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How To Track Your Classroom Visits

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…

  • what app should I use?
  • How should my form look?
  • How should I structure my feedback?

Those may be important issues…but first things first.

I was missing a more fundamental question: How often was I visiting each teacher?

Avoidance

I assumed I was getting around to every teacher every week or two.

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:

  • The classrooms closest to the office
  • The classrooms where I felt most welcome
  • The classrooms where I was unlikely to see anything troubling

And I was unintentionally avoiding the “tough” classrooms:

  • Teachers with performance issues
  • Teachers who didn't especially want me in their rooms
  • Teachers who had unusual schedules or physically isolated 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.

3 Tools for Tracking Visits

Keeping track of your visits to classrooms doesn't have to be difficult.

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.

Set A Goal

Finally, as you visit classrooms this year, work toward a specific goal.

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.

Visit #EveryClassroom The First Week of School

What's the most important thing for a leader to do in the first week of school?

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.

Tips for Visiting #EveryClassroom

  1. Visit systematically—a department or grade level at a time 
  2. Keep track—print a staff roster, or have your secretary help, so you don't skip anyone
  3. Don't give yourself any homework yet—just show up
  4. Don't evaluate teachers or provide feedback—that can come later

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.

If you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #EveryClassroom and mention me (@eduleadership) to let me know you're in.​ 

Whether you start school on Monday or not for several more weeks, I hope this is the year you make it happen!​

Finishers:

#500c Success Stories: Leaders Who Made 500 Classroom Visits This Year

And some remarkable variants on the challenge:

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.

Chris Geiser
Mathematics Department Chair, Central High School, Evansville, IN

How To Be Taken Seriously As A New Leader

Leadership isn't much fun if no one is following you. Yet that's where we almost all start.

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.

Have A Plan

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: 

  • Interviews with individual staff members (more on this below)
  • Existing goals from your organization's strategic plan
  • Any particular mandates you've received in the hiring process (e.g. resolving major discipline or safety issues)
  • Consultation with your supervisor
  • Your notes on the school's needs as you begin your work

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)

Listen

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: 

  • How would you describe yourself as an educator, and what do you want me to know about you?
  • What about this school are you most proud of?
  • What's an emerging challenge or issue that you believe we need to address?
  • What are your hopes for what we're able to accomplish together?
  • Is there anything else you think I need to know?

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?”

Follow Through

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.

Follow through.

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.

Is Instructional Leadership Undermining the Teaching Profession?

I'm proud to be a proponent of instructional leadership. So far, we've had over 9,000 leaders from at least 50 countries go through the Instructional Leadership Challenge.

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?

Olden Days and Elite Ways

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.

The Charter Revolution

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.

How To Build Capacity for Instructional Leadership In Your Organization

How To Build Capacity for Instructional Leadership In Your Organization

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?

What Is Capacity for Instructional Leadership?

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.

The Challenges of Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is much more than delegation. Delegation is fairly straightforward: 

  1. Decide that something needs to be done by someone else
  2. Tell them what to do and how to do it
  3. Make sure they do it, and provide guidance as needed

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.

Obnocracy: The Pitfalls of Open Discussion

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.

Developing A Decision Matrix

A Decision Matrix clarifies three sets of agreements for various types of decisions:

  • Decisional Roles: Who makes the call? 
  • Consultation Methods: How do we talk with one another about the decision?
  • Decision Methods: How do we reach final agreement?

The decisional roles define decisional authority:

  1. The Decision Owner (DO) is responsible for ensuring that the decision is made, but may or not be the decision-maker
  2. The Decision Maker (DM) makes the call, and may be an individual or a group
  3. A Consulted Stakeholder (CS) provides input before the decision is made
  4. A Represented Stakeholder (RS) has a voice through a designated representative
  5. A Notified Stakeholder (NS) is kept in the loop, but not always before the decision is made
  6. Non-Party (NP) stakeholders may be affected by the decision, but are not directly involved or notified

Find out more about the Decision Making Matrix and how you can create a Decision-Making Handbook in our course High-Performance Decision Making (as part of our Pro Membership.)

