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  • Every School Leader Needs a Formula for Informal Classroom Visits

Every school leader has the desire to visit classrooms more often, meaning more often than they do. The principal as an instructional leader, versus a manager, used to be a debate in the school leadership theory spaces. But, that’s long gone.

Instructional leadership is simply an expectation at this point. 

As the priorities add up, the job of a principal can feel impossible, and that’s where “systems thinking” comes into play.

Instructional leadership is all about being in classrooms, learning from and with teachers and providing feedback for continuous improvement.

And, the problem is that the management part didn’t go away.

The instructional leader aspect of the job was added to the role, not instead of management but on top of it

Leaders need a system for that or the day-to-day administrative management work (like these three free webinars) will drain every second or your precious time. 

A Systematic Formula for Informal Classroom Visits

Leaders need systems.

Systems play a major role in what Karl Weick, organizational psychologist, calls “sensemaking,” which is a leader’s ability to break down complicated aspects of multifaceted work into easy-to-understand terms.

Sensemaking includes our ability to solve complex problems using a formula. 

If you want to see yourself visiting classrooms more often during the school day, you need to visualize your formula for doing so.

We developed one for the principals we coach, and we’re giving it away to our readers for free

Instructional leadership is all about being in classrooms, learning from and with teachers and providing feedback for continuous improvement.

Visiting Classrooms Often Requires a Formula

The first part of the formula has to do with the number of visits you plan to do each day.

In a typical student-day, which is the time that we want to see our teachers in action, you have 6-7 hours. Even with instructional leadership at the forefront of our work, we see the very strongest administrators using a third to half of that time for instructional leadership. Let’s call it 2.5 hours. Let’s spend an hour of that on either a formal observation, a formal post-observation, or a combination of the two. That gives us 1.5 hours left. We want to do 4-6 visits per day at about 12-17 minutes per visit. Shorter than 12 and we can’t see transitions, longer than 17 and we’re approaching a formal visit. 

That means our formula is 4-6 teachers per day with a 12- to 17-minute visit each.

When you do the math on that for any size school, you can see every teacher every week (or 3 times per month).

Now we start to get our mantra: every teacher every week, every class period every month, rotating the day of the week per teacher and the time of the period we visit (beginning, middle, and end). 

Every teacher every week, every class period every month, rotating the day of the week per teacher and the time of the period we visit (beginning, middle, and end). 

Develop a Tracking System for Your Formula 

Every great formula deserves a tracking mechanism to ensure that the formula is working the way it should. We suggest a big magnetic board with color-coding systems, but Google Sheets works well too.

You’re tracking every aspect of the formula so you want all of your teachers’ names down the left hand side of the board/document and all of the variables in the formula across the top. 

Taking a look at JB as a sample teacher, in Week 4 we need to see JB on either a Wednesday or a Friday, hoping to get to Period 4 (or his science block or another period he teaches if you have more than four blocks) and at the end of the period. It doesn’t always work out, but informal classroom visits never work out to see this much of JB’s instruction without a system and formula for doing so.

To put it candidly, in all of our collective years of experience coaching school leaders, we have never found systematic classroom visits to be effective (done or done well) without a formula and a tracking mechanism. 

MayWeek 1Week 2Week 3Week 4
JBMonday, Period 2, MiddleTuesday, Period 1, BeginningThursday, Period 3, Beginning
FGWednesday, Period 4, EndTuesday, Period 1, EndFriday, Period 2, MiddleMonday, Period 6, Beginning 
RT
MW
Keeping Track of the Classroom Visit Formula

Time Blocking as an Instructional Leadership Strategy

Here’s your new formula for informal classroom visits: 4-6 walkthroughs per day, 12- to 17-minutes per visit, every teacher every week, every period every month, rotate the days of the week and the times of the period.

Now that you know it’s going to take 1 to 1.5 hours of your pupil day, all you need to do is block that amount of time each day (more on time-blocking tips here).

You don’t really need to schedule the visits until the end of the month (as in the case of JB) where your options get narrow, but you can certainly schedule the visits as you see fit.

The point is to create a system, use a formula, track the formula, and block the time.

The next piece of the puzzle is knowing what to look for when you’re there…more on that in another blog. 

If you want to learn more about how these strategies can work for you, sign up for our three-part free video series, which will come to you in an email so that you can watch and learn on your own time.

Totally free. 

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