Initially this year, my principal and I set a common goal: To get into classrooms every day. That seems like a no brainer, but as you know it is so easy to get caught up in the “stuff” waiting for you in the office and before you know it, it’s 2:00 pm and the day is gone…and with it, your opportunity for classroom walks. But we were determined that this area of our practice could use some strengthening. To help us get going, my principal signed us both up to participate in The Principal Center’s High Performance Instructional Leadership Course. Building upon research about habits, the program guided us through those early weeks as we got our habits established and committed to our goal of visiting classrooms every day.
We each made it to every classroom by the end of the first week of school. And then the next week, and the next. I would say that by week 4, our habit had taken hold and we were getting into classrooms — but, not because it was on the calendar. We went because it felt very odd not to be in a classroom. That’s when I realized that being in classrooms had become a habit.
Next, we began thinking and talking more about purpose. In the first few weeks, our purpose was simple enough: we wanted students and teachers to get used to us being there. We were not writing anything down in those early days, no official feedback was given, just getting to know everyone and building relationships. But after the first couple of weeks, we were ready to give these visits some purpose and be intentional about this. What will our students gain from these visits? How will it best benefit our staff? How about our students’ parents…how might this impact them? How will this new habit impact our campus as a whole and how will it influence us as leaders? Purpose…
A wise person once told me, “If you don’t have a reason for doing something, you might as well stop doing it.” I might expand on that a little further in this situation by saying that it isn’t just about the numbers. It’s not how many times I am in classrooms each day that makes a difference. It’s the purpose behind those visits that really matters. And as I spent daily time in classrooms, those purposes, intentions and outcomes just began to sort of unfold.
Recently, I heard about a principal who takes his laptop with him and completes work and answers emails from classrooms. Now there is some creative problem solving! I have to wonder though…what purpose is served by simply relocating oneself? If the primary goal is being physically present in classrooms then yes, that goal is met. But for us, it isn’t enough to just be there. We want to make a difference in big and small ways across the campus and we want this practice to have a positive impact on our leadership. Maybe I didn’t understand the context. Maybe I am missing something (that is very possible). But for me, I just don’t think I would influence all that much if I were sitting in a classroom answering emails or taking care of office stuff; I just wouldn’t be fully present. Being in classrooms is good. Being in classrooms every day…great! Being in classrooms every day and with purpose — that’s where I want to dwell — that is where unexpected opportunities exist!
If you are the type that likes examples and models, nuts and bolts, you’ll like this part. So, my principal and I each created a notebook and we organized them with everything we felt would be important to have at our fingertips. It’s nothing fancy, but here is a look at some of the things we included in our binders. You can click on each image to read the caption:
So what are some of those unexpected opportunities we have found so far? Where do I even begin! Let me see…I can (confidently) tell you almost exactly what the students in each grade and content area are learning and mastering. That alone is a much bolder statement than I could have made in my previous 3 years as an AP. I know which students like to share aloud and which ones are more reserved or need some “coaxing”. I try to engage those kids when I see them at lunch or in the hallways. When I see parents at meetings or after school, I have some background and I can easily share current classroom happenings or even something awesome I saw their student doing in the classroom recently. When I visit with teachers in the lounge, it’s very easy to start up a conversation about classroom teaching and learning that is relevant and meaningful or even “Hey! You know, so and so is doing something very similar to what you guys are doing science…” and these things are just coming naturally. The opportunities are there, where before they were not or at least not to this degree. The relationships I build are being impacted. What else … How about: When I have a student in the office for a conduct situation, it most likely isn’t my first time seeing or talking to that student. When I conduct a classroom walkthrough and am developing meaningful feedback for the teacher, I have some context and a deeper understanding of the classroom dynamic…making my feedback much more on point. When I sit in on weekly PLCs, I have context in my mind, so I know where this teacher is coming from, or where a particular team is coming from. Purchasing resources? Resource stewardship is an important aspect of leadership and I feel much more “aware” now. To be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time in this area as an Assistant Principal, but I am knowledgable enough about the current landscape and daily flow that I can give input that is relevant and I can make informed recommendations based on what I see and hear all the time. And the students? Well, they are getting really good at communicating what their Learning Target is and bringing me up to speed on what the class is doing when I stop by. It is not unusual for me to be in their classroom. I hope that soon, it will be unusual if I’m not in their classrooms.