This year, I’ve been challenging instructional leaders to get into 500 classrooms—we’re calling it the #500c challenge (full instructions are here).
The response has been amazing—several people have emailed me to share that they’ve made dozens or even 100+ visits already—and dozens more have emailed me that they’re getting into three classrooms a day, every day—which is all it takes.
But it’s easy to pop in to “be visible” for a second, or to leave a little compliment. It’s harder be sure that you’re having a substantial impact on instruction and student learning.
So start small, but prepare to scale up your impact.
Getting Started: Your First Two Rounds
In the Instructional Leadership Challenge, and in my forthcoming book, I recommend that you just get started. If you want to get into classrooms, start getting into classrooms.
Simply notice what teachers are up to, say something nice, and don’t be weird. Always communicate, so teachers don’t worry what you think of them, or wonder if you’re collecting documentation to use against them.
For now, no forms, no checklists, no typing on your laptop, and no formal reports. Just visit, notice, chat, and maybe leave a nice note.
Get around to everyone exactly once, then make an announcement. Let teachers know what you’re up to. (If you’d like an example, over a dozen principals have shared their approaches here.)
For round two, do the same thing. Visit every teacher, in the same order as your first cycle (lest anyone think you’re harassing them).
Avoid “feedback sandwiches”. Don’t make suggestions for improvement. Just notice what’s going on, and make sure it’s a pleasant experience for everyone (including yourself).
But then what? You can’t afford to invest your valuable time in just showing up and being friendly, month after month. As an instructional leader, you need to have an impact.
Your Third Cycle of Visits
As you finish your second cycle of visits and begin your third, it’s time to up the ante. It’s time to make your visits more substantive and more impactful.
There are two major factors in substantive classroom visits:
- Evidence—your conversations with teachers should be increasingly based on what actually happened during the visit, and you can take increasingly detailed notes.
- Frameworks—your conversations should increasingly use the language of your shared instructional frameworks, such as your evaluation tool or rubric, and any specific training your staff has received.
I firmly believe that an evidence-based conversation that references a shared instructional framework is far more powerful than any suggestion for improvement you could possibly come up with. The power of a conversation is that it delves directly into teachers’ thinking and decision-making, which has a far greater impact on their future teaching decisions and behaviors than an unsolicited suggestion.
If you’re pretty confident in the quality of your feedback, let me ask you a question: In what other contexts do you routinely give unsolicited advice that has a lasting and positive impact? Do you tell your spouse how to load the dishwasher or organize their socks more effectively? Do you tell your kids how to play with their toys?
You might be saying to yourself “Oh, that’s different, because I’m the supervisor when I’m working with a teacher. I’m the evaluator. It’s my job to give feedback.”
It’s surely your job to lead for improvement, but there’s more than one way to help teachers improve. And giving unsolicited advice isn’t the most effective strategy—not even close:
When educators recognize that for teachers to advance in their understanding, they must be the ones to engage in the work of self-assessment and reflection on practice, then external feedback is even seen as a possible hindrance to that process.
—Charlotte Danielson, Talk About Teaching! Leading Professional Conversations, p. 10
So don’t force yourself to make a suggestion or give advice (though you certainly can, especially if you’re asked to, or if you have an especially good idea to share).
But do force yourself to have the conversation. Talk with the teacher every time you visit a classroom. If you take notes, share your notes immediately—they’ll sharpen your shared focus on the evidence, and sharing them will allay teachers’ fears about what you might be writing down.
Have evidence-based, framework-linked conversations with three teachers a day, and you’ll see an amazing change:
- Teachers—and especially you—will get far more conversant with the language of your instructional framework
- Writing your year-end evaluations will be incredibly easy
- You’ll know exactly what to focus on in future professional development
- You’ll be able to concentrate your resources and supports where they’re needed most
- Most importantly, you’ll help teachers actually improve, because they’ll be thinking more deeply about their practice on a regular basis with a trusted colleague: you.
Note: I’ve made an app called Repertoire that makes this very, very easy (and you can email or copy your notes into another evaluation system if you’d like).