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Sometimes when you're visiting classrooms, you don't want to provide feedback.
Perhaps you didn't see anything you felt compelled to comment on, or perhaps you weren't able to stay as long as usual.
Whatever the reason, it's often useful to document visits to classrooms, even when you don't take any notes or provide any feedback.
In our web-based app Repertoire, you can document visits of any length—from a brief pop-in to a full formal observation.
Here's how you can document a classroom visit, even if you don't take any notes, and don't want to email the teacher.
In Repertoire, click Templates, then Create Template.
Give your template a descriptive name that will easily come to mind when you're making a brief visit to a classroom, such as “quick visit.”
In the Subject and Content fields, put “n/a” or whatever you'd like.
Click Save to finish creating your template.
Select this template when documenting a visit with no notes and no feedback.
This will save you the trouble of filling something in the Subject and Message fields, which can't be blank. It'll also help you distinguish visits in which you purposefully didn't takes notes from those that, say, were interrupted by an emergency.
Then, you can either click “Save and continue editing” and leave the entry as a draft; or, you can click “Send” but then close the email when it opens in your email program, without sending it.
Clicking “Save and continue editing” to save the entry as a draft may be helpful for quickly seeing which visits had feedback and which were just pop-ins with no notes/feedback. Here's how they'll appear in your list of entries in Repertoire:
Note: You can also use the radio button on the Add New Entry screen to indicate whether an entry contains feedback:
Repertoire's template feature makes this very easy:
As you can see, Repertoire will even fill in the teacher's name using template variables:
If you aren't yet a member, you can try Repertoire for 30 days for just $1.
When I was a new principal, I spent a lot of time and effort figuring out how I wanted to do walkthroughs.
I knew I wanted to visit classrooms, but…
Those may be important issues…but first things first.
I was missing a more fundamental question: How often was I visiting each teacher?
After all, I tried to visit classrooms every day. Rarely (I thought) did a day go by when I wasn't spending time in classrooms.
Then I decided to check my records.
In reality, I was systematically over-visiting the “easy” classrooms:
And I was unintentionally avoiding the “tough” classrooms:
Never did I sit down and say to myself “I really want to get into classrooms this year, but only certain classrooms. I think I'll just visit the most pleasant and most convenient classrooms, and avoid any that might be a hassle or give me extra work to do.”
That wasn't my intent at all, but the outcome was the same: Some teachers saw me almost every week, while others went weeks or even months without a visit.
This pattern of avoidance is completely natural, so if you've been doing the same thing, don't feel bad. We all do it.
And the remedy is simple: start keeping track.
Here are three simple options—it doesn't matter which one you use; what matters is that you use something, and start keeping track, to push back against your natural tendency to avoid certain classrooms.
The simplest way to track your visits is to just print a staff list—you probably already have one handy, so get a fresh copy and start recording your visits.
For now, just put the date (and perhaps the time of day) by each teacher's name when you visit.
This isn't an especially good way to track your visits long-term, but it'll get you started.
If you want to prompt yourself to visit teachers in a certain order, you might consider one of the other options.
We all want to be in classrooms “as much as possible.” That's not specific enough to guide your choices on a daily basis.
Life will get in the way. People will call you back to the office. Your schedule will fill with other meetings.
If you want to get into classrooms, be intentional. Set a specific goal that you can fight to achieve every day.
So here's my recommendation: strive to get into every classroom within a week—the first week of school, or the first week after you're reading this. It doesn't matter whether school is just starting, you're halfway through the year, or it's almost over.
Just start. Get into classrooms. Keep track.
And when you've made it around to everyone, I have something special for you:
Visit every teacher in your school, and I'll send you a limited-edition #EveryClassroom sticker while supplies last.
Among a zillion tasks, it's this: Visit every classroom.
In fact, let's make it a hashtag:
Sure, everyone tries to do it. Most people probably end up visiting most classrooms.
But let's get serious: let's visit every classroom in the first full week of school.
You can even give yourself a few days to deal with opening-of-school emergencies. Start on the 2nd or 3rd day if you like.
But in short order, get out of the office and get into classrooms.
And don't stop till you've visited #EveryClassroom.
For now, focus on getting around to every teacher in your school. Just make an appearance, so no one is surprised to see you in October.
Be friendly, say hi, pay attention, and build relationships.
