In response to the post, “PowerWalks – Part 2,” a reader writes:
“You mention sniping teachers. Perhaps this is where we disagree. I asked E. Don Brown once, “What should I do if I am conducting a PowerWalk and observe something over the top, bad?”
E. Don told me that you never take off your “principal hat” when you are doing your PowerWalks. So, how is the teacher to know the purpose of my visit to the classroom?
What if I walk in and find a free day pizza party going on with the movie “The Hangover,” playing? Blow that off because my presence is for coaching purposes and I wouldn’t want to “snipe” a teacher? I live with myself by defining non-negotiable issues up front. For example, we will not have “no instruction” at the end of class with students lined up at the door. If I do a PowerWalk and find a non-negotiable being violated, I address the issue. By doing so, your definition would call that sniping. That is where we either disagree or need to clarify the details.”
I guess I need to present my definition of “sniping.” I consider “sniping” to be when the reason for the principal being in the classroom is unclear and what is observed that is construed to be negative is documented for evaluation purposes, without a prior conversation or coaching session to give the teacher an opportunity to correct the situation. Here is an example:
An administrator comes into the classroom to observe the teacher. The teacher thinks everything is fine until she finds a memo in her box the next morning, documenting everything that was wrong and/or absent during the three minutes of the observation. I consider that “sniping.”
E. Don is right (when is he not). You can not divorce yourself from your role and responsibility, especially if you are the Principal. But the role of principal is multi-faceted. Cheerleader, coach, resource provider, and hammer are just a few of these roles. My position is that the principal is most effective when she is in the coach role. To be an effective coach requires a lot of observations, analysis and purposeful conversation. So our advice is to explain to staff that when you are in the classroom, unless specifically noted, you are there for coaching purposes. But you do reserve the right to address blatant procedural and expectation violations, and/or safety concerns. That also means that for sub-par and marginal teachers, you are clear that until they can significantly improve their daily practice, they can assume that every time you are in the room, they are being evaluated. Again, the key is clear communication of purpose.
If I walk into the room and they are showing “The Hangover,” that stops right now, and the teacher and I will probably have a conversation in the hallway and will definitely have a conversation either during their conference period or after school, with some sort of documentation to follow soon after. Wrong is wrong. But blatantly wrong is the exception. On the other hard, if you suddenly notice or don’t see something that you may not like, I recommend holding off at first. Remember three minutes is a random wisp of time. I need to make sure there is a pattern before I open my mouth. And then I need to have had a conversation before I document something. Do enough PowerWalks (1000’s) and you can see a lot in three minutes, but you still can’t see it all.
Finally, I’ll close with this. When E. Don and I created the concept of hyper-frequent classroom monitoring (now PowerWalks) and support in motion eight years ago, the conversation was centered on “Why do it.” Now the conversation is centered on “How to do it.” That is progress and our schools, students and profession are all better for it.
Think. Work. Achieve.