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First Things First in Instructional Leadership

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “Out of the Office, Into the Classroom” by John Gratto in Principal Leadership, May 2017 (Vol. 17, #9, p. 22-23), no e-link available; Gratto can be reached at
In this article in Principal Leadership, John Gratto (Virginia Polytechnic Institute) has ten suggestions for how principals can escape the endless paperwork, e-mails, and “got a minute?” interruptions in the office so they can focus on the core work of the principalship:
• Carve out time for high-level leadership tasks. “While it is noble and appropriate to be willing to do anything and to lead by example,” says Gratto, “if you do things that someone else could do, you are reducing your time available to do those things that only you can do.” For starters, be the back-up rather than the primary supervisor of buses, lunchroom, and halls.
• Eliminate time-wasting activities. Ask yourself, “What actions could I take to greatly improve my school?” Anything else is a candidate for delegation or elimination.
• Delegate effectively. Never do anything that a subordinate could do. Of course the person needs to be competent and know the standard of performance. [In a classic cartoon, the boss says to a colleague, “Tell you what, I won’t micromanage if you don’t macromess-up.”]
• Prevent time-wasting problems. Walking the halls during passing time alerts administrators to potential issues like students or teachers being late for class. It also helps develop rapport with staff and students. The principal also needs to assign routine duties to ensure visual supervision of potential trouble spots.
• Set clear expectations for teachers. These include punctuality, appropriate attire, unit and lesson planning, bell-to-bell instruction, substitute packets, parent outreach, and clarity on the behavior problems that need to be handled in the classroom versus being referred to the office.
• Regularly visit classrooms. This is the heart of the administrator’s job, and making sure observations and feedback happen on a regular basis is a must.
• Schedule and monitor teacher collaboration. Common planning time for same-grade/same-subject teams to meet is a high priority in the master schedule – and a key look-for during the principal’s day. These meetings are where unit and assessment planning, analysis of student work, reflection on teaching practices, and discussion of high-need students should take place – all of which can prevent academic and behavioral problems.
• Resolve problems at the lowest possible level. If a parent calls with a concern about a teacher, ask the teacher to call the parent; the teacher probably knows much more about the issue than the administrator. Check back later to see if it was resolved.
• Address resistance head-on. Every community has CAVE people, says Gratto – Citizens Against Virtually Everything. He advises meeting with these unhappy campers and trying to understand their concerns. “By doing so,” he says, “you may be able to address the source of their frustrations and turn enemies into allies, saving you precious time in the long run.”
• Learn to say no. “Focus on accomplishing your school and district goals while helping teachers and students improve their skills,” Gratto advises. “View any other activities as extraneous to those essential goals, and keep them to a minimum.”

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