Few would argue with the importance or value of the instructional leader spending time in classrooms. You might be facing barriers or making excuses for why you aren’t getting in there, but very few would say that getting in classrooms isn’t important. But if your classroom visits lack clarity, purpose, or you don’t have an intentional plan that balances the most important purposes for getting in classrooms, you won’t be effective in improving the quality of instruction–you will be wasting time.
So let’s think about the main purposes for going into classrooms…
If I were to classify the most important purposes why I went into classrooms they would fall under these 3 categories:
To Create Connections
To Advance my School Community’s Shared Vision
To Collect Data
If you are clear on your whys and you make sure you have a system for balancing those purposes, you will be less likely to default to one purpose for getting in classrooms that you find most comfortable and end up leaving out the other purposes. You will also be more fully present in classrooms and use your classroom visits to move your school forward.
Creating Connections: These are your positive or neutral classroom visits you do to learn your students, your staff, to create relationships. You do these to fill the buckets of students and staff with positives related to seeing you in the classroom.
When it comes to visits for creating connections QUANTITY TRUMPS QUALITY. You are going in to show that you care about the students and teachers as human beings. Some people are great at doing these visits. They are the default. They go in classrooms all the time and just sit by students and be fully present.
I am not sure what this says about me, but I wasn’t like that at first. I felt like whenever I was in the classroom I needed to notice something really great instructionally, be in there for 15 minutes and use some kind of walkthrough instrument, or I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do. Having that mentality ended up being a barrier to me getting into many classrooms. For example, I might finish with something and have 30 minutes before a meeting. So I would either think, “I don’t have time to do any walkthroughs.” Or, I might head down the hallway, get stopped by a person or situation and then I really wouldn’t have time to get one in. Well, if all your visits take 15-20 minutes, you can see how this would happen.
For me, just knowing that these types of visits are important and that they SHOULDN’T take long was a key mind-shift for me. So, I made it a habit and a priority to get into at least 3 classrooms just for a couple of minutes every day…then I set a goal for every hour…
Advancing Your School Community’s Shared Vision: These visits are the ones where you are going in classrooms and taking pictures of the awesome things that kids are doing. Now, when you are using these to be intentional, you look for evidence of whatever initiative you are working on. Then you brag about how awesome the teacher was in your weekly email. We all have those, right? Some form of weekly communication with your teachers? I had a blog that I made on Blogger that housed all my staff info. Every week I would drop pictures in that blog to show great stuff going on connected to my school goals or vision and then send an email to staff linked to it.
Collect Data – Walkthroughs –The best mental shift I made was to see walkthroughs as a separate event from the other 2 classroom visits with 2 main purposes related to collecting data:
- For coaching conversations, meaningful feedback, evaluation
- For monitoring implementation of an initiative
My last two years as a principal, I also changed the way that I handled these walkthroughs. I started doing what I called Focused Walkthroughs. I did this different ways depending on the time of the year and/or what we were working on as a school or district. For example, the year we had our SACs accreditation I used the ELEOT Look-fors and separated them into different areas and just focused on one area when I was in classrooms for a period of time.
Focusing on just one aspect of great instruction or environment helped me be more present in classrooms. Instead of checking off a bunch of stuff on my phone, I just looked for one main thing. For example, at the beginning of the year we used the Student Focused Culture Walkthrough Tool. Just a little aside…One key characteristic I would be sure to include no matter what instrument I was using, was to be sure the lookfors in the tool are focused on what the students are doing.
Once you become crystal clear on the purpose of classroom visits, you plan them in a way that you get them done. When balanced well, this will help you improve your school’s culture, advance your instructional vision, and lay the foundation for what you are trying to achieve.