Dr. Matthew X. Joseph – Follow on Twitter @MatthewXJoseph
In my 11 years of being a principal and now the past three years as a district leader, I have seen the role of school administrator evolve from a building manager into an instructional leader. Today’s school administrator has an overabundance of duties and responsibilities to balance with the mandates from state and national reform. Today’s administrator must assist in teaching and
learning situations and the educational needs of a school and its educators. I feel instructional leadership consists of assisting in teaching and learning situations and educational needs of a school and its educators. As an instructional leader, you must guide teachers to align learning experiences with the stated or planned objectives. Then create learning activities to be aligned with the chosen objectives to optimize pupil achievement.
Leaders should monitor instruction relentlessly and develop a clear and well-defined curriculum. All while ensuring quality instruction, promoting best practices, monitoring the implementation of the curriculum, provide resources, and examine assessment data. How are educational leaders going to do that? My answer is visibility and having a pulse on the building. Building administrators must know the instructional practices of the school to fully assume the role of instructional leader – administrators are responsible for fairly evaluating educators and providing feedback for educator growth.
Getting out of the office and seeing what’s going on in the school is critical to being an instructional leader. By getting out of the office, a leader is able to take the ‘pulse’ of what is actually happening inside and outside the classroom. Visibility is an extremely important characteristic of a strong school leader and one of the most difficult to accomplish. Whether it entailed a spur of the moment decision to stop in the hallway to spend time with staff or a more systematic practice of checking in with educators each day, visibility and accessibility positively influences job satisfaction and the culture of a school. Below are 7 ways to be a more visible leader and “get out of the office”.
Wandering Purposefully: This method of leadership was a strategy incorporated by Hewlett Packard in the early stages of the company. Packard believed that to be successful, managers should be out in the field or on the workroom floor and away from a desk at least half of the day (Peters & Waterman, 1982). This concept in the K-12 school setting will allow leaders to understand the instructional needs of their schools and better position themselves to make informed decisions that impact student learning. I think visibility is critical, however visibility alone will do little in improving a schools’ productivity unless it is coupled with a well-focused visit. So, if you are using the Management by Wandering Around strategy, ensure you are focused and capture visual evidence of what you saw and maybe even keep a journal of your walks. Also vary the times and locations to include pick up or drop off, lunch, team meetings, and other non-instructional settings.
Classroom visits: Collaboration increases when staff feel the leader is visible. You can’t lead collaboration without the pulse of the building or district. For school leaders to be visible and have the knowledge of instructional practice to deliver growth-providing feedback, he/she will need multiple methods of class visits to build relationships. Being visible will help leaders understand practice and understand the building. Observe the dynamics of teacher to students, student to student, and teacher to teacher relationship to foster trust with the staff.
Teach classes: Take the visit one step further by teaching a class. Encourage teachers to observe as you teach their classes. Use that time to model instructional practices you feel strongly about and want others to use and teach the teacher and the kids. You can use that time for conversations by reflecting with the teacher on how the lesson worked and how the students learned. Observe the teacher’s depth and understanding of the pedagogy.
Have lunch with students: When staff observe their leader connecting with kids, they will be more open to collaboration if you model collaborative thinking and reinforce you are there for the teachers and students. And it is just fun! Take it one step further by inviting key community members to join for an enlightening school lunch with the students.
Serve lunch in the cafeteria: Eating is one way to be visible and so is supporting your kitchen staff. Be visible (and get a lot of positive chatter) by serving food or pass out milk during lunch. This strategy will also. Allow you to observe students’ behavior in a less structured environment and reinforce your expectations of manners and cooperation.
Go play on the playground: This strategy doesn’t need much explanation, but it is a great way to have fun, be a part of your school, have staff see you outside the classroom, and KIDS will LOVE IT.
Be involved in the community: The 7th strategy I will break down into a few parts because it looks different to be involved with community and each part is important for different reasons. Being involved outside of the walls of the schools allows community members the opportunity to get to know and hear their school leader. It’s also a time when a leader can promote and market their schools.
School leaders need to be available, approachable, and visible. If leaders spend all of their time in their offices, how will they know what staff, students, families need or what is working well to celebrate. It is not about the need to “check on employees” or “snoopervise” but rather a genuine desire to interact with the staff and students to provide a positive, vibrant and visible presence in the school.