we only had one bus and those were kindergarten children and those children who lived a mile or more from the school, who are eligible for busing; but basically the majority of the students lived right in the neighborhood and they walked.

Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?

A: Why did I decide to become a principal? Well, really I was tapped to be a principal by, um, the elementary supervisor at that time, and she encouraged me to go into administration supervision or administration and that's how. I became influenced by an elementary supervisor.

Q: What was your school's philosophy?

A: Ok. My school's philosophy was that we believe that every child could learn and that each child was a little different and had potential and capability. It is our responsibility to find out what their capabilities are and what our instructional program toward their specific needs while still covering the required educational goals as were related to each grade level.

Q: How was this philosophy developed?

A: Ok. Well, each, well, let's say each teacher, each grade level had to be apprised as to the growth and development of their children and the age growth development and their curriculum. Be aware of the objectives for each grade level, social, emotional, educational, what have you, and once those objectives were identified and then we would gear our instructions toward the children and also the subject matter that was appropriate for each grade level.

Q: How did you create a climate for learning?

A: Well, ok, a climate for learning. Once you know your grade level and you are with the children in which you are to teach and you are familiar with the goals, instructional goals for that particular grade level and that aged child. We wanted to be sure that every person understood that and we had meetings and discussions and it was a school wide idea. We had meetings and discussions, grade level wise, monitoring our programs as we started the school year and throughout the school year, seeing if we were meeting the goals, meeting our objectives. Also, seeing how the students were progressing along those lines.

Q: What leadership techniques did you use?

A: What leadership techniques, ok. I believe this, that as the principal instructional leader of the school being that it was my responsibility to see that every person understood what his role was in this and to be a part of, you say setting it up, setting up the goals and also a part of carrying it out and a part of evaluating, you know accessing the goals and then at the end of each school year or at the beginning of each. At the end of each school year, we would go into planning together or evaluating what we've done. Let's say, within the things that we could do to project our needs for the next year, project our goals for the next year, project our plans for the next year and it was let's say, principal-teacher type of relationship that way it would be togetherness, you know, you did it together it wasn't handed down to them but they were a part of the process and that was the important thing.

Q: What techniques were successful and unsuccessful?

A: I find the techniques are most successful, those are teachers, persons who are responsible for the instructional program of teachers, who have an active part in the whole process of teaching, learning, and then evaluating their teachers were involved and had a say so in what's going on, what needs to be eliminated, what needs to be added to that, what you get more success with, persons who are fully involved in the processage instructional process. When we were not successful is when people do not, when you say you have to go do this and not understanding, implementing programs that are not fully understood and without the proper inservice programs, without the proper consulting services, without the proper accepting help or seeking help, to improve or to enhance that program, that's when we don't get the proper understanding to do the job that you are supposed to do, then that proves unsuccessful.

Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to do?

A: I think teachers expect principals to be a person that they can approach, who they can discuss their concerns and be a person that their concerns are being considered and that they are given the help that they need or that they request, you know, to make them to do a better job.

Q: How did you evaluate teachers?

A: For one thing, we have an instrument for evaluating which is city-wide, you know that, and which required us to go into the classroom and observe so many times during the school year and from our observation to anything that we felt that the teachers need to know, to get over their problems, to discuss these things and to find out how best this thing can be corrected; the help they need and so forth, and to make them aware of some things that they need to do to improve, once that process is done. They understand this and usually the conferences will be followed by a statement that they can use and a little evaluation will come from that they can use to see, that these are the areas that you are doing fine, and these are the areas in which you need to improve and then if you would have a follow-up to see if these things are being done or if improvements are being made and then in the final analysis when you come down to the formal evaluation and everybody is aware, they are not hearing it for the first time, and they know teachers themselves would know they would strengthen their weaknesses and it made it a much better type of evaluating. The instrument was used that way where the teachers were aware of the areas in which they were being evaluated so then it wouldn't be any secrets of any hidden points for improvement or anything hidden, in other words it was an open exchange and in fact, in the beginning of the school year, each teacher is handed out a copy of the evaluation in the beginning, also, all of these things are gone over with teachers and so they knew what the expectations were and then when the evaluation came the formal evaluation came as a review, did you do this satisfactory or do you need to improve in this? The instrument itself was a vehicle in which you communicate with the teachers.

