“Shoulders square. Chest out. Wrists on hips.” These are the directions that recently I saw a principal giving to a second year teacher who has been struggling with classroom management. This occurred during a role play of a technique for insisting on student compliance with directions. The Principal had done the role play first and then asked the teacher to do the same. She had the teacher try this several times and gradually her voice became stronger and her physical stance became more confident. This all happened in a 30 minute meeting.
I was originally fooled by the basic nature of this conversation and this teacher move – asking students to comply with directions. Then I remembered how hard it was to create my own classroom presence in the early years of my teaching. I also thought about how much I currently prepare for speaking in front of adults. It made me wish that someone had told me about how much my body language and tone of voice would affect student, and for that matter, adult performance.
The brilliance of this kind of coaching is that a young teacher can improve by learning about her physical presence / body language and by practicing micro-behaviors. Even more impressive is the fact that this happens each week with the Principal during a 1:1 meeting.
These meetings are not only about classroom management basics. Later in the day of my observation, the Principal worked with another teacher who was masterful in classroom management. (I had observed her class earlier.) The Principal’s work with this teacher was much less directive and much more open-ended. She did, however, pose precise questions about whether each lesson activity led the students to the stated objective. The teacher came to her own conclusion about how to modify some of her questioning behavior with students in order to improve students’ ability to think on their own
A return to Leverage Leadership
I am a fan of Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s book Leverage Leadership, since it came out over a year ago. Since then, I’ve seen a few powerful examples of this kind of leadership, such as the one described above. As Paul states at the outset of his book, the core idea is that, “What really makes education effective is well-leveraged leadership that ensures great teaching to guarantee great learning.” (p.6)
In my view, there’s a big difference between doing classroom walkthroughs or even learning walks (which are perhaps necessary but not sufficient) and the deeper, individualized teacher coaching, like the example described above. If I were a current principal with limited resources, I would spend most of my capital on deeper, individualized teacher coaching that involves curriculum planning as well as classroom moves. Leverage Leadership shows how to do this in a very practical way – from a principal’s schedule to PD to leadership team meetings.