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Teacher & Training Tips

It Ain’t Happening in Our Offices

Dr. Vern Minor
Director of Educational leadership

To cite this article: Minor, V. It Ain't Happening in Our Offices San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #56. www.KaganOnline.com

I recently stumbled across a tweet that caught my eye. I know, I know…social media can be problematic for leaders. People—adults, never mind children—can be ugly at times. Trollers on the Internet often post messages that are vindictive, offensive, and inaccurate; as a result, I have found many leaders avoid social media whenever possible. I have felt your pain. Nevertheless, this little nugget on Twitter got my attention.

The post came from Tracie Cain, a Digital Learning Coach from Decatur, Texas. She tweeted the following: “If you are in a position where you make decisions for the classroom, you should be IN THE CLASSROOM!” Tracie is spot on accurate. For years I told my leadership team, “It ain’t happening in our offices!” Where is “it” happening in education? Where is the real action taking place? In the classrooms—not in our offices. Nothing is more important in education than teaching and learning. As instructional leaders we need to systematically and routinely place ourselves in the location where the most critical part of our business is occurring, and that is the classroom.

The problem for many educational leaders is that we use an approach to being present in classrooms that was created in the corporate sector called Management by Walking Around (MBWA). Sometimes this management concept is referred to as Management by Wandering Around; “wandering” more accurately depicts what transpires. In MBWA, managers wander around in an unstructured manner through the workplace to randomly visit with employees and monitor the status of work that is transpiring. Politicians utilize a similar process when they interact with their constituents; we call it shaking hands and kissing babies.

Please understand that I am not opposed to unstructured classroom visits. There is a place for this type of interaction with staff. However, if this is the primary method being used to visit classrooms, then I must take exception. Time is precious, and we must maximize how we utilize it in order to influence others. We cannot function as instructional leaders using managerial methods. MBWA cannot be the sole means by which leaders interact with others. To impact change, affect behaviors, and sway opinions, leaders must engage staff in meaningful dialogue while we are in their classrooms. This can occur in two key ways.

1. Walk-Throughs with Reflective Dialogue
Some walk-through models are unstructured and informal. I would urge you to avoid these systems. While I agree the time frame associated with walk-throughs is relatively short in duration, it should still be purposeful. We need to know—and our teachers need to know in advance of our visits—what it is that we hope to see as we move around our buildings. Keep in mind that the purpose of walk-throughs is not to be judgmental or to collect information for evaluations. Our goal is to engage staff in thoughtful discourse. To do that, however, requires that we be intentional while we are in the room. Know what you are looking for and engage your teachers in frequent, focused conversations. These exchanges do not have to be lengthy, and they do not have to take place at a later date. Engage your staff in inquiry and reflection in the classroom real time. The cumulative effect of many short interchanges with staff will have a far greater impact than a couple of lengthy post-observation conferences.

We must—we must—place ourselves in settings where we can create the greatest amount of influence, and that is the classroom.

2. Instructional Coaching
Unfortunately, far too many leaders have abdicated coaching to others in the building (e.g., instructional coaches, teacher leaders). It is possible for administrators to wear both hats—evaluator and coach. Granted, it is critical that these feedback systems do not bleed into each other. However, you can function in both roles; I have known numerous administrators through the years who have effectively served in both capacities. In fact, every one of these leaders would tell you that the coaching role was far more satisfying to them personally and professionally. As is the case with walk-throughs, we must be intentional during our coaching visits, and that requires that we be well-versed in pedagogy. Additionally, be careful not to replicate feedback systems of old by thinking you have to coach a teacher in a post-observation setting. Coaching can take place in the classroom while students are present. Again, the cumulative effect of numerous coaching conversations will have a positive effect in teachers’ lives.

For some reading this article, it may be that you have to overcome a crucial barrier to doing what I have addressed herein—getting out of our offices. If we are not careful, we can become hibernators, stuck in our offices for long, extended periods of time. Remember—it ain’t happening in our offices! Building leaders—and central level leaders—need to get out of our offices and into classrooms in structured, purposeful ways. We must—we must—place ourselves in settings where we can create the greatest amount of influence, and that is the classroom.