Q: What techniques did you use to make the teachers feel important?

A: Well, praise and if a person did something or carried out an activity that was very successful that person was told individually and also it was brought to the attention of the faculty and the whole school. We probably would have at some point in the school year, an appreciation day where things were highlighted. Of course, if it was something real outstanding, when we had to recommend somebody to work on a committee outside of the school system, then you would recommend those persons who have shown the greatest interest and skill doing their particular task.

Q: What is your philosophy of education?

A: My philosophy of education. I think it goes back to what we said in the beginning, we believe that all individuals can learn and it's up to us as educators to find their strengths, their weaknesses, build up on their strengths and try to correct their weaknesses by giving them the skills necessary to function as successful individuals.

Q: What is your philosophy of teaching?

A: Believing that everybody has a potential to learn then as a teacher, my goal would be to seek out those goals it would take to make each person a successful person.

Q: What is your personal leadership philosophy?

A: Personal leadership philosophy? Well, a leader has to be a person who knows where he or she wants to go, and having a set of directions to where you want to go. You have to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to go in that direction and it would be a constant quest for improving. You just don't get to the place where you know it all, there is always a better way to do something and you are always seeking to improve to get better so you know that you can be more effective in working with people and doing the job that you were assigned to do.

Q: What does it take to be an effective principal?

A: Well, in the first place, you have got to really like what you are doing. You have got to be committed to it. Number two, you have got to be equipped for what you are doing and having the skills and the knowledge and the background and putting all those together, then you would be effective. Really, an effective leader has to be open minded and should not be afraid of the effect of the change if it's going to be for the good of the cause, then as I said, having the skill to do all of those things.

Q: What procedures should be used before a person is selected to become a principal?

A: Well, first I think a principal should be a good teacher and having been a good teacher, then have had some experience in administration as assistant or an out of the classroom experience in the school. Having been a teacher and then moving to assistant principal, you know that experience gives a person enough opportunity to have a good administrative head as principal and with all of that background, then go into principalship in the classroom. I tried to take care of any priority needs, you know, and then after the first hour I was made to I think you need some experience that builds you up to a principal to the position of a principal and I think the assistant principalship or some other administrative assistant in a school at a level in which you plan to work. If it is elementary you should be elementary, if it is secondary, it should be secondary, but all of that helps you to be a better more effective principal.

Q: How do you handle your assistant principals?

A: Well, in my situation I had a small school so I didn't have a full time assistant principal but I did have a teaching assistant. Those are delegated school responsibilities to the teachers assistant that they could handle and would not interfere with her teaching and just know that a teaching assistant could help the teacher to work so more effective and that was assigned to that person.

Q: As a principal, what was your biggest headache?

A: Biggest headache, ok, in a school when you have to be the manager of cafeteria services, custodial services, building security, as well as the instructional programs can be sometimes managing supportive services can be a little taxonal sometimes, especially in maintenance, you don't always get the type of workers that you need and sometimes you don't always get the number of people that you need to run the school, which I can have no control over, especially in maintenance and building care you have to accept the people that were sent to you, I think the maintenance would be the most headache to me and building security, and so forth.

Q: What are the characteristics associated with effective schools?

A: What are the characteristics associated with effective schools, the first thing a good teaching staff I mean teachers who assigned to your school who are qualified, certified, endorsed in their particular field or grade level and if you have a good teaching staff then you can really have an effective school, an important characteristic and of course having the proper materials, instructional material to do the job and then you can have the supportive service available to you to assist you and to the staff and to do a good job, I guess having the financial, the finance that you need to buy over and above what the school board could give you to carry a good instructional program. I did say staff, I mean teaching staff and having just a full staff and everybody working together to make the school the best there is.

Q: What was your key to success as a principal?

A: Well, ok, I did have several jobs, when I left the classroom I was then a supervisor, I was then a coordinator of instructional programs, then assistant principal of two schools, of course, with three good principals who were good and gave me an opportunity as an assistant to really work with them and to learn with them. I was able to build up a broad background and it broaden me in many areas; good training, I had good role models.

Q: What was your code of ethics as a principal?

