The question of how frequently principals should visit and observe their school’s classrooms comes up quite a bit.
To find an answer, we reached out to Dr. Sean Kelly, Principal of Chapel Hill High School in the Douglas County K-12 School District.
Here’s what he had to say on the matter:
Well, “How many classroom observations are too many classroom observations?” is a relative question. How much money is too much money? How many cupcakes are too many cupcakes? How many 4.0’s in the senior class are too many 4.0’s in the senior class? There are never too many of any of those. The number of classroom observations is relative to what your needs are and what you are trying to accomplish in your building.
I am fortunate to have four assistant principals. Including myself there are five administrators conducting classroom observations in my building. Current observation protocols require us to conduct at least ten walk-throughs a week. If we all meet the expectation we will conduct at least fifty walk-throughs a week in our building. With eighty plus teachers we are visiting more than half of our teachers each week. Is this too many?
It has been my experience that there are never too many classroom observations. Actually, my teachers enjoy frequent classroom visits. Our teachers have expressed to us that they like for us to visit their classrooms. They have also told us that they like for us to stay for extended periods of time when we do visit. In the beginning of our walk-through program (some seven years ago) we would visit classrooms for three to five minutes. Teachers were adamant that this was not nearly enough time to see what was occurring in their classrooms. We often heard from teachers that if we would have stayed longer we would have seen more of the focus of a lesson or the next strategy that reinforced student learning. Teachers clearly told us to visit more often and to stay longer when we did visit. So, we listened and we now conduct classroom observations that are ten to fifteen minutes in length. What we learned was amazing.
Teachers asked us to visit classrooms more often and to stay in the classroom longer when we visited. We listened and the rewards have been tremendous. We now see more of the big picture when we visit teachers. We can now see how lessons are connected. We now see the preliminary strategies that enhance and reinforce strategies that come later in the lesson that tie the learning together. We now see more of the culminating strategies that demonstrate for students why they are learning specific things in class. We now see more strategies at the conclusion of a class that summarize the learning for students.
How many classroom observations are too many classroom observations? Well, how much learning is too much learning? How much information is too much information? When do you know enough about your students, teachers, and building that you will not benefit from more relevant knowledge? My argument is that you will never have enough knowledge about what happens in your building every day.
The frequent classroom observations that we conduct in our building increase our knowledge of what occurs in our classrooms. The more classroom visits we conduct the more we learn about our students and teachers. The quicker we can intervene when we see something that might need a little attention. We are able to identify areas of concern early so that we can intervene before those areas become major issues in our building.
Frequent classroom observations have also provided me with opportunities to learn more about my students. I have noticed over the past few years that I have stronger relationships with more of my students. I know more of my students better than I ever have before. I get more hellos from students and more students stopping me in the hallway for brief conversations. I also have more students visiting me in my office than ever before. I attribute this to frequent classroom visits. My students see me more often and I have more opportunities to interact with them in class. I believe this has allowed me to form better relationships with my students. I hope they no longer see me as much as the stone-faced Principal in the main office but rather as “Dr. Kelly, the man in the office that makes sure we have what we need to be successful and the person I can go see if I need something.”
I also believe that frequent classroom observations have had the same result with teachers. I strongly believe I have better relationships with my teachers than I have ever had before. I see more smiles from teachers as I pass them in the hall. I have more teachers visiting my office to talk and discuss Education-related issues. I have more teachers who feel comfortable asking for my input. I receive many more invitations to visit classrooms than ever before. Just being around my teachers more often and seeing them in their rooms where they are the authority seems to make everyone feel more comfortable. To me, my teachers feeling comfortable is a big deal and I think all of this has resulted largely from frequent classroom observations.
There are so many benefits from visiting classrooms. The opportunities that result from frequent classroom visits are so beneficial I do not see how anyone could ever make a case that we are visiting rooms too often. There are just so many positive aspects of our school that are directly related to our walk-through program that I am not sure I will ever reach a point where I think I am visiting too many classrooms.
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