Be there.

Three years ago when I first started as principal in my building, I told my teachers they should expect to see me on a daily basis, even if it was just to pop my head in the classroom and say a quick hello. As every administrator knows, this is easier said than done, especially on days when central office demands have you running across town to three meetings at two different buildings. I think my first year I did a fairly good job of “showing my face” around the building. Teachers no longer stopped instruction when I walked in the room to find out if I needed something. Students stopped being curious as to why I was there. They knew it was because I wanted to see my little learners in action and get to know everyone in my new school.

Last year we embraced the ideals of the Fish! philosophy in our school, one of which is Be There. The premise behind “be there” is fairly broad in that not only do you need to be physically available for your staff and your colleagues, but you have to be emotionally available for them as well. Being present means you make yourself available to your constituents, listen actively, and continuously work to strengthen relationships.

The teacher supervision model with which we engage consists of electronic walk-through formats as well as a formal observation protocol. I was finding that I was falling short of completing my desired number of documented walk-throughs each week, falling victim to the perils of management and not allowing the joys of leadership to drive my actions each day.

A few weeks ago I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to experience an entire school day in the life of a first grader?” I glanced at my calendar, noticed, despite being few and far between, there were some days without any scheduled meetings or commitments. Right then and there, I blocked off days for every grade level and specialist class in my building.

I drafted a document called It’s a Date! and emailed my staff:

Question:
What’s the best part about being a principal?

Answer:
Watching all of our children learn!

I have set aside days in my calendar to spend immersed in a grade level/class for the day. I am really excited about this! I will be in the classrooms from students’ arrival through the end of the day, planning to spend time in the rooms during academic times and will visit specials with your classes. I am happy to sit and observe, but reeeeally what I would love to do is join in the fun. Please put me to work! During your PLC meeting closer to your visit date, discuss how you will include me in your class activities. Need someone to facilitate a small group? Want to team up to teach a topic? Would you like to have someone work 1:1 with a student? Should I bring in some tech? These are all ways I’d be happy to help. Decide whose classrooms I will visit at what times of the day. If there is work/planning I need to complete before that day, kindly let me know a day or two in advance. 🙂

I began with first grade. What a wonderful day! In the morning I spent time working with small groups of students with reading concepts and making words activities using the Smartboard, and in the afternoon, three of the teachers enlisted my help teaching a lesson about extinction, where we read Dinosaurs! and the students interacted with classification and vocabulary on a Smartboard activity. I went to art class and music class and, although I often dine with students, joined them in the cafeteria. It was an exhilarating and exhausting day!

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This past Friday was Third Grade Day. I didn’t have as many teaching responsibilities this time, so I was really able to sit back and observe the children and all of the wonderful things they were learning. (And take a lot of photos and shoot some video!) Highlights: collaborating on critiquing persuasive writing blog posts with a class in another district using Flockdraw… experimenting with solids, liquids, and gases (using root beer floats! and hot chocolate with whipped cream and peppermint sticks and marshmallows!)… reading poetry with small groups of students….getting a class set up on Kidblog for the first time and helping them compose their first entries…glazing the clay bowls I threw on the potting wheel last spring while the third graders glazed their autumn leaf pottery….eating [scrumptious] macaroni and cheese with the children and cracking up at their absurd jokes…observing “challenge day” in math class, where students are free to choose which activities and challenge problems they’d like to complete, either individually or in teams… working 1:1 with a young man who was super interested in learning algebra, so, we worked together on some simple equations, and then I watched him teach another student …. observing students use the Activotes to interact with graphing problems on the Promethean board… loving the feeling of walking past my office door, closed, while the sign outside that indicates where I am the building reads, “Visiting Classrooms.”

My friend David Truss has coined these days in the life of an administrator “No Office Days.” As I recently drafted this post and planned to share about my grade level days, I was so excited to see David’s inspiring post and read about his day of learning with students. Be sure to read about his experiences in his latest post!

We have to be there for our students and staff. We can’t do that from behind a closed office door, or even an open office door. I will freely admit what doesn’t get scheduled, doesn’t get done. Be sure to block out times on your calendar for walk-throughs or more time-intensive observation experiences. The perspective you will gain as a learner and administrator is invaluable. Watching your students’ faces light up as they experience an “aha” moment, seeing your teachers work so hard to make classroom experiences meaningful for students, and knowing your presence is positively impacting the lives of your students and teachers awakens the realization that being a school principal is the greatest!

