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Principals Who Go to the Real Place

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

The article: “The Critical Importance of Good School Leadership” by Kim Marshall in Journal of Jewish Day School Leadership, November 2018 (Vol. 1, #1, p. 30-33), ________________________________________________________________________ “Ensuring effective teaching in every classroom and a positive school culture is a daunting task,” says Kim Marshall in this Journal of Jewish Day School Leadership article. The principal’s work seems downright impossible when we consider that in an average school, there are about 27,000 lessons taught each year (five lessons a day x 30 teachers x 180 days). “Even the most energetic principal has to trust that teachers are handling things well in the 99.9 percent of the time they’re on their own with students,” says Marshall. The problem, he continues, is that “no teacher is perfect, and in every school, there are some mediocre and even ineffective instructional practices going in in some classrooms every day.” So how can principals successfully carry out four critically important jobs: - Quality assurance – being able to honestly tell parents that their children are getting good teaching of the right content in every classroom; - Feedback – regularly letting teachers know how they’re doing, including appreciation, praise, and suggestions for improvement; - Motivation – inspiring teachers to bring their A game every day and constantly reflect on their work; - Personnel decisions – making the right calls on who stays and who goes. It’s easy to see why the traditional evaluation process – carefully inspecting one or two of each teacher’s lessons a year – is woefully inadequate. Recent alternatives – using test scores, surprise video recording, video surveillance, lesson plans, student surveys, quick, superficial classroom walkthroughs – also have major flaws. The good news, says Marshall, is that a number of schools around the country have found a much better approach: - Administrators making short, frequent, unannounced classroom visits (about two a day, with each teacher getting about ten a year); - Short face-to-face debriefs with each teacher shortly afterward (“it’s amazing how much there is to talk about after only ten minutes of instruction,” says Marshall); - Sending each teacher a brief summary of key takeaways after these conversations; each of these cycles takes a total of 30 minutes: 10 minutes in the classroom, 10 minutes for the chat, 10 minutes to do the quick write-up; - Observing teachers in team meetings, with parents, and in other activities; - Pulling together all the snapshots in a detailed rubric at the end of each school year, with teachers’ self-assessment as a significant component. This process, says Marshall, helps “keep principals in touch with day-to-day teaching and learning, reassuring effective teachers about their status, and giving early warning about less-than-effective practices that can be improved – and, if there isn’t improvement in a reasonable amount of time, making personnel changes.” The time management challenge is fitting two observation cycles into a busy 6-7-hour school day. Marshall believes that if a principal can’t do these critically important observations almost every day, there are three possibilities: the school is in complete chaos and the principal is putting out fires all day; the principal is not skilled at time management; and/or the principal is avoiding the hard work of instructional leadership. Go to the real place should be every principal’s mantra, concludes Marshall – in other words, observe lessons and teacher team meetings. “If you want to know what’s really going on instructionally and culturally in your school, go to the real place… If you want to show teachers that you care about and appreciate their work, go to the real place. If you want to show your colleagues that, despite all the other stuff you have to do, you are genuinely interested in teaching and learning, go to the real place. If you want to see good classroom practices, give teachers specific praise, and spread effective ideas to the whole staff, go to the real place. If you want to coach teachers on practices that need improvement, go to the real place. If you want to pick up on possible boundary issues that could cause huge problems for the school, go to the real place. If you want to build a case to fire a persistently ineffective teacher, go to the real place. If you want to promote good morale, keep effective teachers, and attract good teachers, go to the real place. If you want to head home each day with a sense that you have done the core work of the principalship, go to the real place.”

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