Should Principals Stop Visiting Classrooms?

NO. This one word reflection could definitively be the end of this post, but I will elaborate…

Principal Skinner

One of my teachers shared this article with me: Should Principals Stop Visiting Classrooms? I think the article got around to making some valid points, which sparked my reflection.

#1 Feedback This is a critical component of making classroom visits effective. I agree that many teachers may not perceive classroom visits as an opportunity for development; however, I think this should be a call to principals to make revisions to our processes of classroom visits, not scrap them.

#2 Relationships Feedback has the most value when there is a mutual relationship of respect, trust, and appreciation. Teachers who feel this may be more likely to view their principal as a colleague, making collaborative and candid discussion more comfortable. Collaborative and candid discussions are likely to lead to a sense of sincere care on behalf of the principal, creating a higher likelihood of feedback to be received constructively and positively by teachers.

#3 Climate A positive climate expedites genuine relationship building. Making the staff lounge a safe place to be and engage, conversations carrying on naturally despite the principal’s entrance, and trading greetings, smiles, and/or high fives as you walk past colleagues in the hallway are a nice foundation.

#4 Culture Creating a team-oriented culture of high expectations in which you need the expertise of those around you to succeed opens classroom doors, breaks down barriers, and fosters collaboration. Cancerous negativity has no choice but to recede, fertilizing the soil for a positive climate.

#5 Professional Common Sense Even humoring the suggestion for principals to stop visiting classrooms is an example of research and data getting out of hand. I don’t need someone to conduct a study to tell me whether or not I should make time to visit my classrooms. Culture, climate, relationships, and feedback start at the top. Principals can’t effectively lead teachers we don’t know. We can’t make decisions appropriate for a system we’re out of touch with. We can’t connect and have a feel for the pulse of our buildings by pinning ourselves in our offices. The only way to connect is to visit classrooms, observe the great things our teachers do, and engage with our kids.

As mentioned in #1, I agree that many teachers may not perceive classroom visits as an opportunity for development; however, I think this should be a call to principals to make revisions to our processes of classroom visits, not scrap them. I feel so strongly about this that I dedicate entire days, bell to bell, to simply visiting classrooms (#NoOfficeDay). I continue to focus on the steps above, working toward a goal of positively received and value-added classroom visits. There is no research, data, or article that will keep me from pursuing this in the interest of my staff and kids.

Please share with me your thoughts on making principal classroom visits productive for staff and kids.

Principal Make the Right Moves

15 comments for “Should Principals Stop Visiting Classrooms?

  1. January 19, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    As you suggest, Sam, when a school has a culture of trust, shared goals, and timely, transparent communication, principal visits are welcome. It’s great to share in the work and effort with leaders who hold the same goals and efforts for students. Principal visits in healthy learning communities are natural share and conversations sessions.

    • January 19, 2014 at 11:25 pm

      Agreed, Maureen! Shared goals are key. Thank you for reading and sharing!

    • Joan B. McGlockton
      January 26, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      Maureen,
      I agree with your post. However, in most instances the environment you described is non-existent in most public schools. Unfortunately, we have such huge staff turnovers, the trust factor is at the low end of the spectrum. I do believe that principals should support and nurture their teachers. Teachers should not be threatened or intimidated by classroom visits from a principal. The pre-established partnership between the teacher and principal should warrant feedback and a healthy professional dialogue .

  2. January 19, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    As a grade 8 teacher my simple answer would be a resounding NO! The only time I ever have issues with administration is when they don’t know what’s going on in their schools and if they’re not in the classrooms, they don’t know. That said, simply sticking their head int eh door doesn’t count. ideally, ey will come in and interact with the students and or teachers based in what is happening. Similarly, popping for another off-topic reason doesn’t not count as a classroom visit.
    As with student learning, principal visits should be relevant and purposeful.

    • January 19, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      I agree with how you’ve defined principal classroom visits as they pertain to this discussion. I think you’re right on. Thank you for reading and sharing, Donnie!

  3. Madelyn musso
    January 19, 2014 at 9:20 am

    You are exactly what all schools need in their principal. Your school is lucky to have you.

    • January 19, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Thank you for reading and for the kind words, Madelyn :)

  4. January 20, 2014 at 1:58 am

    Sam, I just wrote a blog post titled, “Teachers vs. Admin and other such ridiculousness” http://elaanmarie.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/teachers-vs-admin-and-other-such-ridiculousness/

    What you’ve written here is an excellent example of why the teacher-admin relationship is crucial to collaboration. Growth cannot occur if people are not willing to have conversations and reflect on themselves. Admin have the opportunity to provide valuable feedback, as long as they cultivate relationships with their staff built on respect (and even then, they may have teachers putting up blocks).

    I’ve always said that my best pro-d is based around conversations and interactions with other educators. Not sitting in a lecture hall, but actually debriefing and putting our heads together. That’s what teachers and admin should be doing. We can all improve. :)

    • January 21, 2014 at 1:09 am

      Thanks for reading and sharing, Elaan. I enjoyed the elaboration of your post, and your comments here. Thank you for adding to the value of this conversation :)

  5. Jayne
    January 21, 2014 at 12:06 am

    In a healthy community I would think visits from the principal would be welcomed. This helps to strengthen the community. If visits aren’t welcomed then that would suggest that something is very wrong in the community !! I worked with a head master once who NEVER came in the classrooms so if he ever showed up at your door you knew something bad was going to happen.

    • January 21, 2014 at 1:13 am

      Thanks for reading, Jayne. Your point is similar to a comment made in the original article. I am sorry to hear about your experience with your head master who was not positively present in the school–yuck :( I agree with you that an unwelcome classroom visit from the principal implies foundational needs to be addressed in the building community. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Debb
    February 5, 2014 at 1:16 am

    Loved the article and discussion! I agree with so many things you said Sam and others. A good ainistrator has a pulse on what is going on in his or her school at all times. Relationships, respect and rapport are crucial to creating exemplary schools, and it starts with shared leadership. If everyone feels responsible for the success of each student, then teachers embrace having constructive feedback and classroom visits to improve their art. Administrators who are visible and engaged in classrooms and not just their office will see results.

    I had a first year teacher tell me once that although she appreciated my classroom visits and formal observation feedback she was looking for more. She challenged me to improve my supervision and evaluation skills and feedback. It’s this kind of collaboration and dialog that helps us all grow.

    One thing I embraced from a wonderful Director of Teaching & Learning was to not only complete classroom walk thrus but also incorporate collegiate learning walks into professional development. This focuses a team of educators on the strudent learning taking place and not on the teacher’s performance, ultimately helping educators to focus on where students are in their own learning process and how we can help move them forward. At first, classroom teachers were intimidated by these visits and I, frankly, was anxious about facilitating and processing the visits afterwards. The discussion was so rich, rewarding and beneficial teachers asked for more! This might be tough to implement in schools were the trust is low, particularly at first, but with the right approach, it can be done. Effective visits to the classroom are vital.

    • February 16, 2014 at 9:19 am

      Love the idea of teams focusing on student learning during walk throughs! Thank you for sharing, Debb!

  7. Richard A Dixon
    February 6, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I believe that it is all about building that relationship of trust and respect. Another important component is being transparent. It has been my experience that teacher who know your intentions are more open to visits and feedback to improve on what they are working towards. Once you are clear of your goals, and the community knows and understands where you are going, there is less stress and teachers be more open to classroom visits with less stress, in fact you will be invited in!

    • February 16, 2014 at 9:16 am

      Great point highlighting transparency, Richard!

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