From the desk of John Walsh
As a consultant, everywhere I travel I find administrators in search of the “Silver Bullet.” What unique master schedule will maximize instructional time in order to make the biggest difference? Various changes in schedules are probably the most common solutions attempted. With many assortments of time manipulations from forty-five minute classes to ninety minute time periods and the number of days a class meets as seen in an A/B schedule being tried. I must admit that I have attempted many of these variations myself during my career as a building principal trying to identify the best scenario.
The problem with manipulating how much time a student spends in a particular class period is the assumption that the amount of time spent is quality time. If instructional time is not engaging or there is a large amount of wasted time during the instruction, then the only accomplishment is increasing the amount of time wasted. Instead of manipulating the amount of time students spend in class receiving instruction, maybe we as instructors need to first think about how we spend our own as leaders.
My observations as a consultant and personal experiences as a building principal make me realize that successful teachers are successful because of the way they use their time and not because of the amount of time they have to use.
As instructional leaders we would better serve our students and our teachers by refocusing our efforts on the quality, not the quantity of time spent during the day. We can accomplish this by rethinking the use of our time during the school day. The days of leading a school from a central location are long past. There was a time when the school leader spent eighty percent of his time focused on management tasks and a mere twenty percent on instructional support. I would suggest that recently the focus has reversed. Although management of a school is as important as classroom management is to instruction, many of these tasks can be assigned to assistant principals and serve as learning opportunities for their own personal growth. I often hear from my fellow administrators that they simply don’t have enough time to spend in the classrooms. I have never understood that statement, because as the leaders of a school we decide who will be spending time doing what and for how long. So, instead of constantly manipulating the length of instructional time allotted, we should shift our focus to changing the use of our own time. As leaders, we need to free our schedules and get into the classrooms in order to help our teachers use the time they have more effectively and efficiently.
If you are like me, it might help to set a goal for the amount of time you will spend in classrooms doing observations. Personally, I started with two visits per teacher each week. This is not a formal observation of forty-five minutes for evaluation purposes. These are simply little three minute in and out visits to collect data on basic practices you expect to see in every classroom. I even went as far as to announce to the teachers that they could expect two visits each week. This helped to hold me accountable, and I think you’ll find it does the same for you. I believe you’ll discover as I did that once the teachers think you will be in their classrooms twice a week, they will let you know if you miss a visit.
Make this school year your time for success!
Until you get into the classrooms and begin to change the quality of instruction, the amount of time you allow for instruction will have very little impact. The key to success is to rethink the use of your own time and find the time to be an instructional leader. After you change your own routines, you will accumulate the data needed to help teachers identify how they can help the students be more successful. Spend your time where it will make the biggest difference, and you may discover the “Silver Bullet” after all.
Professional Reading about Walk-Through Observations:
Classroom Walkthroughs: To Improve Teaching and Learning, By Donald S. Kachur, Judith A. Stout, and Claudia L. Edwards