As a bonus, you'll have a great deal of information and context you wouldn't have without these visits. So make it happen!
We'll have more on #EveryClassroom soon, including a way you can track your progress.
Whether you start school on Monday or not for several more weeks, I hope this is the year you make it happen!
Our building conducted 500 walk through this year! Design, Test, Reflect! @eduleadership— BSHS Principal (@NewvilleP) May 12, 2017
I'm a department chair of a department of 10 members in high school. During this school year I didn't get into 500 classes this year but I did visit every member of my department once every two weeks providing them feedback (email or face to face). That's 180 classroom visits in addition to my teaching classes. The visits have given me evidence of what I thought was happening, that I have an awesome department that knock it out of the park when it comes to educating our students.
A reader asks:
How can I manage professional interactions with those who may not have respect for me or take me seriously?
If you're new to a school, in a new role in your school, or simply different from previous leaders in some way—age, gender, culture, etc.—it can feel like an uphill battle to establish your credibility and legitimacy.
I became a principal at the age of 26…about as close to starting from scratch as you can get. I had teaching experience, of course, but not at the elementary level.
Here are three essentials for quickly gaining respect as a leader. They helped me, and I believe they can help you.
By default, people judge you against their own expectations for the role you're in.
If they've come to see the role as unhelpful to their work—perhaps because of your predecessor—they'll naturally assume you won't be much help either…
…until you prove that you're different.
As a leader, it's not your job to make everyone happy or fulfill their expectations.
It's your job to define your agenda, define your contributions, and determine the criteria against which you'll be judged.
People will still have their own expectations of you, but if you make it clear that you have a detailed set of actions that you're carrying out, they'll have far more respect for you than if you just show up and ask what your predecessor did.
In short, you need a plan.
I suggest developing a 90- or 100-day plan for the start of your tenure as a leader. Base this plan on:
If you've already been on the job for a while, look for the next natural opportunity to develop a plan of action, such as the start of a new initiative or a new school year.
Suggested resource: Entry Plan: Your First 100 Days (available to Pro Members on-demand)
The problem with a lot of new leaders' plans is that they're based on assumptions, with little input from existing staff.
As a newly hired principal, my first action was to set up 1-on-1 interviews with every staff member, in which my goal was simply to get to know everyone and hear them out.
I asked questions like:
If you've been in your role for a while, you might want to conduct similar interviews, but with a more topical focus.
For example, if you're a central office administrator in charge of a particular subject area's curriculum, you might set up interviews with teachers and principals and ask questions such as “What do you see as our gaps in this subject area? What are we doing well, and how can we support you more effectively?”
Finally, if you want to gain respect, nothing speaks louder than action.
If you say you'll do something, write it down. (I used a pocket Moleskine notebook.) Let people see you writing it down.
Then, do it. On time. As promised.
Everyone expects administrators to be busy, and most people only half-expect them to follow through.
Be different. Follow through, and you'll quickly gain the respect of your staff.
But the bigger the banner, the more it starts to encompass misconceptions and distortions. And I had a terrifying thought this morning:
What if the surge of interest in instructional leadership is actually undermining the teaching profession?
What if, in our efforts to improve the teaching profession, we're driving out precisely the kind of professionals we need?
There was once a time when principals were expected to be managers, but not instructional leaders.
Teaching was for teachers, and as long as they were relatively competent, they were best left alone.
The flaws in this mindset are obvious—teaching is a complex profession, and strong instructional leadership has a powerful impact on the quality of instruction. That's been firmly established for several decades now.
But this “outdated” division of labor lives on in a surprising place: elite schools.
At The Principal Center, we serve public, charter, private, parochial, and international schools (which is why we're in so many countries), and I've noticed a pattern.
By and large, public schools have made major changes in the way they evaluate teachers and they way they define the role of the administrator as an instructional leader. If you even hint that you want to be a manager—that instructional leadership isn't your top priority—you'll never get a job in any major public school district in the US.
But in elite schools, teacher professionalism is viewed differently—closer to the way tenured faculty are viewed at the university level.
I did some consulting with an elite boarding school in Pennsylvania a few years ago, and I was struck by the degree of autonomy afforded to teachers. They made decisions fearlessly—like professionals—without feeling the need to run everything by an administrator. I liked it.