A: Explain that, code of ethics?

Q: Any particular thing that you expected from your teachers that you know a certain code that you expected them to carry on?

A: Alright, there were certain things we recognized that we were professionals and that we always try to keep professionalism in our work and with one another as co-workers, students, parents, and the community and that we were always, we would always have to set an example that means that we had a certain expectation of how we dressed, how we carried on our personal life, how we carry on inside the school and outside the school, how we related to our public, parents and people who were related to school and that we were there to serve the public. We are a public service and that we should have enough to know how to meet the public, we would always carry this professionalism in everything we did if you realize your professionalism and you are a professional person you are supposed to love what you are doing. If you don't then let's let someone come in and find out and keep it up on eye level. Don't let someone come in and find out our faults; we know our faults before somebody else does.

Q: What do you think of career ladders for teachers?

A: Well, lets see, after you reach so many years you get so and so. I think the system has built in after you get, let's say if you taught 10 years or 15 years or what have you, I don't know if you are talking about merit pay. With our career ladders after you get to a certain point, you don't get any more, you have reached the top of the scale or whatever.

Q: What about merit pay?

A: .That depends, you see, salary scales change so in a budget, its nothing stable if the system could afford to give you five percent this year, maybe seven percent another and ten percent in another, so its hard to really compute. The system itself dictates that. Now I believe that the longer you work the more money you get. I don't believe that a person with 0-5 years experience should be equal. Money is distributed to the teachers and naturally the longer you've been teaching you should be getting more money.

Q: What about merit pay; that's when, you know for rewarding master teachers?

A: Until they can meet a good way of evaluating that is more objective than subjective that is not a favorable way, there is not a favorable system of rewarding teachers now unless, we take a teacher who is constantly trying to improve herself and she has mastered so many hours above and beyond her basic degree and especially going to school and doing the job in the classroom then it should be recognized, not just, I think it should be with something a little bit more tangible than just observation that teacher who really improving and show constant study and constant performance, performance and preparation in balance and especially performance and you see there are some children who will go through some teachers and they are really achieving and performing and that teacher is the one who is doing it then I think that teacher ought to be tapped as a master teacher, its proven there is an objective way of determining who is the master teacher and if you don't have an objective way in which all persons could qualify if they really wanted to, everybody understand, you know, what is going on and how you arrived at it but if it is not surely understood and it is not surely defined how this person got the merit pay, if teacher A can get it over teacher B then it has to be clearly defined and clearly understood, and a person who has really worked up to the mastering level and you can document it, if you can't document it then you know.

Q: Ok, were you the manager of the building or were you an instructional leader, and why?

A: I believe I was more of an instructional leader. Why, I spent more time in the classroom in an instructional part of the program, than just managing, you know, just operating a building, I would say I was more of an instructional leader.

Q: How do you feel we can improve education?

A: How can we improve education, by inservice programs for teachers, continuous workshops and services for teachers it could be a way to improve education.

Q: What about for children?

A: For children, by having more programs that is going to help them to improve meeting the needs of those youngsters so that you can really measure their growth and performance, and achievement something that you can constantly, the instructional programs especially basic skills reading, math, social studies, I think there should be an ongoing program really meeting the needs of those kids.

Q: What about education of the parents?

A: Ok, well to get parents involved, I've always felt that parents are part of us in this whole process of education and if we can keep them informed and if we can keep them involved and involved I mean to get them to school to explain the program to encourage them to visit, encourage them to participate you know, with school programs that affect their children, and keep them knowledgeable and encourage them to be constantly looking at what the children are doing in the school at home and if they have any questions about that they have an open door where they can come in and really be a part of it. I think the more they know about what's going on in school then the more they fully cooperate with the school the better the chances are for a good instructional program.

Q: How do you account for your success as an instructor?

A: Well, I guess I've always been interested in education, it was my first love and I have never lost that interest in education and I, as long as I can remember I was striving to find better ways of doing what I was doing and uh improving myself as a person to do the best job as I could. Attending seminars, attending workshops, attending education conferences, any way of improving me and you. I just was interested and commitment was all there was to it.

Q: What are your feelings about the responsibility of the principal, for identifying and developing future school administrators?

