2017-03-17 / Columns

Visiting classrooms creates connections

Superintendent’s Spotlight
By Kathryn Hawes Special to the Post

Leadership by walking around, visiting classrooms and observing teaching and learning is foundational to the success of our schools.

The information our administrative team gains when visiting classrooms in other schools helps to promote a seamless K-12 experience for our students.

In essence, understanding what is happening in each of our schools is the string that ties our district together. It also provides the opportunity to direct district resources for curriculum and professional development in a targeted and efficient manner.

My first year in RSU 21, I spent a great deal of time working with teams of teachers on curriculum alignment, reviewed our district data and information and facilitated regular administrative team conversations about teaching and learning.

I became familiar with the professional views of our teachers, the culture of each school and the direction of the district. However, as the year sped by, I realized that I hadn’t found the time to get into many classrooms to see teaching and learning in action, to talk with students, get to know teachers and fully understand the individual nuances of each building.

I spent some time reflecting upon this the following summer. I sat down before my second year and mapped out time within my calendar to informally walk through schools and enter classrooms. I also built time before and after meetings in schools to simply walk around. However, in my desire to keep these visits informal, I did not share the dates and times with anyone.

Two things happened.

First, when I arrived in classrooms, teachers stopped teaching and asked if everything was alright. Second, the administrative side of my job took over. That is, my role as CEO of a $45 million a year company with more than 3,000 people. To offer a context, if RSU 21 was a company, it would be the size of L.L.Bean, IDEXX, or Wright Express.

Without a purposeful balance, the administrative tasks can quickly consume my focus on education.

Following further reflection, I am spending two full days in each of our six schools this year.

Principals are working with teachers to develop a schedule of classroom observations. I have clearly communicated with teachers and principals that my role is not to evaluate individual teachers.

I am there to see teaching and learning in action, to understand how our K-12 schools are aligned and to get an overall sense of the culture and rhythm of the day.

While the investment of 12 full days away from the office has been challenging, I have visited 47 percent of our classrooms to date. I have gathered knowledge about our strengths and needs. That has been valuable in our budget development process and the implementation of our strategic plan.

Additionally, we are rotating our administrative team meetings across the schools and teams of administrators are spending the first 15 minutes visiting classrooms. Again, the purpose of these administrative visits to classrooms in other schools within our district is not to evaluate teachers. It is for the administration to learn more about education across our schools.

Each visit is followed by a 10 minute conversation about what we observed and how we can strengthen the alignment of our schools.

Throughout this year, teachers have been incredibly gracious and students are pleased to talk about their learning.

High school students are happy to talk about their experiences at Kennebunk High School and plans for life after high school.

Middle schoolers see familiar adults and are proud to share information about a project or assignment they are working on.

Elementary students view us as they would any adult visitors, sharing their work and occasionally offering a loose shoelace in need of tying. It is wonderful to see high school administrators in elementary classrooms and vice versa.

The students adore seeing their former principals back in their classrooms and we are making connections in teaching and learning across our district.

Administrative conversations have been deeper due to a more comprehensive picture of our schools and district. I believe leadership by walking around will pay dividends in continually improving our excellent schools.

Kathryn Hawes is superintendent of schools for Regional School Unit 21.

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