If you want to make a consistent habit of getting into classrooms and having feedback conversations with teachers, don't start small.
Instead, go big—visit every classroom within a 5-day period. Even better, visit every classroom in one day.
At the beginning of a new school year, at the start of a new semester, or even after returning from a break, visiting every classroom is a powerful way for administrators to exercise instructional leadership.
It's also an effective way to bypass the most serious form of resistance administrators encounter: internal resistance.
Overcoming Internal Resistance
In my experience, most administrators start by visiting the “easiest” classrooms, where they'll see the most competent teaching and the fewest problems.
For me, this meant visiting Kindergarten teachers—they were outstanding, they were always happy to see me, and I never encountered any major problems I'd have to deal with.
But eventually, you work through the “easy” classrooms, and when you do, who's left? The hard cases. The teachers you'd rather not see, lest you discover something you need to address.
At this point, something else always conveniently comes up. We get busy. And our grand plans to visit classrooms every day fall by the wayside.[pullquote align=”normal”]When we fail to plan how we'll deal with our internal resistance, we're planning to fail in the quest to make daily classroom visits a consistent part of our practice. [/pullquote]
If you're a school leader, there's no avoiding the uncomfortable realities of teaching and learning. You're going to see things that you'll have to address.
But you can approach your classroom visits in a way that prevents these challenges from stopping you in your tracks.
It's all about starting strong and building momentum.
But don't “start strong” by lugging around a huge rubric and giving yourself a laborious task, such as providing written feedback to every teacher.
Start light, by just making enough of an appearance to break the ice.
Keep It Light
When you start visiting classrooms, minimize your chances of seeing something that you'll need to stop and address by keeping your visits brief.
If there's all-out chaos in a classroom, you may need to deal with it on the spot, but most teachers are mostly in control most of the time, and a quick visit won't uncover anything too serious.
Make it your goal simply to show up, and to start forming the habit of visiting classrooms. Get teachers used to seeing you, and get yourself used to being in classrooms.
In this first cycle, don't take notes or attempt to come up with feedback. Just pop in with a smile on your face, make eye contact with the teacher, stay for a moment, and leave.
No documentation (other than checking the teacher off your list).
No compliments or suggestions for improvement.
No ratings or rubrics.
Just make an appearance, and make sure you get around to everyone.
Get To Everyone Quickly
Give yourself a maximum of a week—five school days—to make it around to everyone. Five to ten visits a day should do it.
For future cycles, I recommend only three visits a day, so you can spend more time with each teacher, and have a substantive conversation—but not yet.
For now, focus on speed.
In fact, you may even want to knock out this entire challenge in one day. It's certainly doable—in fact, you could probably drink a tall glass of water and make it around to every teacher before that water even makes it through your system.
Give yourself a sense of urgency—go, get into classrooms, and break the ice. Just start.
Keep Track with a Staff Roster
A quick tip: print out a staff roster and use it as a checklist, to make sure you don't skip anyone.
Your internal resistance won't wait—you'll find no shortage of excuses to avoid so-and-so today, and tomorrow, and the next day.
And if someone is absent, or you stop by during their prep, or you otherwise miss them, your checklist is essential.
Grab a staff roster, or ask your office team to print one out for you. Don't get fancy—just get a list, and start getting into classrooms.
The Alternative: Avoidance
If you don't get around to #EveryClassroom, what will happen?
If you're like me, you'll somehow find ways to avoid those difficult teachers. Weeks will go by, then months. You'll continue to visit classrooms, but not all of them—just the easy ones.
Mediocre teaching will go unnoticed and unchallenged, because you're simply not putting yourself in a position to see it.
But eventually, it'll come to your attention. A parent will complain. A student will let something slip. And you'll have a mess on your hands that could have been prevented.
You don't need to deal with every imperfection on your very first visit—in fact, you'll be far more effective in addressing problems later, when you have more perspective.
That perspective—and the opportunity to address problems as you come to understand them more deeply—comes from the habit of visiting every classroom on a regular basis.
So for now, just start.
And when you do, report back in our Facebook group and let us know how it went!