A: I feel that the responsibility as a principal, I feel that you see a person who is skilled, working to a certain capacity you see that a person has exemplified some skills that are associated with a good principal or administrator I think that you should let that person know; you should encourage that person to go into the field of administration, there are some people who work as resource people in school and they have good potentials for administrators they give you a lot of good services and are supportive and are helpful to you and you can see that they can carry out certain responsibilities and do a good job at it. They work effectively with the administration and they just look like, you just encourage them I feel that when you see a person with potentials and you feel that they could be successful and I think encouraging that person to go into it and pushing, the person accepting would have to pursue it if that person doesn't have a desire to be that then you can't influence them, but if you see a person who has the ability to do then I think you ought to encourage them, to encourage that person to go into it.

Q: Did you do this as a principal?

A: Yes I did. Several people came into the school the school with good administrative, I would say why don't you go ahead and get your masters, why don't you apply for the assistant principalship and you have a lot to offer.

Q: Do you feel that this should be done more often?

A: Yes.

Q: What caused you to choose the time when you did?

A: After forty years of working I thought it was time.

Q: What role did you play in public and community relations?

A: Well, you work with the parents in the PTA, you are part of the community and you should work in public relations in trying to interpret the school to the community the school and the school to the community by the mere fact that you are in a principal position you are, believe that is a hard working job, of course out of the school as a personal and as an individual you should be actively involved in the church and in organizations concern the public too. Volunteering public services, community, clubs that concern the community and organizations.

Q: If you had to do it again what would you do to get and obtain success as a principal?

A: What would I do, I would probably do more of what I did before, I would do a little bit more research, you know, active research, more study, when I say study I don't mean studying in the books I mean to study teachers and how to get involved in the segments of the learning process, maybe help, how children can achieve finding ways of which we can assure achievement to students and improving the teaching the learning process and how we can get children to, you know, where we want them, the how to, and come up with things to get some results which we know are just as effective that we can get some results, by using it I would really get into any programs, I would do the studying necessary and I would do the research necessary to do the job.

Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?

A: I always kept an open door, and I said if a teacher had a problem please come to me, I would stress this and if you discuss it with your friends the only person who could deal with the school comes to me, and what it is if it is something that I can't handle then just try to get some help but that open door making that person feel that you can come and discus it with me I don't mind, if I'm the problem come and tell me I'm the problem, and let's see what we can do, maybe I don't even know that I'm the problem, but if you come and tell me what the problem is then if you come and tell me, let me know then we can go from there. That's the best procedure, because otherwise that's just like a parrot that goes around school and says hey, and I am learning it for the first time, when a teacher comes up to me and says did you know something and I say no I don't know that person should come to me and let me know what the problem is and if they can't confide in me then go somewhere else, and I can go somewhere else to help you to get to that place then I help you, but I feel that people coming to work should not come to work unhappy, if its there then you should let somebody know.

Q: Did you ever have to fire a teacher?

A: Yes I did, request, a principal doesn't hire and a principal doesn't fire. Ok, that should be understood, but if a person was not doing their job that person was supposed to be doing and they know it and they have been given an opportunity to improve then I have recommended at the end of the year or at the beginning of the year not to put this person, not to hire this person. I have a tendency, I think it was just about two people that I know of, but I can say there has been situations that I have had to recommend it, that this person be hired.

Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal, and why was it difficult?

A: The toughest decision I ever had to make as a principal and why was it difficult? I guess the toughest decision I ever had to make was when those two people I had to recommend, and that they would not be hired for another year and their job would be terminated, that was the toughest. It was difficult because when you feel that you cannot, you know deep down inside that people do not see what you see, yet and when a person doesn't see that make a person let you see that they don't see it, that this person is a human being, you know and maybe, they weren't successful here and maybe they will be successful somewhere else and that you will always feel that you have to go beyond a person, you have to help the children and you have to make a decision to make a decision to cut them off, and I guess that the most difficult decision you don't particularly want another person to lose a job but you have got to think about the children, you don't want to make the children suffer, it's tough; it is the most difficult thing, trying to get someone to see that they need to improve when they don't feel that they need too. The only solution to the problem is that you just have to do it somewhere else not here.