Why No One Wants To See Your Stupid Portfolio

“Thanks for coming in. Do you have any questions for the interview team?”

“Well, I just wanted to show you my portfolio before I go…”

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.

How Portfolios Caught On

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.

Why Interview Teams Don't Care About Portfolios

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?

Not quite.

How To Capitalize On Your Portfolio In Your Interview

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.

Here's why.

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: 

  • Projects you've managed
  • Committees you've worked with
  • Problems you've solved
  • Challenges you've overcome
  • Students you've reached

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 can download a set of 52 practice questions here.)

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.

Practice Making The Case

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.

Practice Interview Questions

If you're applying for educational leadership positions, download my 52 practice interview questions here.

Get Current and Get Into Classrooms

What does it mean to be current? Well, it's the opposite of being “behind.” And I can tell you—most instructional leaders feel perpetually behind.

The emails never stop. The paperwork stacks up like a bar graph on your desk. And your to-do list only grows longer…not to mention the human work of being present whenever you're needed: 

  • The meeting that seems to drag on forever
  • The weeknight that has not two, not four, but six basketball games
  • The endless parade of human beings, large and small, who require your time and attention

How can we get current in a job like this?

Let's be clear: you'll never finish all of your tasks and projects. An instructional leader's work is never done, because there's always more you could be doing.

But you don't have to feel overwhelmed. You can get current.

And let me tell you this: it's possible. It's hard, but it's worth it. Here's how to do it.

Create Benchmarks

Every day, I empty my inbox. I make a decision about every email and either deal with it or snooze it to a specific date in the future. I hit this benchmark every single day—every day in 2015, and every day so far in 2016.

As a result, I'm current on email. I haven't done all of my work—that will never happen, as there's always more to do—but there are no mysteries. I don't have to worry that someone emailed me last week and hasn't heard back from me. I don't have to worry that I'll show up to a meeting without something I was supposed to bring.

The benchmark is powerful because it's unambiguous. My goal isn't to have “not too many” emails left in my inbox. My goal is ZERO.

This has a huge impact on your self-efficacy. Consider how you feel when you've worked hard for two hours and still have dozens of unread emails, versus how you'd feel to work hard for two hours and completely empty your inbox. It's huge.

Ultimately, benchmarks only work if they're strategic. I have a specific plan for handling my email in a reasonable amount of time each day, and when I follow that strategy, it works.

If I just click around my inbox aimlessly at 2pm, it's not going to work. (If I am checking email at 2pm, I'm probably at my standing desk.)

Use The Right Tools

Getting current on all of your work—so you have no mysteries and no anxiety about what you could or should be working on—is harder than it used to be.

You have more email, more notifications, more people who need your attention. And that means your tools need to keep pace with the increase in the demands you face.

One tool that helps me deal with email—on any device I may be using—is FollowUpThen.com. If I get an email on Monday and can't deal with it until Thursday, I'll snooze it by forwarding it to [email protected] On Thursday, the service sends it back to me.

I also use an app called ToDoist to turn emails—which are really forms of communication, not task-management devices—into tasks that I can easily manage, revise, organize, and schedule.

With the right tools in place, I can be efficient enough to get current in a reasonable amount of time each day.

Develop Consistent Habits

Having good strategies—like clearing my inbox daily—and cool tools like ToDoist and FollowUpThen.com isn't much good if I'm inconsistent.

I know that my behavior matters. If I'm going to be consistent, I have to form and stick to the right habits.

Put it all together, and you have strategy (e.g. get down to zero emails), tools (like FollowUpThen and ToDoist), and habits (every day). That's what I call the High Performance Triangle.

Get your work under control. Get current. You can do it. Let me know how I can help.

Then, on to...

Get Into Classrooms

As an instructional leader, virtually nothing is more valuable than spending time in classrooms. You've got to know what's happening instructionally in your school, so you can make operational, staffing, and professional development decisions that reflect reality.

