Welcome to Day 7 of the Instructional Leadership Challenge. Today we’re going to look at an issue that’s always a challenge for administrators who start to increase their presence in classrooms, and that is, how to deal with people’s concerns.
You can assume that someone, maybe everyone, will start to panic a little bit when you start showing up in classrooms more. The reason for this is pretty simple—they just don’t know what you’re up to, and they’re not going to feel comfortable until they have a better sense of that.
So that’s why I recommended starting out by visiting each teacher once and leaving a positive, handwritten note, with nothing about data or standards or evaluation criteria—just noticing and encouraging.
Now, if your staff is used to you being in classrooms and leaving feedback, you may be able to skip ahead a bit, but if not, I want to urge you to take the time to leave positive notes first, even if it feels like you’re wasting opportunities to leave constructive feedback.
Before you can leave feedback, you have to show that you’re paying attention to the good things that are going on. This isn’t what most administrators do, so you have to actually show that you’re doing it, not just talk about it.
Now, if you visit someone three times in one week, yes, they’re going to panic, and they’ll think you’re out to get them. But if you visit everyone once, and it’s a positive experience, and then you communicate a bit, you’ll see a very different reaction.
So after you’ve visited all of your classrooms once, and left that positive, noticing note, you say something like this:
“Dear Staff, I’ve made some time over the past few weeks to get into classrooms more, and this is something I’d like to continue. I’ve found that I’m learning a great deal about good instruction from being in classrooms more, and I hope to continue to learn, and help you to grow, by being a more regular presence in classrooms. It’s my goal to visit every classroom every other week or so, and have a chance to talk with you or leave some sort of feedback.”
Say something like that, and people might be surprised at the change, but they’re not going to be as defensive.
Now, people will be very sensitive to the possibility that you’re picking on them, or out to get them. Some people probably have a good reason to be worried, but other people just worry too much.
Now, a lot of administrators respond to this sense of panic by trying to reassure teachers that the visits are non-evaluative. I want to caution you NOT to do that, because it’s not strictly true that your visits are non-evaluative, and that’s going to create a trust issue down the road.
The truth is, you probably will see some things that will affect teachers’ evaluations, even if strictly speaking those are supposed to be based on scheduled, formal observations.
I would avoid the topic of whether the classroom visits are intended to be evaluative and whether they’ll show up in the final evaluation, and instead focus on learning—you learning more about what’s happening in classrooms, teachers learning from feedback, the organization learning from its chief decision-maker having more information, and ultimately, students learning more.
Again, if teachers have already gotten a note from you that proves you’re listening and paying attention, there aren’t going to be lots of doubts and fears about whether these are going to be “gotcha” walkthroughs.
Now, if you do get pushback from people, and they say “I don’t want you in my room,” this is a very appropriate time to pull rank. But instead of saying “I’m the principal, and I have every right to be in your room,” I’d try to emphasize that it’s simply your job to be in classrooms, because that takes a bit of the power struggle out of it.
I have had teachers call the union and almost quit over this kind of thing, and that’s fine.
Jim, who I told you about in an earlier video, had to be told, in a meeting with his union rep and my boss, that yes, indeed, I did have a right and a responsibility to be in his classroom at any time, and he just needed to deal with that.
Again, you don’t want to make it about power and what you have the right to do—you want to make it about doing the right thing for kids, and instructional leadership is a pretty clear moral high ground.
So here’s your action step for today: draft your initial communication to your staff in the comments below. You may want to look through those comments and get ideas from what other people are sharing.
What will you say, maybe in an email or in a staff meeting, to let your teachers know that you’ll be making regular visits to classrooms?
Right now, write it out below as a comment, and take a look at what other people have said. Then, figure out when you’re going to share this with your staff—do you have an upcoming staff meeting? Put it on the agenda. Do you have a newsletter? Go ahead and add it.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about moving into more substantive feedback, and how you can actually make that doable, and link it to your instructional framework. Thanks for being part of the Challenge, and I’ll see you tomorrow.