32 Comments

  1. Another great post. I truly enjoy reading about the things you are doing as a principal in your school. You are a model that other administrators should be looking at!

    I think that decisions are often made by those farthest from the classroom and therefore often out of touch. By doing what you do in terms of being in the classrooms is a great move to ensure you are plugged in to what students and teachers are doing. As a result you will be better informed in terms of making decisions on their behalf. Bravo!

    December 13, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thanks, Josh! I really gain an appreciation for what teachers do on a daily basis and the learning my students are engaged in when I spend this time in the classrooms. You’re right, it helps me gain a sense of where we are and what we need to do to continue to support our students.

      December 13, 2010
  2. As a principal, I always believed in management by wandering around. I love what you are doing. There were even times in my career as a principal where I gave up my office for other uses. When the nurse didn’t need it, I used it as a time out room. I put nothing on the walls as I wanted it to be a really boring space. With a walkie-talkie, a cellphone, and a laptop, why would I ever need an office? Keep up the good work and check out my blog if you get a chance at DrDougGreen.Com. The idea is that it is easy self-development for people who don’t have as much time to read as I do. I retired in 2006 to care for my wife who had ALS.

    December 13, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thanks for your comments! Management by wandering around is a great strategy!

      December 13, 2010
  3. David Truss said:

    Wonderful Lyn,
    The added component of a pre-letter to staff allowed you to immerse yourself actively into the teaching and learning that was happening in the room! What a fantastic way to really connect to your teachers and to your students. Really inspiring!

    December 13, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thanks, David! I wanted them to know they should use me in any way possible… I remember how appreciative I was when an extra adult could lend a hand in the classroom! Looking forward to my day with fifth grade next week!

      December 13, 2010
  4. Shannon said:

    Hey Lyn,

    Great post! Being present is so important and yet, it can become a challenge as the pace ramps up, especially at this time of the year. Scheduling it in and sending the note before hand is a great idea, and I love to take the opportunity to pop in too – re-energizes me and the kids love to see us out and about.

    Shannon

    December 13, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      I agree the days can so easily get away from us… it’s amazing how the hours can fly by trying to catch up on paperwork or other managerial tasks. Scheduling visits has really helped keep me on track. Thanks for your comments, Shannon!

      December 14, 2010
  5. Thanks for sharing your experience. Your teachers and students are fortunate that you value them and show it through your engagement. Your approach seems to facilitate trust and camaraderie rather than fear and separateness between administrators and teachers. I read once that the moment you step through the front door of a school, there is a certain “feel” that is tangible; either positive or negative. I can feel the positive energy and atmosphere without even visiting. Thanks for sharing and creating a venue in which everyone feels valued and appreciated. Sometimes the simplest approach – be there – is the most effective. Thanks again.

    December 14, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Nancy, I appreciate your kind words and you taking the time to read and comment! I hope that when people enter our school they feel a sense of happiness and positivity in the work we do with students. I try to help the adults in our building realize that children will always take cues from us, so even on our most stressful days, we need to maintain a positive outlook.

      December 14, 2010
  6. @MrDHill said:

    Lyn – Thank you for sharing this amazing idea. I aspire to be an administrator and love the idea of spending a day in each grade. What a great opportunity to really interact with the students and staff and show that you are not just a manager, but a co-leader and learner!
    Dale

    December 14, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Dale, thanks so much for reading and for your comments! You’ve found a great place to read about life as an administrator… everyone here is very supportive and knowledgeable in a variety of areas… be sure to let us know how we can support you in your journey to administration!

      December 14, 2010
  7. Kathy Mann said:

    This is a great post. I find I learn so much more about a teacher working alongside rather than hovering in the background.

    December 14, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thank you for your comments, Kathy! I actually discussed this premise with one of my third grade teachers at the end of the day. She said it was so nice to have me visit without the added pressure of “checklists being completed” or evaluations being done. I honestly was able to assess so much more about student learning in this way than with a typical “drive-by” observation or walk-through.

      December 14, 2010
  8. […] posted on Connected Principals addthis_url = 'http%3A%2F%2Fprincipalposts.edublogs.org%2F2010%2F12%2F12%2Fbe-there%2F'; […]

    December 14, 2010
  9. kevcreutz said:

    This statement caught my attention: “I was finding that I was falling short of completing my desired number of documented walk-throughs each week, falling victim to the perils of management and not allowing the joys of leadership to drive my actions each day.”