The premise of the 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge is simple: visit 10% of the teachers you supervise, every day. Provide evidence-rich, framework-linked feedback, and have a great discussion afterward.

(Here's a 4-page overview if you're interested in a 1-day onsite version of the Challenge.)

If I can help guide you on this journey, now is a great time to become a Professional Member of The Principal Center. You'll get: 

Become a Pro Member for $1 »

The High Performance Triangle

If you go to just about any education conference—and I go to a lot of them—you'll see session descriptions packed with strategy.

Everyone wants to know the best approach to each particular problem we face in education, and it's this desire that sells millions of books every year.

As educational leaders, we love strategy.

But strategy doesn't automatically create results; in fact, there's such a well-established gulf between strategy and reality that we have a special phrase for crossing this divide:

“From theory to practice.”

It's completely normal not to put theory into practice—to let the best strategies go untried.

Of course, we often do try, and find ourselves overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work it takes to implement a particular strategy successfully.

Or we get started, then have to get started on something else, then something else, and our organizational attention wanders…and that strategy isn't happening after all.

Why do we struggle to do what we know we should be doing?

If we have the strategy figured out, why is executing it so hard? I believe the answer is simple: 

  • Strategy isn't enough
  • Good ideas aren't enough
  • “Best practice” isn't enough

…because none of them get at the underlying issue: behavior. As the adults responsible for students' education, what we actually do matters more than anything else…and doing is hard.

Here, then, is my attempt at a more complete picture. If we want to attain high performance in any endeavor, we need three things: 

  • A solid strategy
  • The right tools
  • Disciplined habits

I've become convinced that all three factors—tools, habits, and strategies—are crucial, because if one is missing, we get predictably inferior results, in any area, whether it's: 

  • Leading major change
  • Handling email
  • Dealing with paperwork
  • Conducting classroom observations and walkthroughs
  • Following through on any kind of work

Let's look at why we need all three.

Strategy

Without strategy, we're ineffective.

If we don't have a well-considered strategy, the whole activity can be a wrongheaded waste of time, even if good tools and habits are in place.

Can you develop consistent habits of using powerful tools…poorly? Absolutely.

When we check our email with no strategy, old messages linger, clutter builds, and we never seem to get caught up. Our habits and tools don't serve us well because they're not being put to wise use.

Who struggles with strategy? I think it's my generation, those of us who are comfortable with tools and technology, who tend to put strategy on the back burner in our enthusiasm for using the latest and greatest tools.

Habits

Without habits, we're inconsistent.

Being great… some of the time… isn’t worth much.

On my team, I want players who can consistently make layups, not goofballs who can make the occasional 3-pointer from mid-court.

We need to not only know and do what works, but do it consistently. We need to use our future files to keep our desks clear. We need to get to inbox zero.

For more on how habits form and operate, see Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit.

Who struggles with habit? I think we all do, but especially those of us who are most eager to make sure we're using the latest tools and the smartest strategies.

Tools

Without tools, we're inefficient.

Tools accelerate our work, enabling us to do more than we ever could without them.

They don't turn a non-leader into a leader, but they make an impossible job more doable, if we use them right.

Who struggles with tools? I think it tends to be people who have good strategies and habits in place, and see tools as unnecessary.

But when we have all three in place, we can accomplish amazing things.


Learn more about our courses designed around the High-Performance Triangle at www.principalcenter.com/join

1 How To Schedule Time To Get Into Classrooms

You're busy. You have a ton to do, and your day is full of meetings, punctuated by emergencies. So how can you make time to get into classrooms?

That's what we explore in the Instructional Leadership Challenge, and I thought I'd elaborate a bit on this particular strategy.

If you want to do regular walkthroughs—we suggest 10% of your classrooms per day, so you get to everyone on a 10-day rotation—you'll need to make sure your schedule reserves time for them.

