How I’m Learning to be an Intentional Instructional Leader

My perception of classroom observations changed drastically when I read Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation by Kim Marshall. I then read Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo based on a recommendation from my friend Justin Baeder, director of the Principal Center.

I combined the key ideas I gathered from both books and developed an ambitious mini-observation & teacher meeting schedule that begins this week. Since I am the principal at a private school in Arkansas, we are not required to follow the state’s TESS guidelines. While I understand that many administrators reading this post are mandated to follow certain observation guidelines, perhaps by sharing my experiences and my processes, a few things may be applicable and beneficial.

In the traditional full observation system, classrooms are typically observed 2-4 times a year. When broken down by class periods (6 class periods x 178 days), that turns out to be 2 observations out of a possible 1,068 lessons (.002%). I will never believe that system provides an accurate picture of a classroom.Full Observations

 

Instead of relying on full observations, my emphasis this year will be on mini-observations which Marshall discusses in-depth in his book. A mini-observation is as follows:

  • 10-15 minute observation
  • unannounced
  • frequent (at least once every two weeks)
  • timely feedback provided

When broken down by class periods, that turns out to be around 18 observations out of 1,068 lessons (1.7%).

Mini-observationsMarshall recommends meeting with teachers informally within 24-48 hours of each observation. He suggests meeting in the hallways, in the copier rooms, at lunch, even in the parking lot– anywhere you can have a short conversation about the observation. After that, he suggests the administrator follow-up with an email documenting the observation and conversation.

While this system makes sense, I tried it last year and it was too tough for me. I would get distracted, and days would be go by before I had the opportunity to follow-up. Because I wasn’t timely with my feedback, the conversations rarely happened and I didn’t see the results I wanted.

So this year I’m going to try a different approach– one outlined in Leverage Leadership. I’m still sticking with mini-observations because I believe they provide a more accurate picture of a classroom. However, the follow-up conversations are scheduled in the form of 30-minute bi-weekly teacher meetings during each teacher’s planning period. Take a look below to see an example weekly schedule of my observations (in green) and meetings (in yellow).

Sample Weekly Schedule

Is it ambitious? Absolutely.

Am I crazy for trying this? Probably.

Is it doable? Yes, if I believe it works– and I do. Marshall convinced me when he wrote this:

Talking to teachers about the teaching and learning that’s going on in their classrooms is the heart and soul of instructional leadership. There’s nothing more productive and satisfying than being in classrooms and talking to colleagues about teaching and learning. This is the work!

(from Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation)

Today I was able to observe 7 classrooms and I had so much fun! I can’t remember a day last year that I was able to observe 7 classrooms.

Tomorrow we start our bi-weekly meetings. We’ll begin a process where we get to dedicate 30 minutes every other week to talk about student learning, to plan lessons together, to talk about classroom observations, and to help each other grow.

I’m so excited about this!

Today I began to feel like an instructional leader.

Tomorrow I’ll begin to be one.

If we don’t tell our story, someone else will.

Tell Our Story

Our school has a story that goes way beyond our history. We have a story with pages written every single day, and depending on who’s telling the story, the story could be a good one or could be one we don’t want shared. Despite the accuracies or inaccuracies in the details, a story of our school is told every day by our students, their parents, our employees, our alumni, and anyone else who’s ever even heard of us.

It’s imperative that we tell our story (and tell it often) if you we want the story to be accurate. It’s one reason posting often on Twitter and Facebook has been a focus of ours this year. We want to tell our story and share all of the great things that are happening at our school. This past week has been great and I’ve tried to share those great things on Twitter. At the end of each week, I’ve been using Storify to share the Mustang Mountain Tweets of the Week (see last week’s here).

But telling our story goes way beyond social media and our web page. We are the greatest ambassadors of our school and in many of our interactions outside of school we tell a little of the our story. Here are four things to keep in mind to help us tell a great story.

1. Always be positive. Everything isn’t perfect at our school, but that doesn’t mean we should broadcast the negative stuff! It’s important for us watch our words, being certain that what we’re saying always paints our students, our faculty, our administration, and our school as a whole in a positive light. People are listening.

2. Share our students’ accomplishments. When students do great things, we need to brag on them. We have so many ways to share those successes- Twitter, our webpage, Facebook, etc. Be on the lookout for outstanding work and share it.

3. Look for awesome because you’ll find what you are looking for. (I probably just lost some of you because now you’re humming U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”) If you’re looking for things to complain about it, you’ll find plenty. However, if you look for the awesome things about our school, you’ll find plenty of those as well. Look for awesome.

4. When in doubt, over-communicate. Let parents know what’s going on at school. If students are working on projects in class, they may not have many grades posted online. Share that with parents so they will be in the loop and will tell a story of all the great things going in the classroom. If not, the story will be, “They don’t do much in class because there aren’t many grades.”

If you want some more insight into the importance of sharing your school’s story, check out Ben Gilpin’s latest blog post that he shared with his faculty. I promise he didn’t copy from me nor did I copy from him!
What’s the story you want people to tell about your school? Be sure that’s the story you’re telling often.

The No Complaining Rule

 

The No Complaining Rule

Recently, a student suggested I read some books by Jon Gordon and offered to let me borrow his copies. I had never heard of Jon Gordon, but I took the student up on his offer and borrowed The Energy BusTraining Camp, and The No Complaining Rule. All of the books are short, inspirational reads and I would recommend them to anyone because we all need positive encouragement in our lives.

In The No Complaining Rule, Hope (the main character) is faced with improving the morale at her company. She searches high and low for solutions, and eventually develops a strategic plan to make the company culture positive, encouraging, and pleasant. Throughout the book, Gordon uses Hope’s situation to teach readers key principles and practices (two of the ideas are below) to help avoid being a complainer.

Three No Complaining Tools

1. The But —> _____ Positive Technique. When you catch yourself complaining, add a “but…” along with a positive.

  • I don’t like driving to work for an hour but I’m thankful I can drive and that I have a job.
  • I don’t like that I’m out of shape but I love feeling great so I’m going to focus on exercising and eating right.

2. Focus on “Get To” instead of “Have To.”

  • “I have to grade these tests” turns to “I get to grade these tests.”
  • “We have to go to chapel” turns to “We get to go to chapel.”

3. Turn Complaints into Solutions.

  • Identify your intent when complaining.
  • Justified complaining moves you toward a solution.
  • Mindless complaining is negative and should be avoided.

 

Five Things To Do Instead of Complaining

1. Practice gratitude.
2. Praise others.
3. Focus on success.
4. Let go.
5. Pray and meditate.

We’re getting into that part of the school year where we’re all tired and extremely busy— a bad combination— and students are getting restless. It happens every year, but since we know it’s coming, we need move forward with a positive outlook. I want to encourage everyone to be positive, to look for solutions, and to avoid mindless complaining.

As educators, we have an important job to do— correction, the most important job to do—and that’s to mentor and educate our students. No two thoughts can occupy the mind at the same time, so if we’re focusing on being positive, negative thoughts have no place in our minds or in our schools.

My goal is to be the most positive person in my school. I challenge you to do the same.