    I have written this phrase: “Allow the joys of leadership to drive my actions today” on a post-it note and placed it on my desk. My goal is to read that phrase each day until Christmas break to remind me to get out of my office and lead.

    Great post, thanks for sharing your experiences. This was a great idea.

    December 14, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Kevin, I appreciate your feedback. Love the idea of a visual reminder to get out of the office! I enjoy learning from you as well, thanks for commenting!

      December 14, 2010
  10. Amy Sandvold said:

    Wow! I was just thinking about doing the exact same thing! After reading this post, I will do it! Much like you, management creeps in and I need to get reacquainted with meaningful time with my teachers and my students. The letter you provided here is great. I can’t wait to do this.

    December 14, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Amy, I appreciate your comments! I hope you enjoy your days in the classroom as much as I do 🙂

      December 14, 2010
  11. Monica Calligaro said:

    Relationships are key to a “working” environment. Face to face contact is priceless.

    December 14, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thanks for your comments! I agree, face-to-face interactions are so important!

      December 14, 2010
  12. This was a great and inviting post. Connected Principals has to be one of my favorite in my blogroll – thanks! I received an email a couple of weeks back that had a quote in it that I felt was perfect for not only your post but my response. Thanks again!

    The desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world. John Le Carre

    December 14, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Adam, thanks so much for your kind words about Connected Principals and for taking the time to comment on my post. We are really glad you’re finding CP to be a place of inspiration! Your quote is the perfect reminder to escape the office…. thanks for sharing!!

      December 14, 2010
  13. Chris Wejr said:

    Wow, the challenge has been laid down… love this idea! Love that you inspire me as an educator and as an administrator. I know your passion for being with kids and finding the balance with your endless meetings is a challenge – posts like this will soon make other realize that time is best spent in the classrooms.

    December 19, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thanks, Chris… your work inspires me too! Unfortunately there will always be meetings, but I’ll continue to work at finding the balance between the managerial and leadership roles of the principalship. I have a feeling it will always be a work in progress! Thanks for your constant support!

      December 19, 2010
  14. Wow Lyn! What an awesome post. I read Fish For Schools a couple of years ago, and I completely embrace the philosophy. Being there is so important, and I love that you made yourself available to really “be there” for the students. Last week, I met a good friend of mine for dinner, and he found out that he’s going to be a Vice Principal starting in the next couple of weeks. We actually spoke about your post, and he mentioned how much he wants to do this at his school too. You’re inspiring people from around the world, and I think that this is an incredible thing.

    Aviva

    December 19, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Aviva! Please encourage your friend to check out CP and let any of us know if he needs anything in his new role! Thanks for your continued support and for the inspiring learning experiences you’re bringing to your students!

      December 19, 2010
      • Thanks Lyn! My friend is actually an active tweeter and follows along with Connected Principals. I suggested the same thing to him, and I’m sure that he’ll be in touch. He’s really looking forward to his new role, and I know that he’ll do a great job at it. He’s in it for the kids, and that’s what’s important. That’s why I love your post so much: it’s clear that the kids are #1 for you too!

        Aviva

        December 19, 2010
  15. Brian Kuhn said:

    What a great way to really stay connected to you purpose. I think all of us in leadership roles can learn from your example. I am a District level leader but have made it a priority to be in classrooms as much as I can this year. I think I was able to visit nine classrooms to observe, record on video, talk to students and teachers. Those visits really connected me to my purpose, to envision our use of technology to support learning and teaching. Talking to students makes my work so rewarding! Thanks for sharing your visits with us all.

    December 20, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Brian, I appreciate your comments. It’s nice to hear that as a district leader, you’re making the time to be present in your classrooms. I know the demands of a central office position often keep administrators out of schools, but I am sure your faculty appreciates your presence and your involvement!

      December 20, 2010
  16. […] Be there.  Two simple words that are so powerful.  A post by Lyn Hilt got me thinking about this once again.  With so many distractions in our lives (for me – […]

    December 22, 2010
  17. margaret kidhardt said:

    It was lots of fun to have our principal participate in our lessons. Ms. Hilt helped us set up kidblog and we have been trying it out on our own. We now plan to blog with our penpals. Her help got us started and gave us the courage to try something new that we might not have been able to do on our own. I hope we will be able to do this again next year. It was a very meaningful experience for the class and also for me. Thank you!

    January 19, 2011

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