You can try to squeeze walkthroughs into spare moments, but as the old saying goes, if it doesn't get scheduled, it doesn't get done.

Let's say you have 30 teachers, so to visit 10% per day, you'll need to do 3 walkthroughs per day. If you need to do three walkthroughs, you need to set aside 3 timeslots, right?

Well, not quite. There's a good chance you'll get interrupted or prevented from keeping some of those appointments with yourself.

Emergencies come up, meetings run over, and you know in the back of your mind that walkthroughs can wait.

So all too often, walkthroughs get pushed back. They get pushed aside. And they hardly ever happen.

I don't have hard numbers on this, but my ballpark estimate is that most administrators do 1 or 2 walkthroughs a week. It's not enough.

And what's worse is that they don't visit people systematically. They make the most visits to the teachers who are:

  • Nearby
  • Nice
  • Doing a good job, and
  • Receptive to feedback

Guess what that leaves out? The classrooms we most need to be in.

We can do better. But we'll need to address three problems:

  • Interruptions
  • Sticking to the plan
  • Keeping visits brief yet impactful

Realistic Scheduling

To schedule walkthroughs so they actually happen, we need to plan for the inevitable…and interruptions are inevitable.

It's simple: simply take the number of walkthroughs you want to do in a day, and multiply it by 1.5, 2, or even 3.

If you need to do 3 walkthroughs a day, schedule 5 or 6 timeslots. If you're an assistant principal and get interrupted by discipline issues constantly, schedule 9 timeslots.

Pick a multiplier that matches your likelihood of interruption, calculate the total number of timeslots you need, and schedule them.

Now, you might be thinking “I can't schedule 9 timeslots in a day!” But of course you can…if they're short.

You don't need more than 10 minutes to get to a classroom, stay for a few minutes, and put together some notes and feedback (more on how to do this—and the mistakes to avoid—in the Instructional Leadership Challenge).

You can schedule nine 10-minute timeslots (90 minutes) in a 6 or 7 hour school day. It's a lot of the day, sure—up to 25%—but you won't need all of it. If you don't get interrupted, you'll get done in the first few timeslots, and the rest of your day is free.

Sticking To The Plan

Of course, scheduling your walkthroughs does very little good if you aren't going to stick to the schedule.

We know the difference between “real” appointments with other people, and the appointments we make with ourselves. And too often, we let ourselves break the appointments we make with ourselves—which means we don't follow through on being in classrooms.

So if you're going to schedule walkthroughs on your calendar, here are 3 ways to make sure you actually do them:

  • Ask your secretary to direct you to classrooms when it's time. A gentle nudge might be all you need.
  • Create a personal rule to obey your calendar at all times. You can modify it at any time, but whatever your calendar says, you must do, unless interrupted by an emergency.
  • Define “emergency” with your secretary, so both of you are clear on when it's OK for you to go off-calendar, and when it's not.

But once you've developed the habit of getting into classrooms, how can you accomplish anything meaningful in just a few minutes?

Greater Impact in Less Time

I believe most walkthroughs can be highly effective in under 10 minutes. If you give yourself a 5-page checklist to fill out, of course you're going to struggle. We need to be focused in what we're looking for, and what feedback we provide.

So I recommend creating a short electronic form that allows you to quickly capture exactly the information you want. I show you how to do this in the Challenge.

Then, create a template to turn your form submissions into emails, which are automatically sent to your Evernote account, the teacher's email, and a downloadable spreadsheet.

You can spend just a few minutes listening (and even participating), jot down a few quick notes, hit submit, and be done with the entire process in under 10 minutes.

Ask me how I know.

Not only have I done this countless times, it's being done every day by our 5,000+ participants in the Instructional Leadership Challenge, who are in some 50 countries around the world.

You can make time to get into classrooms.

As instructional leaders, we need to be in classrooms. There's no better place to be.

If you're not part of the Instructional Leadership Challenge, you can sign up here. It's completely free. Get started now, and I'll see you inside the Challenge.