Yet, while clearly skilled professionals, these teachers weren't any better-prepared or more up-to-date than many of the teachers you'd find in any public school. If anything, they were free to remain a bit more traditional in their practices, due to their relative lack of struggling students.
If this degree of professional respect for teachers is good enough for our nation's most elite private schools, why isn't it the norm in public schools?
The answer is simple: because traditional practices aren't up to the challenge of meeting the needs of all students.
Enter: strong instructional leadership.
Instructional leadership as a force for improvement comes primarily from the charter school world.
Teach Like A Champion? Charter.
Leverage Leadership? Charter.
Driven by Data? Charter.
Teaching As Leadership? Charter.
You get the idea. And so have public schools, which are increasingly adopting the charter world's “no excuses” approach to instructional leadership, which features:
Intensive administrator-driven coaching Extensive use of data by teachers and leaders Ultra-specific expectations regarding curriculum and instructional strategies
While I think this has mostly been a good change, I'm a bit concerned by its impact on the status of teaching as a profession.
To be blunt, teaching is being reduced to an entry-level job. And that's a tragic mistake.
Just look at the title of Doug Lemov's latest book: Get Better Faster: A 90-Day Plan for Coaching New Teachers.
I don't have a problem with helping teachers get better faster. That sounds like a good idea.
But this innocuous title reveals the charter world's dirty little secret: teaching isn't seen as a profession. It's treated like an entry-level job.
In a profession, you invest in preparation. (Medical school is four years long, not including residency.)
In an entry level job, you invest in training, because the professional skill and judgment of your employees can't be assumed.
Now, I understand why the charter movement has taken this tack: it's hard to attract highly skilled veteran professional teachers to struggling schools.
It's easier to attract energetic young people who are eager to commit to a cause.
And if you're working with new teachers, they certainly need a different kind of instructional leadership than skilled veterans.
And this is where instructional leadership is going off the rails: we're treating everyone—including skilled professionals—like clueless kids fresh out of college.
Your school needs more instructional leadership than any one person can provide. There are simply more opportunities, more needs, and more challenges than you can respond to personally.
How can you get more people involved—without chaos or hassle—in making decisions for the good of your school?
Let's begin with a definition: an organization's capacity for instructional leadership is its ability to make and implement operational and improvement decisions.
The reason you're the bottleneck for much of what happens in your school is that you're the only one who can make certain kinds of decisions…perhaps too many of the decisions that need to be made.
The solution, of course, is distributed leadership—creating more leaders who can do the work that you're currently doing all by yourself.
Distributed leadership is powerful, but hard to manage well. Let's take a look at why distributed leadership is uniquely challenging.
Distributed leadership is much more than delegation. Delegation is fairly straightforward:
Pretty simple, right? But creating more leadership isn't merely a matter of delegation; you're still the bottleneck, because you still play a challenging and central role: decision-maker.
We need to delegate not just discrete tasks, but the decisions themselves. And that's where we can get into hot water.
It's easy to delegate certain types of decisions to people with titles that seem to come with the authority that those decisions require. If you have an assistant principal, no one will be surprised or bothered if you fully delegate decisions about student discipline or transportation.
Yet the real power of distributed leaderships comes from involving teachers, especially in decisions that directly affect teaching and learning.
But will handing over decision-making authority to teachers reduce the effectiveness of principal leadership? When we share the decision-making aspects of leadership, what happens to our own authority? Does it create chaos and confusion?
The research is encouraging:
“Principals may be relieved to find out, moreover, that their authority does not wane as others’ waxes. Clearly, school leadership is not a zero-sum game. ‘Principals and district leaders have the most influence on decisions in all schools; however, they do not lose influence as others gain influence,’ the authors write.” —The School Principal As Leader: Guiding Schools To Better Teaching And Learning, quoting Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning: Final Report of Research Findings, Karen Seashore Louis, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom and Stephen E. Anderson, University of Minnesota and University of Toronto, 2010. (emphasis added)
So we don't have to worry about having less influence when we build greater capacity for instructional leadership in our organizations.
But we do need to address potential confusion about who's really in charge, and why not everyone gets a say in everything.
Involving teacher-leaders in school-level decision-making doesn't mean turning your school into a direct democracy where all issues are decided by consensus or whole-staff vote. Nor does it mean that every issue is discussed in faculty meetings until everyone is satisfied.