Q: What pressures did you face as a principal, and how did you handle them?

A: Well, when I was principal we were responsible for every phase of school life, instructional, the maintenance the combination of the cafeteria and if there was any pressure it was really the maintenance and the security of the building that is what the greatest pressure was to me and you just kept on your toes all of the time plus you had to work with that area of, the people that were responsible for maintaining the building, cleaning the building, seeing that everyone was in good shape, you just kept constantly with them and possibly see that they were doing it and trying to get the right type of people to try to keep, to get the, the first place get the personnel then to keep the personnel to do the job, I think that was the greatest challenge.

Q: What do you think of the testing procedures?

A: Our testing procedures were very good, didn't have that much testing going on in our system, the fourth graders were tested and of course, the sixth graders were tested, the State-wide testing was fourth grade, the other testing was instructional it was given on things like reading, what do I think about that?

Q: Yes.

A: We knew, we had to set up an environment that they would be used to testing, and then to after testing we tried to get the results and we tried to use them to assess the progressing in certain areas. Testing is, the testing programs are very important.

Q: You know, as children get up in high school they have the PSAT and the SAT, what do you think of those testing procedures?

A: Well, just I think we are always concerned in testing that children understand, understand why do they test, you know, why to take tests, that has always been a challenge and what we do believe at elementary level as teachers know what to expect that she would know not just how to teach the tests but give the children previous experiences what would be expected of them of the test that they were going to take. I think that the same applies to the PSAT and the SAT I think that there should be some type of test taking type of experiences that you are exposed to so that they can understand what is required of them in a testing situation and especially testing on the upper level and on a national. The PSAT and the SAT taken by children all over the country, testing skill should be a must in preparing children to take a test, preparation and experiences.

Q: What do you think of the standards that are followed that have been established by the State?

A: You set up standards, but if you don't have the procedures to put it into practice then sometimes I believe that some of the standards are being proved effective. I feel that they should be put into effect with the system for so often you have got to have so many objectives, you have to stick to certain standards and sometimes they don't coincide with what you are actually doing with your system. And I think that if you give them a year or so to use it, to evaluate it, to see whether or not it is effective if it can be implemented because we get so many, you go with your guidelines, your techniques, and what have you and then you get the State say ok we will do so and so, you find that you are teaching so many objectives that you become confused unless you can fit them right into your own curriculum then you can be more effective; but if you got your curriculum over here and you have standards so far over and you're expected to do this and you're expected to do that when are you going to get, you know, how are you going to get what you are teaching so many objectives that you become confused unless you can, how are you going to get teachers to fully understand what to do you are getting so much involved you also are requesting so much I think somewhere there ought to be a correlation before it gets to here this is what you should do when you know that there are things that you can do, to be able to do the things that you need to do because you get tired and you get frustrated and then too you are going along with the standards, you still have a lot of responsibility and frustration.

Q: How did you handle the civil rights issue and the bussing issue?

A: When I began my principalship in '71 it was the beginning of the situation of bussing and fortunately I was the principal of two kindergarten centers and I was dealing with a preschool level and I didn't have to deal with bussing and some of the problems and integration. I didn't have to deal with that and then I was seemed to be excluded because I was in a neighborhood school. I still didn't have to deal with the problem. I still didn't have to deal with the problem. I was only dealing with five year olds and the children had to follow what they were told.

Q: Can you describe a typical work day in terms of how you spent your time?

A: My typical work day, well, lets see, my first hour of my day, school took in at 8:30 and I was there anywhere from 7:30 to 7:45, at that time I have to check to see that everything was in order, to see that everything was in place, to see that the school was ready to start; to take care of any office matters that I had to and the children's care. I was taught to be visible to be highly visible to anybody and to go into the classroom and after they settled down, be visible in the classrooms to assist in any way I could and I could just go on into 2:30 and take care of any needs that I would have. If there were any conferences, I would have them early in the morning or after 2:30. So then, I would be able to get into the classrooms and give any instructions. After that, I would stay and do what other things I would have to do, I would plan and organize for the next day's work.

Q: What did you spend the most time doing?

A: In the instructional areas.

Q: What have I not asked you that I should have?

A: I think we have covered everything, Mrs. Felton.

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