Turning decision-making over to the “consensus” of a staff discussion is a failure of leadership, pure and simple. When unmoderated discussion becomes the way decisions are made, it's not distributed leadership. It's what I call obnocracy.
Simply put, in a group discussion, the most obnoxious and outspoken person usually has the most power. We'd never choose this form of decision-making on purpose, but I've seen it play out time and time again in schools, and it's not pretty.
Everyone wants a voice, and everyone deserves a voice in some way for many decisions, but open discussion and obnocracy don't serve adult or student needs well.
Instead, we need a structure for making decisions. We need a decision matrix.
A Decision Matrix clarifies three sets of agreements for various types of decisions:
The decisional roles define decisional authority:
Thus ended half a dozen interviews I've conducted over the years. Every time, a thick folder or 3-ring binder was briefly passed around, barely perused, and returned to its owner.
We seem to love portfolios in education. Certainly, for some purposes, they're better than any alternative.
But please—stop bringing them to job interviews.
Nobody wants to look at your portfolio, and nobody is going to give you a job because they were impressed by your binder.
I blame universities.
Students in teacher and administrator certification programs do a great deal of work that doesn't really deserve space in the applicant's résumé, so portfolios seem like a natural way to organize this work.
The portfolio format is a great fit for the university's assessment needs. Since graduate students may not have actual student data to share, yet may be required to demonstrate competence in a variety of areas, portfolios make a ton of sense.
Somewhere along the way, though, university supervisors started to suggest that candidates should bring these portfolios along to interviews.
More evidence can't hurt, right?
I don't think bringing along a portfolio hurts your chances, but it certainly doesn't help.
As a candidate, your role is to make the best case you can that you're the best person for the job.
You want to bring everything to the table, so all the evidence is taken into consideration. You want them to see the real you, regardless of what format you may choose.
But the interview team's goal isn't to learn everything about you. It's not to see the real you. It's to compare you to the other candidates on pre-determined dimensions, using pre-determined data sources.
Your cover letter matters. Your résumé matters. Your interview matters.
But unless you were specifically told to bring a portfolio, it won't be considered—because it doesn't allow for a comparison with other candidates.
So is it a waste of time to compile a portfolio?
If you're not required to compile a portfolio, don't bother. But you should at least keep a comprehensive list of your achievements as an educator.
And if you are required to make a portfolio, it's a great start on your comprehensive list.
Now, as I said above, no one will want to see your portfolio or list. But it's invaluable as a preparation tool.
In your interview, you'll be asked a variety of questions about your experience, and more and more employers are asking “behavioral” questions that ask you to share an example from your professional experience of how you've addressed a particular type of situation.
For example, you might be asked how you resolved a conflict between two parties, or how you responded to a complaint, or how you identified and addressed an inequity.
More than any other type, these are the questions that catch people off-guard.
But you'll be amply prepared to answer behavioral questions if you've carefully compiled a list of:
By itself, the list has no power.
But if you use it to rehearse your answers to the most common interview questions you're likely to face, you'll blow your competition out of the water.
You'll wow the interview team with specific, well-told stories of how you've made a difference. And you'll find that a single story can lend itself to a number of different behavioral questions.
But only if you've prepared yourself to talk about your experience in a way that sells you as a candidate.
Most job-seekers understand that they'll be expected to talk about themselves in interviews—a task that's profoundly uncomfortable for many people.
Because it's uncomfortable, many candidates don't practice, and do a very poor job of making the case that they're the best person for the job.
Some people are naturally confident—perhaps overconfident—and as a result, they have an outsize chance of landing the job.
If you're naturally humble and hesitant to toot your own horn, you're at a disadvantage.
Unless you practice.
The way to practice is straightforward: using a list of interview questions, draft your answers briefly on paper. Then, with a friend or by yourself, practice answering a barrage of questions in real time, and record the results on video.
If you expect your real interviews to last 30 minutes, practice 30-minute interviews. Strive to match your practice approach to the type of interviews you'll actually face.
Then, watch the video.
(Most people won't do this, because it's uncomfortable, and that's where you can gain an advantage.)
Look for awkward responses, incomplete answers, or missed opportunities. Look for odd mannerisms or facial expressions.
Revise your answers, and keep practicing until they're perfect.
Rehearse until you don't sound rehearsed. And you'll be ready.
If you're applying for educational leadership positions, download my 52 practice interview questions here.